Interview Samuel Thompson (video).m4a
Mya Humphries: All right, and we're recording. OK. Uh, Today's April 13, 2022.
My name is Mya Humphries, and today I'll be conducting an interview with Samuel
Thompson Jr., who is a Vietnam War veteran. This interview with Samuel is for
Vietnam Oral History Project for honors 351 and is taking place via Zoom. Thank
you for your time and helping contribute to the University of Kentucky. Louie B.
Nunn Center for Oral History Database. So let's start off the interview with
getting to know a bit more about you and your background. So what area did you
grow up in?
Samuel Thompson Jr. Uh, I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, about 80
miles from where I am here at Penn State, called Steelton, Pennsylvania. The
Bethlehem Steel Mill Plant ran the length of the town. My grandfather, my uncle
and a whole ton of relatives worked at the steel and steel mill in the Bethlehem
00:01:00Steel Mill, Plant in Steelton
Humphries: OK. What was your family life like, did you grow up with both your
parents, did you have siblings?
Thompson: I grew up with, I grew up with, you know, I'm very fortunate that I
had a great childhood and I had two parents who and two and a brother and a
sister, and our parents took very good care of us. And so I consider myself very
fortunate in that regard. Both of my parents are now deceased. If my dad were
living, he'd be like 110 years old. He was, he was older when I was born.
Humphries: Do you have any siblings?
Thompson: Yeah, I have a sister and a brother. My brother is now deceased. He
used to work for Penn State uh and he was running a track, not a track, but a
00:02:00cross-country match out here and died about it must have been about 10 years
ago. My sister, my sister, just called me as I was on the way here. She lives
in, right outside of Harrisburg, in a town called Middletown, which is near
Steelton. And um so she just called me to check in and see how I was doing and
uh, you know, just to catch up. So she's still there. She's a graduate of Ohio
State University and was a teacher and still does some teaching, even though
Humphries: Oh, great. Um, did you grow up around any veterans? Uh, do you have
any in your family?
Thompson: I have a great veteran in my family. My dad was a lieutenant in the
Buffalo soldiers um, uh, regiment in Italy. So he fought up the boot in Italy
00:03:00during World War Two, and when he got out, when he came home, he stayed in the
reserves, so and he got promoted to captain while he was in the reserves and um
so he worked in the reserves for probably 18, 20 years after he got out of the
war and, and retired as a um as a captain in the reserves, in the army reserves.
Humphries: Nice, so was the military something you've always thought about?
Thompson: Um, I suppose I always thought that I would uh, that I would, would go
into the service, but I didn't have, you know, it didn't become concrete for me
00:04:00until. It's interesting. I was, I was at West Chester in a cafeteria, I think
they call it the Rathskeller or something like that. Do they still have that? Do
they anything called the Rathskeller?
Thompson: Well, I think that's what it was called Rathskeller or something like
that. And it's, you know, a place where students could gather and have a drink
or, you know, eat some, eat a sandwich or something like that. So I was in there
and there was this marine sergeant who was recruiting. So I had a conversation
with him, and he said, well, why don't you take the exam and see whether you'd
be interested in coming? So I said fine, so I went down to Philadelphia and at
the it was the naval depot down in the Southside of Philadelphia. I took the
00:05:00exam, I passed the exam and I got an opportunity to go into what was known as
the PLC course. The platoon leaders course, which was two summers. So the summer
between my sophomore and junior year, I went for six weeks in Quantico and the
summer between my junior year and my senior year. I went to six weeks in
Quantico. And then when I graduated, I had, I graduated with um, being
commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
Humphries: Yeah, that's awesome. So you said you attended West Chester
University. What was your time like while you went here?
Thompson: Um, you know, I- my time was my time, my time was great. And but, I
worked a lot. And I think I never lived on campus because I uh had a job at
something called the Devereaux Foundation, taking care of kids who were disabled
kids. So I- spent a lot of time there while I was at, while I was at West
00:06:00Chester, so I didn't spend a lot of time on campus. But I have a, I have a fond
affection for West Chester. And as I mentioned to you previously, I served on
one of West Chester's Boards for many years. One of their board of advisors, I
forget the exact name of it.
Humphries: When you went to West Chester, what did you study?
Thompson: I was a social studies major.
Thompson: Look, and let me just mention to you that I didn't start at West
Chester. I started at Millersville. OK. Right up the road. And I played football
at Millersville and the second game we came down to West Chester and West
Chester, ran all over us, scored 56 points on us or something like that. And I
remember I had a friend who came to the game from Philadelphia and I said to her
after the game, I said, I'm not putting up with this for the next three years.
00:07:00I'm transferring to West Chester. So I finished out my, my semester at
Millersville, I did pretty well, and I had applied to transfer and I got, they,
they admitted me, so I, so I switched to West Chester in January. I had to sit
out for football for my sophomore year because you couldn't transfer from one
school to another school without sitting out. So I sat out for a year and then I
began playing and I played on as a junior and I played as a senior.
Thompson: But I didn't become a starter until like the second game, third game
of my senior year. But I, you know, I loved playing West Chester football.
Humphries: OK, so you're in college, you're about to graduate, you're graduated.
Um, You've taken the course for the Marines. What was your plan at this time for
Thompson: That is a very good question.
Humphries: What did, what did you picture yourself doing?
