This story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.
Although his family lived in Columbus at the time, Glenn Otto Thompson was born on October 12, 1929, in Barberton Ohio while his mother was visiting his grandmother there. At the time, he was named Bruce Otto Thompson after one of his mother’s brothers. When they returned to Columbus, however, his father disapproved of the name and renamed him Glenn Otto Thompson after another of his uncles. He went through his entire school years as Glenn. When he went to enlist in the Navy, however, he was required to show a birth certificate. When he went to the bureau of vital statistics to obtain a copy of that document, he was told there was no one named Glenn born on that date to that woman. It was only then that he learned that his given name was legally Bruce. His mother told them that she had forgotten to tell him what had happened. She filed an affidavit swearing that there must have been some mistake when preparing the birth certificate, but his name was really Glenn.
Glenn was born the fifth of nine children in his family. The eldest sister was followed by twin brothers and then another brother. After Glenn came two younger brothers followed by two sisters. All his schooling was in Columbus. The family lived at 39 S Starling Street when he was born, and he went to Fieser Elementary from kindergarten through the fifth grade. When the family moved to 2988 Bethel Road he was bussed to school in Linworth for almost a year. The family soon moved again to 142 S. Hague Avenue, where Glenn attended West Broad Street Elementary, before completing 7th through 9th grades at West Junior High. He decided not to finish high school at West Senior HS and dropped out in November of 1947 and began working at the huge Timken Roller Bearing Company (no longer at East Fifth and Cleveland Avenue after being demolished) while waiting for an open slot in the U.S. Navy.
In April of 1948, when Glenn told his father that he had enlisted in the Navy, his father asked to see his papers but Glenn refused, knowing full well that his dad would have torn them up. Two weeks later, on May 3rd, he was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center for the 26 weeks of boot camp – the transition from civilian life to military life. Upon completion of basic, and a week of leave, Glenn returned to Great Lakes where he attended U.S. Naval Corps Hospital School for 10 weeks learning how to be a military medic.
Upon graduation, Glenn’s first duty assignment was at Fleet Marine Force (F.M.F.) as a hospital corpsman in the infirmary at Paris Island, SC (a Marine boot camp.) While there, the Navy built a new hospital a few miles away in Beaufort, and he had the privilege of painting a 3’x 4’ plaque for the lobby with the commander’s name on it.
After a year at Paris Island, Glenn was transferred to serve in the infirmary at Camp Lejeune, NC. First he attended another 4 weeks of training called the Field Medical Technician Course there. He was surprised to soon learn that the 1st Marine Division in Korea had called for immediate reinforcement of their medical corps from 2nd Marine Division. Glenn was one of 60 men who were selected and deployed.
On Christmas Day of 1950, Glenn landed at Haneda Army Air Base in Tokyo, Japan (which is now the site of Tokyo International Airport) after crossing the Pacific Ocean in a C-54 aircraft – “Old Shaky.” That afternoon, a huge chow hall was all set up like a fancy restaurant for Christmas dinner –white tablecloths and waiters serving the troops during a sit-down turkey dinner. A Japanese orchestra on one side of the entrance alternated playing with an American orchestra on the other side. Glenn vividly remembers them playing, “A Slow Boat to China” and “Harbor Lights.” He has fond memories of this great Christmas meal with all the ambiance and professional wait staff.
The following day, Glenn and the other troops boarded a beautiful Japanese luxury liner that had marble counters and flooring. Seeing that luxurious lobby as they exited the gangway onto the ship was impressive and encouraging. They soon learned, however, that they had to sleep on the floor covered with straw, and in the restroom was simply a slit in the floor.
They landed in Pusan, South Korea, on New Year’s Day, 1951. The following day, they were taken to their assigned units, Glenn’s being Company “C,” and prepared for the march to the north. The reason they landed at Pusan was that the South Korean troops had retreated; and, had the U.S. Marines and other troops not also retreated south, they would have been surrounded. During the march, the weather was brutally cold, often reaching more than minus 40 degrees (which, incidentally, is the same in both Centigrade and Fahrenheit.) Prior to the march, they had been issued cold weather gear, including two pairs of boot insoles – one to wear and the other to put inside their shirt to keep warm and help dry them out. It wasn’t merely a march, they were fighting the enemy the entire time, pushing them back to the north. All along the route were signs that American forces had previously been there – abandoned vehicles, foxholes, and bunkers, by the road and on the hillsides. The narrow country road was extremely winding and hilly, with high passes and deep valleys. Glenn witnessed a lot of combat and assisted many wounded along the way.
On one recon mission, Glenn rode on the back of a tank for more than two hours before they encountered the entrance to a huge foxhole or tunnel about a quarter mile up on a ridge. The enemy troops could be seen entering and leaving the hole with various loads. The tank turned and fired its 90mm cannon directly into the mouth of the hole. But, when all the debris and dust settled, the enemy was continuing to enter and exit. So they fired two more shots into the hole, each with the same result; so they turned the tank around and returned to their company.
