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Edward Thompson
1912-1945

“Not every loss was confirmed by an officer at the door. Nor a telegram with the power to sink a fleet. Loss, often the worst kind, also arrived through the deafening quiet of an absence.”

Kristina McMorris

On August 14, 2014, West Virginia Archives and History received an inquiry regarding Army First Lieutenant Edward Thompson, a casualty of World War II. Max Poorthuis, President of the 16th Infantry Regiment Historical Society, indicated that he had adopted Thompson’s grave and requested more information about the lieutenant. Thus began our quest into the facts of the life of this West Virginia hero about whom we infer so much because we know for certain so little.
grave marker

Grave marker for First Lieutenant Edward Thompson, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.
Photo courtesy Max Poorthuis

According to a May 2008 posting on Ancestry.com, William Edward Thompson was born at Boyer, Pocahontas County, West Virginia, on December 24, 1912, to Walter Tracy (“Monk”) Thompson and Fannie Susan Robertson Thompson. U.S. Federal Census records show that Walter was a laborer at a lumber camp in 1920, a common occupation in Pocahontas County during that era. Later the family moved to the Shinnston area of Harrison County, where he was employed by the Bethlehem Coal Company. Throughout his early life, Edward used “William” as his given name. Census records from 1920, 1930, and 1940 list the following siblings for William Edward Thompson: Virginia, Dick, Paul, Carl, Mary, Richard, Louise (possibly Eloise), Fred, and Walter (Junior). William Edward Thompson attended Lincoln High School at Shinnston in Harrison County. In November 1932 he married Heldreth Heloise Shingleton, the daughter of Howard and Minnie Martin Shingleton. They had two children—Jack Lee and Joann Hazel.

By 1940, Edward Thompson, his wife, and two children lived in Clarksburg, though his 1935 inferred residence was still at Shinnston. The 1940 Federal Census indicates he was employed as a “motor snapper,” while his draft registration record (U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946) places his employment in the category of “semiskilled miners and mining-machine operators.” In other words, like his father, he was employed in the coal industry, as were many young men in the Harrison/Marion County area at the time. His draft registration record also indicates he entered the service at Clarksburg on January 6, 1941, from the National Guard, where he had attained the rank of first sergeant. He was subsequently married to Lorraine Jody Bowman, with whom he had a third child.

Max Poorthuis writes: “I am not sure of the date when he was transferred to the 16th Infantry Regiment, but I do know he served with Company L.” Assigned then to the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, First Lieutenant Thompson found himself in the thick of perhaps the most famous battle of the Second World War—the Battle of the Bulge.

According to the unit’s website, the 16th Infantry Regiment has a long proud history in the military, dating back to the American Civil War and continuing through the Spanish-American War. In World War I it was one of the four original regiments incorporated into the 1st Infantry Division. The Regiment’s home page has this to say of its involvement in World War II:

The 16th Infantry Regiment saw its first combat in World War II in North Africa, landing at Oran and taking part in the initial fighting on 8 November 1942. The regiment then took part in seesaw combat at Maktar, Medjez el Bab, Kasserine Pass, Gafsa, El Guettar, Beja, and Mateur, helping secure Tunisia. The 16th Infantry Regiment was the first ashore in the invasion of Sicily, and it fought a series of short, fierce battles on the island’s tortuous terrain. When that campaign was over, the 16th Infantry returned to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion. The regiment assaulted Omaha Beach in the early hours of 6 June 1944, and captured Colleville-sur-Mer and le Grand-Hameau in the beachhead. The 16th Infantry followed up the Saint-Lô breakthrough with an attack on Marigny, and then drove across France in a continuous offensive. By September 1944, the regiment had reached the German frontier and breached the vaunted Siegfried Line. The 16th Infantry Regiment then captured Aachen after a direct assault, and faced tough opposition in the dense, rugged terrain of the Huertgen Forest in Germany. On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched their last great counter-offensive of World War II, known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 1st Infantry Division was sent to bolster the northern shoulder of the bulge at Elsenborn, Belgium. By the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945, the 16th Infantry had reached Czechoslovakia, where it liberated a Nazi labor camp at Falkenau. (Source: “World War Two Unit History,” accessed 26 Nov. 2014, http://16thinfantry.com.)

Edward Thompson was killed on January 19, 1945, near Shoppen, Belgium [although his Silver Star citation gives the date as January 17]. The following after-action account notes the degree of involvement of his unit:

Until the 19th of January the company remained in a defensive position about 1000 yards northeast of Faymonville. Contact patrols were sent out nightly. At 0720 hours on the 19th the company jumped off on the attack for Schoppen, Belgium. They had four M-10 TDs for support. However, one of the TDs got stuck in a snowdrift, another was knocked out, and another was damaged. When the company arrived at Schoppen, they had only one TD with them. During the attack there was a blinding snow storm which made it impossible to see farther than fifty yards. They reached their objective at 1030 hours and took 27 prisoners and killed or wounded about the same number. At 1045 hours the enemy counter attacked with a company of infantry and 3 S.P. guns, but the attack was beaten off. The casualties for the day amounted to eight wounded, six missing and one officer killed [this officer would have been Edward Thompson].

Paul Thompson

Paul Thompson, also in the Army, visits the grave of his brother Lt. Edward Thompson. Note the temporary crosses.
Photo courtesy Beverly Steinbeck

Edward Thompson received a Silver Star as well as the Purple Heart. His Silver Star citation reads:

Edward A. [the middle initial in the citation is incorrect, as other information herein is corroborated with the service record of (William) Edward Thompson of West Virginia] Thompson, 0413741, First Lieutenant, Company L, 16th Infantry. For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Faymonville, Belgium, 17 January 1945. When assault elements were impeded by an intense automatic-weapons and small-arms barrage from a building occupied by the enemy, Lieutenant Thompson courageously led a group across perilous terrain to the strongpoint. Then, with utter disregard for personal safety, he fearlessly engaged the foe and, with accurately directed grenades, compelled the hostile force to surrender. Lieutenant Thompson’s gallant actions and outstanding devotion to duty exemplify the finest traditions of the service.

First Lieutenant Edward Thompson was interred at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium at Plot C, Row 9, Grave 27. His interment record shows his next of kin to be Mrs. Lorraine Thompson of Seattle, Washington.
Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery

Angel Statue at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.
Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges the meticulous research assistance of Max Poorthuis and family information provided by Beverly Steinbeck
February 2015

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