Thompson: That is a very good question. I'm not sure what I pictured, pictured
myself doing, and when I think about it and this is I've never had this. I never
drew this parallel before, but, going into the Marine Corps was, um by chance, I
mean, if that guy hadn't, if that officer hadn't been there that day recruiting
that I walked in or
You know, I didn't go into the Rathskeller I think that's what it's called, that
day. I may not have gone into the Marine Corps.
Thompson: Uh, and number two, when I graduated from West Chester, I wanted to do
00:09:00some. I graduated early, so I graduated in January and um the Marine Corps gave
me a deferment, to do some graduate studies. So I taught in the Philadelphia
school system and I took graduate studies at Penn. Uh, and one day. uh I was
walking uh, around the law school, I said, let me go on here to the law school
and see what uh the admissions officers are talking about. So I went in there.
Um and the admissions, I said to the admission that I I want to go to law
school. The admissions officers said well did you take the law
school exam. I said, no, what's that? So he gave me this. He gave me this form,
he gave me this booklet, he said, OK, go, take the law school exam and come back
and see me once you have your grades. So I went and took the exam and I got my
00:10:00grades and I look pretty good to me. So I went down to the law school. The day I
got my grades, I went, I got my grades. I went right to the law school because I
only lived like eight, nine blocks from the law school. I showed them to the
guy. The guy looked at them and said, Hey, I think I can get you in, and here's
your application. And at the time they were, they were looking to recruit blacks
for law school. So um uh. So I got, you know, I was in a I like to say I was an
affirmative action admitted to the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
But most importantly, I was an affirmative action graduate of the University of
Pennsylvania Law School. I did. I did very well in law school. I mean, I wasn't
spectacular, but I did very well.
Humphries: And that's awesome. So um,did you finish it all in one time or?
Thompson: No, I did, I did. After I after I took the exam, I started law school
in September of that year after having graduated, so I worked in the
Philadelphia school system for about three or four months, and I worked in the
Philadelphia personnel department for another three or four months, and then I
started law school. I finished my first year of law school, but during, but like
in January and my first year of law school, the Vietnam War escalated
Humphries: Mhm. Thompson: This was in 1965. The Vietnam War escalated, so they
took away my deferment and I had to go into the Marine Corps. But fortunately, I
got 'em to. I got them to delay my entry into the Marine Corps until I
graduated, until I finished my first year of law school. So I said, Hey, can't
you at least let me finish my first year of law school? And the guy the Marine
wrote back and said, OK, when is your first year of law school over? I said,
00:12:00it's over on May 28th, 1966. He said, Fine, you report to us in May, the next
day, I forget just what it was the next day. Maybe it was not the next day,
maybe it was two days, but like the 29th. But he said, report to us on the 31st
or something like that. So I packed up my stuff, went home, um said goodbye to
my parents and went off to the Marine Corps.
Humphries: So when he called you and told you that, did you know, you're going
to go to Vietnam?
Thompson: No, I mean, this was, this was just this was just heading to, to
training. As an, as an officer, you are commissioned as an officer, but you have
to go to something called basic school to learn how to become an officer. So you
went. So I went to basic school, which was five months long, and it's in
Quantico, Virginia, it's still in Quantico, Virginia. I think they still call it
basic school. So I went to Marine Corps Officer's basic school. I spent, you
00:13:00know, four or five months there and I um uh. And then after that, I went to went
to something called the supply school down in place, called Monfort Point, right
outside of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. And then I went to Vietnam.
Humphries: So you tell me about how the basic and supply school was?
Thompson: The basic school was interesting, um was interesting. I, you know, I
brought I brought a lot of arrogance to the basic school because I had a year of
law school at the University of Pennsylvania, so I thought I was hot stuff. Uh
and I was sort of a loudmouth and at the at the at the halfway point they have,
00:14:00they have peer evaluations. So every every guy in the platoon evaluated
everybody else in the platoon and they evaluated me as unfit to be in office.
And I so uh, I had to go and see the colonel, the guy who headed up the bases
to. And I remember the conversation. He says, Lieutenant Thompson. You've got
this bad evaluation. Is this because you're black? And I remember my response to
the colonel. It's not because I'm black, but, as a black guy, if I mess up, it's
more obvious. And I ain't going to mess up anymore, I'm not going to mess up
anymore, sir. So he says, OK, that makes sense. Go back to your unit. So I went
00:15:00back to my unit. I kept my mouth shut for the balance of my time at basic
school. This whole issue of me being, um not ready to be, or not fit to be an
officer went away, and I was, I was, you know, I was in the Marine Corps.
Humphries: And what was race-
Thompson: But that, you know, that little that little thing tells me, I mean,
I've learned something from it. And that is, you know, you don't want to expose
yourself. To uh letting somebody sort of whack you, I like to say you don't want
to have a bare butt and let somebody come along and smack you on it. And if you,
you know, my experience that if if any person, particularly a black person in a
white environment exposes themselves, they're going to get hit. They're likely
00:16:00to get hit and they're likely not to get. Uh, you know, a second chance. Clearly
not going to get as many second chances as, in my judgment, a white person would
be, whether that, whether that's in civilian life or wherever. And I tell that
to my son, Look, you know, you gotta be you gotta be on your on your toes when
he I have a young son, 13, 14, 15 years old, when he goes into it, when he goes
into a store with some of his buddies, many of them are black and one who's
who's Chinese. They aren't going to need to steal anything. But I tell them,
Hey, be careful. Be careful. Don't even look like you're taking anything,
because I know when something like that happens as black guys in America, people
who have eyes on you and they say, you know, they're concerned about um, young
00:17:00black teenagers acting in a criminal way.