On another night mission, it was so dark on the ridge that all Glenn could see was the man in front of him. His company was to join up with the other two companies, “Alpha” and “Bravo.” The 2nd Lt who was leading Charlie Company kept calling for the other two units but to no avail. When the lieutenant told the men to take a break, they could hear the enemy digging in on both sides of them. Therefore, the Lt ordered his Marines back down the hill and marched them for another three hours or so, until the three companies finally joined up – where they were supposed to be in the first place.
Imagine, if you will, this march with its constant combat had already lasted for nearly six months. Of course the weather was a little better in June, but they still had a difficult mission of seeking out the North Korean forces and destroying them. It was 19 June 1951, and Charlie Company was, as usual, on patrol searching for the enemy troops in an area with numerous ridges near Tongmyon, R.O.K. From Charlie Company’s vantage point, the Marines could see the enemy near the top of another ridge, so they started to set up a position. The lead man with a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) had no sooner set up than an enemy machine gun fired, striking him in the head. Glenn asked the Lt several times to assign three Marines, one with a stretcher, to retrieve the BAR man, carry him back down the hill, and also bring back the BAR. Finally, the Lt relented, and Glenn and the three others made their way up to the wounded BAR man and his weapon. Glenn dressed the wound and put pressure on it, gave him a shot of pain medication, and put him on the stretcher. Knowing the enemy had them zeroed in, they quickly scurried to get off that ridge – totally forgetting about the BAR. Glenn was on the back of the stretcher when he felt a sharp sting in his back. He dropped the stretcher momentarily but picked it up again and scrambled back down to where he could give it to other troops to rush the BAR man to the field hospital.
Glen found the Lt and told him that the BAR was still up there and that someone needed to retrieve it. When the Lt didn’t seem too concerned about the weapon, Glenn turned around and climbed back up the ridge, retrieved the rifle, and brought it back down to the rear.
Glenn then once again sought out the Lt to tell him that he’d been shot in the back. At first the Lt said he couldn’t find a wound, but a few minutes later said he could see some blood on Glenn’s shirt, so he tore open the back of Glenn’s shirt - and sure, enough, there was a bullet hole. Glenn was taken to the field hospital, where he spent the next two weeks before being returned to duty for nearly five more months. (Strangely enough, the doctors could see that he’d been shot but could never find the bullet.) As a result of his actions on that day, Glenn was later presented with both the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals he had so valiantly earned.
Finally, in November, after marching and fighting for eleven long months all the way from Pusan to the 38th Parallel, it was time for Glenn to return to the U.S. aboard the USS Lenawee. The trip back to CONUS took nearly a month, because they had to make a huge detour around a typhoon.
His final assignment was at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia until his honorable discharge there on May 2, 1952 as an E-4, Hospital Corpsman Third Class (HM3.) While stationed there and during R& R leave, he met his wife-to-be Patricia in Columbus, and they were married on June 3, 1952. In the years that followed, Glenn and Pat had two sons and then two daughters. They now have six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Glenn started work at North American Aviation after returning to Columbus, where he worked for only about six months. He says in his first five years of civilian life he worked at a number of jobs but none for very long. In August of 1958, Glenn started at the Post Office, where he worked for the next 29 years, allowing him to retire in August of 1987. Glenn and Pat have enjoyed retirement by going to Florida every January to March for 23 years.
Unfortunately, not all of Glenn’s well-earned retirement has been pleasant. In February of 2010 Glenn went to his physician with a sore throat, only to learn after being referred to a specialist that he had left tonsil carcinoma the size of a dime. By the time he visited an oncologist three weeks later, the mass was the size of his thumb – fast growing stage four cancer. Using robotic surgical instruments, his oncologist not only removed the cancerous tonsil, but also 27 lymph nodes, much of his lower jaw, and a small part of the root of Glenn’s tongue. Five times a week for six weeks (30 doses) Glenn was given radiation treatments. He was on a feeding tube for an entire year and now has no saliva in his mouth. He lost over 60 pounds following the surgery; and, for a year and a half, he had no teeth. Now he’s been cancer-free for more than four and a half years and enjoys the pleasure of eating regular food once again. He has no doubt that part of his healing is due to prayers and faith healing sessions. It has made Glenn deeply religious.
We are proud to see Glenn at our museum as both a member and during monthly meetings of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (who not only meet at our museum but have placed a beautiful monument next to our Memorial Brick Garden.) Veterans like Glenn Thompson are the reason that our museum exists, and it is a true honor to have a hero like him – a living piece of American military history – as a regular visitor. Thank you, Glenn. We honor you and your bravery and sacrifices for our great nation!