Francis E. Thompson

NO. 17558  •  17 Mar 1929 - 6 Jul 2007

Died in Charleston, SC
Interred in Beaufort National Cemetery, Beaufort, SC

Francis Eugene Tompson was born on St. Patrick's Day 1929 in the small central North Carolina town of Salisbury. From an early age, Frank was interested in aviation and built flyable model airplanes out of balsa wood. He joined the local Civil Air Patrol unit while still in high school and solo-piloted a J-3 Piper Cub at the age of 16. Frank completed 12 years of school in ten, but graduated with honors. He attended North Carolina State in Raleigh for one year, where he was appointed first sergeant in ROTC as a freshman.

Academics came easy to Frank at West Point, He had used some of the same text books at NC State, and he was typically in the upper sections. Physically, the Academy was somewhat more difficult. He participated in intramurals. As a cow, he also participated in the annual Goat-Engineer Football Game on Thanksgiving Day as an Engineer. The Goats won the game, but Army did beat Navy the next Saturday. Indeed, Frank never saw Army lose to Navy during his four years.

The Air Force became a separate service on 18 Sep 1947, and, at graduation, Frank chose to enter the Air Force as a pilot trainee. This choice brought laughs from his classmates, since Frank had become air sick on every flight during his summers as a cadet!

During Cow summer, Frank met a student nurse named Frances Coley back home in North Carolina, and, although she was at West Point for his graduation, she would not marry him until he was half-way through basic pilot training at Perrin AFB, TX. He would drive the 2500-mile round trip from Sherman to Concord, NC, on weekends just to date her until she agreed to marry him on 24 Nov 1950 in Salisbury. Ironically, since leave was not allowed for student pilots, the morning report for Perrin AFB on 24 November showed him present for duty in Salisbury, since the Air Force gave him time off without leave! In addition to flying aging T-6 aircraft at Perrin, he flew T-6s, brand new T-28s, and war-weary B-25s at Reese AFB, Lubbock, TX, prior to earning his wings on 4 Aug 1951. Frank rapidly earned his senior pilot wings in August 1958. (He would rapidly advance to command pilot in 1966.)

Frank and Frances were assigned to Great Falls AFB in Montana. There, he flew C-54s to Alaska, and she worked at a Catholic hospital. Frank mused to his mother. "The back of my airplane smells just like the back of Daddy's old trucksÑonly I'm flying fruit and produce to Alaska, not driving it!" The tour in Montana was short, however, and he was assigned to fly C-47s in Korea, where the war had broken out in June 1950. In Korea, C-47s were used to drop propaganda leaflets on the enemy, carry agents up north to parachute out and infiltrate back into the south, and hover over enemy lines broadcasting surrender enticements from a speaker. During his five-month, 76-mission tour, he earned the Distinguished Frying Cross and several Air Medals.

Returning stateside in June 1952, Frank rejoined his wife at Brookley AFB, Mobile, AL, where they spent some wonderful years. Serving in an air evacuation unit, flying C-47s, they covered all of the Southeast, from New Orleans to St. Louis to Washington to Miami, moving sick, wounded, and other military patients. The small unit had plenty of camaradarie. Years later, in 1981, Frank established a series of squadron reunions that lasted for years until too many of the old group had passed on. While at Brookley, Frank learned to be the squadron adjutant and personnel officer, attending the Squadron Officers Course at Maxwell AFB, AL. He turned down an of-fer to become an instructor there in order to transfer to Kelly AFB, TX, to be aide to MG James Stowell '24, Commander, Continental Division, MATS. At nearby Lackland AFB, their daughter Terri Lynn was born in November 1953. After MG Stowell retired in 1954, Frank flew C-54s with the 1700th Air Transport Group until he transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to earn his MS in aeronautical engineering. In Ann Arbor, their son Stuart Nelson was born in January 1957. One rebel and one Yankee, though both would graduate from high school in Fairborn, OH.

Frank then went to the AF Missile Test Center at Patrick AFB, FL, where for four very interesting and fun-filled years he helped prepare the Atlantic Missile Range for missile tests launched from Cape Canaveral. He averaged over 40 flying hours a month despite filling a demanding desk job. From Florida, he transferred to Seattle, WA, for training with the Boeing Company, followed by a tour at the Space Systems Division of the AF in Los Angeles, furnishing refurbished Atlas missiles for the Mercury and other programs. He also worked on the Titan and Gemini programs before being transferred to Charleston AFB, SC, where he flew C-141 jet transports, primarily to Viet Nam.

A short 13-month tour on Midway Island in command of the Airlift Command Post for MAC followed. Then, Frank returned to Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, where he was the MAC liaison to the C-5A Program Office. With a rare PCA without PCS, he moved into the Aeronautical Systems Division as chief of reliability, maintainability, systems safety and quality control for all aircraft programs, such as the F-15, B-l, A-10, and F-16. He retired to Charleston, SC, in June 1976.

In retirement, Frank became very involved in community affairs and accepted a position with the University of Southern California as a teacher of graduate systems management courses on military bases around the world. Since both of his children had graduated from college (daughter Terri from Florida State University and son Stuart with the USMA Class of '78), Frances accompanied him on his many tours. From Europe to Japan, Guam, and Hawaii, as well as all over the United States, he passed on important lessons from his lifetime experiences to young military officers of all the services. When USC dropped this program in 1990, Frank earned a master's degree in history at local schools and taught history and aeronautical subjects for Limestone College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the Charleston area.