So I, so I tell my son and tell his buddies, Hey, when you go into that store.
You make sure you don't look like you're taking anything. And that's, you know,
and I learned that. I mean, I learned that in the Marine Corps. I learned it in
the Marine Corps, in the basic school. Because I don't think I think if I were
had been white, it wouldn't have happened. But it was a good lesson to me, and
fortunately, the colonel accepted my explanation and gave me a second chance.
And I kept my mouth shut the whole two and a half months to the end, to the
graduation, I kept my mouth shut. Nobody could say anything about me at all.
00:18:00Because the last thing I wanted to do was to be kicked out of the Marine Corps.
Humphries: So while you were in your training, were there any other instances of
like racism or injustice? Uh, were you treated different? Well, you were treated
differently. But was there anything overt that has happened in that training?
Thompson: No, you know. You know, I remember my father saying, when he was
talking, he was, we were having a conversation about affirmative action and
equal opportunity. And this is back in the 60s. OK, so this is a long time ago.
At least more than 50 years ago. And my dad, who was a very smart man, graduated
from Wilberforce University in Ohio, which is principally black school in Ohio.
00:19:00He said to me, He said to me. If you have real equal opportunity, you don't need
affirmative action. And he said that in the military there was equal
opportunity. That's what that was, his view of the way he was treated and he saw
other people being treated in the military.
And my experience is the same. From my experience in the Marine Corps, I love
the Marine Corps. I mean, I wear my marine hat every damn day. Wherever I'm
going, I wear it because I love the Marine Corps, and I love the fact that even
though I think those guys were discriminating against me. Um, the colonel said,
Hey, you got a second chance and. My impression is that. And I've said this
00:20:00before, and I've even written it in a, in a in a poem when I was in Vietnam,
that the Marine Corps was more of an egalitarian institution than any other
institution that I was aware of in life. Because there were procedural um
guardrails to prevent someone from being discriminated against, to prevent
someone from being um being unfairly treated. And um that's one of the reasons
why so many blacks have been successful in the military, including Colin Powell,
for example, who was the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Of um the army- of
the military, so. So I have a very, very fond regard, high regard for, for the Marines.
Humphries: So what was race like outside of the Marines at this time?
Thompson: Well, you know um. L let me, let me tell you a good story about West
Chester. OK. There were two. Black folks on two black kids on the football team.
I was on there and another guy, Ralph Rice, Ralph uh Rice was on it. No, Ralph
Lowe, I'm sorry. It was another Ralph Rice who was there, but it's Ralph Lowe
and Ralph. If he heard this would be really angry with me for confusing him with
Ralph Rice. But Ralph Lowe and I were the only black guys on the football team.
00:22:00Um but I never experienced any kind of racism on the team.
And indeed, I became a roommate of a guy who was a defensive back with me, a guy
named Jimmy Holt. Who is to this day? One of my very best friends, as a matter
of fact, I'm going to have him, I'm going to have him, I'm going to have him
listen to this thing and see where I said publicly to everybody who hears this
thing, that Jim Holt is a spectacular human being and is a great friend of mine,
and I consider myself fortunate to have him, and Jimmy, when I when we were in
law school, not in law school, when we were in college, my senior year, I said,
hey, Jim, I understand you guys have an apartment. Do you think you need
somebody else because I'm looking for a place to live? And he said, Yeah, so we,
00:23:00so I lived in a, in an apartment in right there in West Chester. With Jimmy
Holt, and there were two other folks I think Dutch Wokowski and there was
another guy whose name slips me. But the four of us lived there in that
apartment. And it was sort of unique at the time that a black guy would be
living with white guys. Um but it happened there at West Chester. We were on the
same football teams that we lived together. We had no battles or fights or
anything like that. Um it was a it was it was a really um a really a good, a
good experience. And we both were, We both were in the back field. We both
played defensive back. Jimmy was also a quarterback and played a little
quarterback. But um but um, I was a defensive back and Jimmy but if he wasn't
playing quarterback, who was also defensive back. And let me just mention this
00:24:00for those of you who are at West Chester. We, our head coach was a guy named Jim
Bonder, who was an outstanding football coach and the author of several books on
football and how you, and the various skills in football. As a matter of fact,
one year, uh one couple of several years ago, I went over to I'm in the law
school and our library is separate from the university's library. And so I went
over to the university library and I said, Let me see if I can find Jim, a book
by Jim Binder on on football. And there it was, right there in the Penn State
Library. Uh from a book he wrote like in nineteen fifty or fifty five or
something like that. So I mean, West Chester had really good football. The
coaches were really students of the game, and our our defensive backfield coach
was named is named Walt Beakley and Jimmy Holt and I communicate with with coach
00:25:00Beakley. Maybe once every three months he lives in North Carolina now we give
him a call and say, Hey, coach, how you doing? Checking on him.
Humphries: That's awesome. So after you're-
Thompson: By the way, if I'm going, if I go on, you're asking me about
interesting things and they come up, if I'm going too long on anything, just say
Sam, shut up because I need to get this.
Humphries: No.This is perfect. All the information is great. So um back to your
training after your grad- your graduation and what? You're an officer now as a marine?
Thompson: Yes, that was a second. I was I was commissioned as a second
lieutenant when I graduated from West. Just then I went to law school. I worked
for a semester, went to law school for you. Then I went into the Marine Corps
00:26:00and stayed in the Marine Corps for three years and then came back to law school.
Humphries: OK. So can you? Tell me how you got involved with Vietnam. Like, were
Thompson: No, I mean, no officers in the Marine Corps drafted. You go in because
you you want, You want to go. You, you know, you volunteer. So all officers in
the Marine Corps volunteers, I think that's just the same with the with the Navy
and with the Air Force. I believe um so you know, so you volunteered and then
they sent you where they want to send you and they sent me in. My first
assignment was in Vietnam with a unit called the 5th Marines, which is a very um
uh celebrated marine uh unit um that has a history that goes back at least to
World War One. When they fought in a place called the BellaWood, which is uh
00:27:00they fought the Germans at a place called BellaWood in France. So I was I was
with in my first assignment when I got to Vietnam was with the 3rd Battalion,
5th Marines and I um, I was the supply officer for the 3rd Battalion, 5th
Marines, um and fortunately, the sergeants running a supply office uh kept me
out of trouble because I didn't know what the heck I was doing I went to supply
school. But I I really did not know much of what I was doing, but I had some
really excellent sergeants who sort of looked out after me.
Humphries: So what was your reaction when they told you you were going to Vietnam?
Thompson: I volunteered to go to Vietnam
Thompson: And, you know, um I volunteered to go to Vietnam because I'm saying,
00:28:00Hey, you know, do I want to go to Vietnam now or do I want to go to Vietnam later?
Thompson: So I'll take now. And most of the people who were coming, who
graduated with me from basic school said the same thing. Let's go and get it
over with. Let's spend the first. Our first year where most of us had a three
year commitment. We had six months of training ah and then we we had, you know,
a year or so in Vietnam and a year after we got back home from Vietnam. So most
people were saying, I'm going to go to Vietnam, volunteer now, go to Vietnam. So
I don't have to spend the last year of my, My Marine Corps service worrying
about the Marine Corps. So most of us volunteered. Let's go get it on.
Thompson: Except one of my very good friends, uh one of my very best friends,
the guy named Jim Griffin, who was in uh this, my same unit in Quantico. Jim
00:29:00said I ain't volunteering for Vietnam. If they want me to go to Vietnam, they
can send me to Vietnam, but I'm not volunteering for Vietnam. So we all said,
Hey, you know, what's gonna happen is they are going to send you now, but
they're going to send you later. We're going to be home and you're going to be
over there. And he said, Yeah, let's see. So you know where they sent him?
Thompson: They sent him to Sweden. So he went on, he got assigned to a ship. A
Navy ship, because every Navy ship has Marine Corps guards on it. So he was in
charge of Marine Corps guards on a Navy ship that sailed um around the North Sea
in that area. So and he didn't. He never went to Vietnam . Humphries: Wow.
Thompson: So, so, so. And he's the only guy only officer I have ever seen. Ever
00:30:00heard of in the Marine Corps from that time, who did not go did not go to Vietnam.
Humphries: Look at that. So um before you left. What did you think about the war
and our involvement in the war?
Thompson: That is a very good question. I uh thought not strongly, but I thought
that uh the war was worth fighting when I went over there. That's what I thought
however when I got there. I was I went to Da Nang, which is a which is where the
Marine Corps was principally located. And and I went to see the division supply
office to see where they were going to send me. And they said, OK, Captain
00:31:00Lieutenant Thompson, we're going to send you to the 5th 3rd battalion, 5th
marines, you're going to be the supply officer there. And that's a great unit,
they said. Uh so. I was in Da Nang, so I got my orders to go to 3rd Battalion,
5th Marines and I go down I get on, I think it was not a helicopter, I think it
was one of these transport planes that flew into a place called Chu Lai which
was a couple hundred miles south of Da Nang. So, I landed in Chu Lai, Chu Lai.
And there is this um Jeep there, that's ready to pick me up and take me to the
3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, which was out of Chu Lai and had responsibility for
00:32:00defending part of the airbase. So I remember I remember we went up to the uh
gate in Chu Lai. They locked and loaded their rifles. We left the gate and we
had like a 12, 13 male ride from the Chu Lai airport to where the headquarters
of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines were. And I remember saying to myself, Damn. We
ain't never going to win this war, you know, if because we could have been, we
could have been ambushed at any point, there would have been nobody there to
protect us. So my, my view, not from a political standpoint, but just from a
practical standpoint, was that this is going to be very tough to win this war.
00:33:00Because the country is so damn big and we only have so many, so many marines and
and and army guys and navy guys. So my impression was, hey, this is going to be
a dogfight. That was my initial impression. Now, I was going to participate in
that dog fight, I wasn't going to not do my job, but I felt, hey, this is going
to be a tough thing to do. And it turns out that I was dead, right.
Humphries: So you said you were located in Danang, you said.
Humphries: What was that like?
Thompson: No, I wasn't located in Da Nang. Um I was located in a place called
Chu Lai, which is about 200 miles South of Da Nang, and then uh and then after
Chu Lai. After Chu Lai, I spent a little bit of time in Da Nang, but then we got
00:34:00moved farther north. And what happened is as the war got more vicious, there
were more marines who were moving north towards the DMZ. So our unit, Fifth
Marines got moved from Chu Lai then we got moved up to like around Da Nang, and
then we got moved up to Phu Bai which is an airbase that's south of Hue City.
And Hue City is a beautiful city. They have a citadel there. You know, that was
built a couple of several hundred years ago. Beautiful city right along
something called the perfume river. And uh so we got moved up to this, this base
00:35:00is this combat base called Phu Bai. And while I was in Phu Bai. I would
periodically go up to Hue City. And look for and I would have to go up there
because what would happen is when supplies came in and what happened I had been
promoted at the time to an assistant assistant logistics officer with the with
the third with with the Marine Corps 5th Marine Regiment.
Because I had I have been promoted, I think, to captain, and so I got that job
and that required me to do some coordination on supplies in the light. So I
would have to go up to Hue City to coordinate supplies that were coming in from
Da Nang. Da Nang was the central um place for Marines in Vietnam. And what would
00:36:00happen is stuff would get offloaded and in Danang from the U.S., then it would
be put on on. I think it called LSD's or LST's. They are landing ships for the
Navy, and the supplies would then come up the South China Sea to the Perfume
River, and then we'd come down the perfume river into the Hue. And they must be.
It must be several miles, maybe 10 miles from. The South China Sea, the mouth of
the film River in the South China Sea. Down to the city of Hue. So. So one time
we had trouble getting some supplies, so I said, hey, what I'm going to do is
I'm going to go head down to Japan- Go ahead down to Da Nang. I'm going to get
our supplies organized. I got our supplies organized. I got them one of them.
00:37:00One of those LST's we spent the night going up to and this was during the Tet
Offensive in 68. We spent the night going up to the um, up to the mouth of the
Perfume River, and that morning we had several uh navy boats uh escort us down
the perfume river. Fortunately, uh we got down there without I don't even think
we took any fire, so we were lucky to get down to the river into the city of Hue
and the Marine Corps, the Marine. The Marines were principally on the south side
of the city of Hue.
Humphries: OK. um so can you take me through a day in your life in, when you
were in Vietnam? I know you mentioned a little bit about your job, but beside
that? What was that like?
Thompson: That's a good question, what was it like, what was it like, where was
it like? Well, most days, I mean, you didn't it wasn't like you get a Sunday
off. You know, you work every day. Uh you did get something called R&R in on my
R&R, I went to Viet-, I went to Vietnam, I went to Hawaii for like five or six
days. And then I, you know, then I obviously had to come back to Vietnam. But I
mean, while I was in Vietnam, I mean, virtually every day, you know, you don't
get up and say, OK, Ima, I'm going to take a break today. It's Friday or Sunday,
or Saturday or Sunday. I'm going to take a break. It's, you know, you just
continue to work every day. So uh I don't remember any sort of days off except
00:39:00for when I went on R&R. It's called rest and recuperation.
Mya Humphries: All right. And you mentioned um that you were there during the
Tet Offensive. What was that like?
Thompson: Um, it was scary, and um, uh but I got the best job I've ever had in
life during the Tet Offensive. Now, I was a supply officer. Initially, when I
went in as a lieutenant, I was playing off and I came, I became an assistant uh
regimental logistics officer. And then the Tet Offensive came along. And um
there was a shortage of officers, uh senior um officers and I remember Colonel
Bohm, was his name? B-O-H-M in I believe it is or something like it. Called me
00:40:00in his office and he said, OK, Captain Thompson.
Our regimental Commanding officer has got to. Is going to be leaving because
we're we're moving them out to this other unit, an infantry unit. And do you
think you could be the CO of Headquarters Company 5th Marines? And I said,
Absolutely, sir. And that was the best job I've ever had in life. In that job, I
was responsible for a certain portion of defense of the second portion of the
Phu Bai air base. And I worked 24/7 in protecting my working to to ensure that
that or area of the defense burner was not in any way breached. So it was it was
00:41:00it was 24/7 work. Um you really felt like it was life or death. Uh, you deal
with you would I would deal with young marines who were scared to death. In
their foxholes. Um but I'd like to say without exaggeration that that was the
most uh enjoyable job of my life. I've done a lot of things, but being the CO of
headquarters company Fifth Marine as a young captain because I generally have a
billet or an assignment for a senior captain as a young captain was was was um
was really uh quite rewarding.
Humphries: And did you get that position because of your work or, your work
Thompson: Yeah, I had a I had a good reputation. But the the principal reason
was because during the Tet Offensive, there were a whole bunch of folks,
infantry officers that got killed and the head, the head was going to was going
to a lying unit. I was not in a line unit that's out there hunting down the
enemy. I was back just defending, working on defending the air base. Um, but um
so, you know, so I wasn't I wasn't in the most in the riskiest part of the job
of a marine officer.
Humphries: Um, was there ever a moment where you felt like your life was at risk
or were there any situations like that?
Thompson: Absolutely. Um uh You know, one in one case, we were at a place called
Tam, Ky. And we got hit with a mortar attack. I was sleeping in a tent with five
other people, six other people. We got hit in a mortar attack and there were
five people in that tent that got shrapnel from the mortar. With the mortars,
and it was one person who didn't, and that was me. So I was very lucky there,
and there were other times when I was uh mortar or artiller um Incoming. But I
never and I do not have. Uh I did not say I did not have a situation where I had
00:44:00a fight, a uh Vietnamese soldier. On the other, you know, who's looking down the
barrel of a gun at me, I didn't I never, I didn't have that experience.
Humphries: And speaking of the Vietnamese, what was life like there? I know race
had to be something there maybe.
Thompson: Well, um I, you know, I- number one you that you had. I had very
little association with the Vietnamese, but I will tell you a story. That's a
very interesting story. When I was when I was in Hue before, before the Tet
Offensive, I was in Hue and I'd go up help coordinate supplies that were coming
00:45:00in and I was there, And. I looked down and there's this black kid. Vietnamese
half-Black have Vietnamese about 13 years old. I said, damn , let me let me let
me let me talk to this kid, so. Hey. What's your name? Charlie is my name. Where
do you live? Well, I live with Mama Son. He was an orphan.
So he had some lady who would take care of. I said, you know, where did you come
from? You know, where's your dad from? And apparently his dad was from was in
Vietnam as a member of the French Army, because the French Army had several um.
00:46:00Or numerous folks from French West Africa or French Northern Africa in the
French uh army. And so I think his dad was, must have been a black French
soldier from northern Africa. But anyway, I got to know, I got to know Charlie
and um I said, look, I've got to help this kid. So I said, OK, Charlie, I want
you to go to school. And I, I figured out we're being, having a Western
orientation, I normally thought about a Catholic school for. So I figured out
where a Catholic school was in Hue. And um I put Charlie in a jeep and had a
00:47:00driver and we went across the Perfume River. We went off to the left, we went up
several different mouths to this Catholic school. And I went into the Catholic
school to all the nun, and I said, you know, miss, I want you to enroll this kid
in the in the Catholic school, in your school and I'll pay you. I mean, the
tuition was nominal, but I said, here, I'll pay you this tuition now. For an
American dollars or something to take care of him through his first year or
first couple of months and here's my name and you can be assured that I will. I
will pay for him to go here. And the nun said. Fine. Very nice, lady, Vietnamese
lady, very nice lady. And um so I got back in my car, I got back in my jeep
00:48:00after telling Charlie, Charlie you stay here and get a great education, and
maybe some day you can come to the United States but get a great education.
Thompson: By the time I got back to my post on the southern part of the south on
the um south side of the Perfume River. Charlie was there. He beat me back, he
said. He said he wasn't going to go to that school. He said, he said, I'm going
to Budda school, but I ain't going to go to Catholic school. And unfortunately,
I been too Western didn't have the sense to say, OK, let's find you a Buddha school.
Thompson: But he did not want to go to that Catholic school. And the last time I
saw Charlie. Was doing the Tet Offensive. And, you know, a big part of the Tet
Offensive, not a big part, but a significant part of the Tet Offensive took
00:49:00place in Hue because the Vietnam, the North Vietnamese took over the city of
Hue, the northern part of the city of Hue on the northern side of the Perfume
River. So I'm on the south side of the river after having brought some supplies
and. Come on, come in on one of these LST's with supplies. I get off the boat.
And there's Charlie playing, playing cards with, with one of his buddies right
there in the middle of um the south side of the Perfume River. You know where
troops are getting in, in order to get across the river to fight and, you know,
you got incoming from from across the other across the river people shooting at
you and these kids are there playing cards. And that's the last time I saw
Charlie. I don't know whether he's alive or dead, and I and I should try to
00:50:00figure out whether he's still alive because he would now be. Um I was 24, then I
am now 78 . So I was, That's 50 some years ago, and he was he he was at the
time, 13 years ago.
So he would be at least 63. Or somewhere between 63 and 70, if he's still alive.
And I should have tried to track him down, but I just haven't done it.
Humphries: Hmm. Is that like your most memorable story?
Thompson: Yeah. That's the most memorable story of my life, Charlie.
Humphries: Yeah, that's great. So in, as serving in the Marine Corps, how is
that different from other branches of, in the military during the war? So how
00:51:00was your role different than say, other people in other branches?
Thompson: I don't I, you know, I wasn't in any of the other branches, um
obviously, or stationed with them um. The Marine Corps is uh you know, the
principal function of the Marine Corps is to. Is to. Is to pursue uh infantry
type of actions, whereas uh the army has not just infantry, but other sources,
other other things as well. So I mean, but I don't know anything about the army
and I don't know anything about the Navy. And I and I probably don't know
00:52:00anything about the Marine Corps at this point.
Humphries: So how did being in the war would you say change you, like either
mentally or physically?
Thompson: Well, you know, I mean, I was I I got out of the Vietnam War. Without
getting hurt without getting shot and. Without going crazy. So when I look back
on my Marine Corps experience in Vietnam. It was not a real negative experience.
For me and as I said. The most um enjoyable job I ever had was in the Marine
00:53:00Corps as the CO of Headquarters Company 5th Marines. Particularly as a black
marine. And, you know, as a junior captain. Serving in a senior captain's
billet, um that was it was challenging to me, and I think I did a good job. I
know it well, I don't know, but I'm sure I did a good job.
Humphries: So when did you get to leave Vietnam?
Thompson: After I was there for a little under 13 months and then I flew back.
Humphries: OK, did you get to where you sent out or what? How did that work?
Thompson: You know what you get, you get orders.
Thompson: You know, everything is involving orders, so my orders said, OK,
you're going to you're going to report to the Philadelphia supply activity in
00:54:00South in South Philly. So that's where that's where I spent the last uh last
yearI was in the Marine Corps was right there in South Philly. I don't think
that the Marine Corps supply activity is still there. I think it got moved. But
it was on South Broad Street about uh maybe seven or eight males, seven or eight
blocks, maybe a little more south of Market Street.
Humphries: And how was that transition going back to Philadelphia from Vietnam?
Thompson: It was easy, it was easy. And what I what I did when I got back is I
wanted to, you know, I had a year of law school and I wanted to, I got
interested in economics. I didn't have economics at West Chester. I had no
00:55:00economics class at all at West Chester, I don't think. And so I got interested
in economics stuff, and I read an economics book when I was in Vietnam on my
spare time. Uh so when I got back, I was able to get into a uh program at Penn
called Applied Economics. Business and applied economics. And so I started in
that program virtually at the same time, I started at the Marine Corps supply
activity and I was able to complete that program and get a master's degree
before going back to West or going back to Penn. And having being able to do
that kind of studying at Penn helped to sort of to bridge the gap in in my
education between being a secondary studies student at.
West Chester, when I was competing with students who were uh business students
at uhColumbia. So I was I was at a disadvantage in that disadvantage. As a
result of the Marine Corps and as a result of my studies at Penn on the uh
getting a masters in in business in applied economics helped me to uh compete
better when I when I went back to law school.
Humphries: That's awesome. So after all that, you did go right to law school?
Thompson: When I got a well, I got out of I got out of the Marine Corps on May
15, 1968, A Friday, I started my studies at Penn, my last semester, or course,
00:57:00in summer at Penn. The next Monday, so I got out on a Friday and Monday, I was
at Penn because that's when the summer session started. Then I finished the
summer session and then I started the law school in September.
Humphries: So to my-
Thompson: And and and, you know, being older and having the opportunity to do
some graduate studies and in um some some subjects that were closely, more
closely related to the law allowed me to do a lot better in law school than I
otherwise would have. Now, so, you know, so I mean, I. You know, I didn't when I
was at West Chester, I didn't work very hard and I just got lucky on that LSAT
exam. I don't know. No, I think I did OK because I think, I know I did OK on the
00:58:00exam, but I didn't have a lot of background that a lot of people who were there
at Penn had. And because I didn't take philosophy or what's your major at West Chester?
Humphries: Political Science.
Thompson: Political science or history or something like that. So I was not in
one of those majors that are designed to sort of prep you for law school.
That's not what I was being prepped for. So being able to study at Penn before
going back to law school sort of helped close some of those gaps?
Humphries: That's awesome. So to my understanding, I know Vietnam vets weren't
treated the best after the war just because of the anti-war movement and all of
that. Did you experience that?
Thompson: No. I didn't experience it. Now I didn't wear my my unit, my uniform
00:59:00all the time, but I did wear it to go to work and I wore it to come home. And
nobody I I never had a bad experience in uh in Philadelphia. Not once did I have
a bad experience in Philly.
Humphries: So after law school, what, what did you do?
Thompson: Well, after I got out of the Marine Corps, I went to law school and
finished law school, and then I went to work in to New York to work in a law
firm called Davis, Polk and Wardwell, which is a large New York law firm. And I
spent a year there. And um one of my professors when I at Penn was, was a
professor at. At uh Northwestern, he was visiting at Penn, and I liked his
classes. I did very well in his classes. He knew I was interested in teaching
01:00:00and he recommended me to uh to go into teaching at Northwestern. And uh so
that's what I did. After a year of practice in New York, I went to went to teach
Humphries: That's awesome
Thompson: Northwestern's law school,
Humphries: And you did mention you have a son and a family.
Humphries: Can you tell me a little about them?
Thompson: Well, uh unfortunately, my wife and I are not together anymore. I
mean, we're decent with each other, of course, but um we aren't together um. My
son, you know, I spend time with my son. My wife spends time with him and. You
know, we both love them to death um. And are hopeful that he will succeed in
life and are. Confident that he will succeed.
Humphries: Is he interested in the military at all?
Thompson: I don't think so. He's interested in football and he's interested in
basketball. He was a he was a basketball player and a very good basketball
player, and we had him in something called the IMG Academy in Florida, uh which
is a sports academy. But he decided he didn't want to continue doing that. And
he walked away from basketball, but now he's back starting to play basketball.
As a matter of fact, I had them here in state college and he's on a team down in
Williamsport, so I had him and one of his buddies. Uh I took him down to
Williamsport last night for one of their practices. So um he's, you know, he's
getting back into liking uh football, I mean liking basketball. And he's also
looking to play football at a school in Philadelphia in Harrisburg called Bishop
McDevitt, which is which is a very good record, a very good football program. So
01:02:00he's gonna be going there in the in the fall.
Humphries: That's awesome. So looking back, especially at your military career
or college, anything like that, is there anything you would have done
differently looking back?
Thompson: You know, uh that's a very good question. You can always sort of
second, guess yourself. But frankly, I you know, I think that I've had. So, you
know, life has been very good to me. And could it have been better? Anything
01:03:00could be better, but. You know, I don't wake up in the morning saying, you know,
I'm, you know, I wish I had done this or I wish I'd done that. I wake up in the
morning saying, OK, now what more should I do? So I woke up this morning.
Worrying about a book that I'm working on and am I going to be able to get it to
the publisher because the publishers yelling at me so. And the publisher has has
published two, two other books of mine, and now it's doing a third book. And so,
you know, it's it's. It's. You know It keeps you busy, and, you know, I don't
have any I don't have any regrets, I mean, you can always say, Hey, you know,
you would like to have had your career go in a different direction, but I've
01:04:00been pretty happy with my career. And I think and I've been extremely fortunate.
Humphries: So you-
Thompson: And and you know, if and frankly, affirmative action was what gave me
my chance at Penn. And I and I took advantage of it. I took advantage of it
because I worked hard. Um I um Ium . Yeah, I worked hard at it both when I was
there and afterwards, and I was working hard, for example, today when I worked,
when I was working on my book. And the reason I had to postpone this meeting is
because I was working on a book. I was in the middle of something and I didn't
want to stop.
Humphries: Mhm. So you're working on a book and what else are you doing currently?
Thompson: The, I mean, my my my the other thing I really like to do is jog. So I
like to jog. I've got I got injured, so I haven't been able to do it every day,
but I like to jog. And one of the things I'm going to do when I leave here is
I'm going to go out. I'm in in the law squad at Penn State. We have a huge field
right off, right next to the law school. And what I'm going to do when I leave
here is go to that field and get a little run in.
Humphries: That's awesome. It sounds like you have a lot of achievements and
you've had a great deal of higher education and experience. And that's just
definitely awesome to hear about. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thompson: I don't think so. No, this is about. I mean, you know, I'm I, you
know. Let me just simply say that you know, now is the time where Americans are
01:06:00fighting with each other. More than we fought with each other for at any time
during my uh lifetime. Pretty much, maybe, maybe, maybe well back during the
time of Jim Crow. But but since the 60s, there's more fighting among black
Americans and white Americans than at any time during that period.
Thompson: And it's disappointing. It really is disappointing that we can't sort
of. Get out of this white black thing and and focus on the fact that we're all
Americans and and and and pull together as Americans and stop trying to tear
each other down and stuff like that. So that's that's the one thing that that
Humphries: Mhm. How do you think we get past that?
Thompson: You know, you said you want to be a lawyer and you ask very good
questions. You would end up being a very good lawyer, so I'm going to follow
your career. I want you to as you move through. Go to law school. I want you to
send me a note, say, Hey Sam, I'm in law school. Hey, Sam, I'm graduating from
law school. Hey, Sam, I'm going to this law firm or I'm going to the government
to work here. Keep me posted. OK? You know what? You know what My email is, right?
Thompson: OK, so now what was your question?
Humphries: How do you think we get past that, the races and getting along? Or
how do you get past that?
Thompson: Um, How do we get past? I wish I knew. I wish I knew.
Thompson: Um, I think that there was a big reaction. Adverse reaction to the
presidency of Barack Obama. And that reaction, adverse reaction led to the
election of Donald Trump, who in my judgment. Was not a person who tried to
unify Americans. Anybody who says that Donald Trump tried to unify Americans is
nuts. And um You know, and as a result of that, maybe not completely as a result
01:09:00of that, but. It's certainly a contributing factor. We are. We are in a scary
place. As a country. I mean, it's a matter of fact, I even worry about our
military. With all of this. This contention. This fighting among civilians in
Congress. It's got it, it's got to have an impact on the military. So, you know,
I go back to what my father said to me. In the 1960s or maybe '59 I. No, it was
01:10:00in the 60s, it was '61 or '62. And in the military. He said the army, because
that's where he was in the army. You don't need affirmative action because
you've got equal opportunity. I'm not sure. That. Well, I'm concerned that this
commitment to equal opportunity in the military may be dissipating. I don't have
any concrete evidence to cite to, but just some general impressions I've gotten
is that there are some issues that the military has been dealing with race.
issues. What do you think about that?
Humphries: Um, yeah, I agree with what you said, especially about the
presidency's and I think the fear of having a black president and then having a
completely different type of president after um people were scared and people
were threatened. So I totally agree with you, but that um that struck something
as far as the military goes, I'm not sure about that. Yeah, it's hard to tell
and it's hard to answer what'll fix. You know, race relations and all that.
Thompson: How are things at West Chester in that regard?
Humphries: I think things at West Chester are good. I feel like it's kind of, I
think people choose to segregate me, so the white community tends to stay
01:12:00together and then the black community tends to stay together. like the black
community have made separate events kind of. And, you know, we just do things
separate aot of times, but I think a lot it's inclusive and I have I haven't had
any issues, but yeah, people just tend to stay apart. But there's a lot of, you
know, programs and, you know, they do a lot for diversity, so I don't think it's bad.
Thomopson: Just keep in mind that I graduated from West Chester when I was
twenty one. In fifty, I'm 78, 78 minus 21 is what?
Humphries: Fifty, yeah.
Thompson: Fifty seven years ago at West Chester. My roommate, my three roommates
01:13:00were white guys um and what you're saying now is that they may be a little bit
Humphries: they were not unlikely, but I just think we have two separate worlds
at this point. I mean, of course, there are going to be some white people and
some black people that are friends, but I really, truly think for the most part
that it's pretty separate. But I think it's by choice.
Humphries: Yeah, but I stilSl I like it here a lot. I'm glad I chose to come
here. It's a nice community and all of that.
Thompson: Well, you're obviously a very talented lady and um keep me posted. Let
01:14:00me know where you're going to apply to law school and when you get in and, and
how it goes, I would, I would just like to stay and stay in contact. Humphries:
Well, yeah, of course. Yeah, thank you for your time. I'm going to stop