Jess Thompson

Jess Thompson

In Honor of

Thomas Fowler

Killed at Okinawa

By a Kamikaze plane

Crashing into his ship

May God Bless Thomas Fowler

Jess Thompson served on the SS John Colter, the SS Skagway Victory and the SS James Grimes. Jess lives in Union, Washington now and can be contacted via email at

Pictures - Scroll down for individual snaps

Individual Pictures shown later

Jess tells his story below in his own words

Hello everybody,

On the 16th of December, 1999, for about eight hours we fought water 
seeping into our downstairs.  Last night we went without power.  Days 
and nights are mixed up.

What follows I wrote during the early morning hours of December 17.  I
debated whether to send it or not, but did so at last, mostly to nieces or
nephews or cousins, who had never heard of the events, and who might be
interested.  Now I send it to The WWII Naval Armed Guard web site, for those
times and years, with similar and worse experiences in far away places
filled with your memories of those times that we lived through.  It's
mainly only a personal story, but if I may share this with you, it tells
why 17 December hits me in the gut.

December 17, 1944 to December 17, 1999

Those two dates are fifty-five years apart.

On the first of those dates, I sailed from Seattle in the SS James W.
Grimes, my last ship, another of the Liberty ships of WWTwo.   Fifty-five
yeas ago today.  On that same day my brother Ab sailed from San Francisco.
Neither of us knew of the coincidence until much later.

On my ship we had earlier come up from Long Beach for overhaul and dry-dock
at Todd Ship Yard in Seattle.  Hoo-ooh-ooray!  I made liberty home to
Alderwood Manor.  After the overhaul, we loaded cargo along Alaskan Way,
and in Mukilteo, we loaded bombs at the ammunition dock below Jap Gulch (so
named on the old maps), where my dad and my big brother Morrie both worked.

 They both came aboard and saw where I lived in the ship.  My hole, my
quarters, my bunk.  For me this was a big thrill.

Ab, while in San Francisco, was fenced inside a compound on Treasure
Island, where he was denied liberty since he was soon to sail.  Somehow,
another brother, Bob, found Ab and they talked through the fence and over
the gate.  As I remember, Bob bribed the guard at the gate to let Ab out so
they could make liberty in San Francisco.  They did.

Bob in a minesweeper had been out in some of the same places I had been on
my first trip in 1943--to the New Hebrides, and to Guadalcanal, Tulagi, the
Russell Islands all in the Solomon Islands.  How he happened to be in San
Francisco, how he found Ab, I don't know.

By late 1944 the war had moved north through the Solomons.  Manus, in the
Admiralty Islands, had become "ours."  That's where we first anchored,
about mid-January, 1945.  That's also where Ab first anchored.  We didn't
know it.  My ship went from there to Hollandia, in New Guinea.  So did Ab.
We didn't know it.  I went from Hollandia to Leyte, in the Philippines.  So
did Ab.  We didn't know it.

Ab stayed in the Philippines, on board of his sea-going tug, the ST 133.
Coast Guard.  He was MM 2/C--Machinist's Mate, Second Class petty officer.
He had been on the east coast during the earlier years of the war, but like
many others, he got sent to the Pacific also.  At one point he went through
a hellish typhoon and almost sank.

From the Philippines, my ship went back to Hollandia, then down to Sydney
and Cairns, Australia, then back to Hollandia, to Biak, to Morotai in the
Halmaheras (where we got chased away while wandering the beach and trying
to get a look the big new B-29 airplanes at the airfield).  We went back up
the Philippines, to Lingayen Gulf, on the NW of the big island of Luzon.
There, I learned from nosing around that the ST 133 had been seen "a week
or so ago."  Somebody thought it had gone to Manila.

At Lingayen Gulf also, I, a radioman, with our lieutenant, went ashore
after the mail, wearing a sidearm--the only time in the whole war that I
was so rigged out.  They were still fighting in the hills above us.  There
we heard stories how the Japs were still floating with bits of debris and
explosives down the rivers and into the bay were ships were anchored and
trying to blow them up.

A haggard, bleary-eyed soldier sat leaning against a tree where a Lister
bag hung, and after my chlorine-soaked drink of water, I talked with him a
bit.  I said something like, "It's tough up there in the hills, huh?"  He
nodded.   But then he added that he'd hate to be out on the ocean in one of
those damn boats(sic)--"...all cramped up and nothing but a little steel
between you and drowning."  A lot of soldiers felt this way.  And somehow
for the most part it worked out that a good many in various billets felt
that no matter where they were, they felt better off than in some place
else worse.

Around San Fernando and elsewhere in Lingayen Gulf the women smoked cigars
backwards, with the fire end in their mouths.  You think I'm not telling
the truth?  I saw it, believed it, remembered it for years, but still
doubted that I had seen it until I saw a picture of it in a National
Geographic magazine.  So it's the truth.

In San Fernando I tasted Nipa wine, a horrible drink.  And I bought a gold
ring with a red arrow in it, made of gold from the mines up around Baguio,
ordered by a soldier who never made it back to pick it up.

From Lingayen Gulf we sailed south to Batangas in southern Luzon.  The
Filipinos there dug through the garbage heaps looking for food.  From
Batangas, on liberty, I caught rides on Army trucks up to Manila, about 70
miles, I believe.  Manila had been shattered, made into piles of rubble,
with lanes or paths bulldozed through the bricks to walk or drive vehicles
through.  The harbor lay full of sunk and foundered ships, battered hulks,
some broached on their sides, some with tops of the booms or masts sticking
out of the water.

I learned that Ab's tug was anchored in the harbor.  From what was left of
Pier 7, I think it was, I caught a ride in somebody's shore boat out to
Ab's tug.  I crawled on board, over the rail, and asked for Thompson.
"He's below," someone said.

Finding a needle in a haystack is nothing compared with finding a tugboat
in the Pacific Ocean.  I heard Roy Acuff and "Will the Circle be Unbroken?"
coming from below on a small crank-up phonograph.  I started down the
ladder.  Ab said he knew it was me when he saw my legs coming down through
the hatchway.

Together we caught rides back to my ship.  My officer met Ab and said to
take all the liberty I wanted.   Several people, without introductions,
just seeing us together, asked if we were brothers.

We sat in my quarters on the bunks and drank a few cans of beer.  Then we
threw a bucket of empty beer cans and water through the porthole over the
side and it landed in the Captain's shore boat.  As I remember, this caused
some embarrassment, but it was forgiven and we cleaned up the mess and
caught rides back to Manila.

To say farewell, we sat at some kind of a sidewalk table and ordered a
drink.  I think I remember imitating Jimmie Durante, but nothing else until
I woke up the next day, sore all over, in a military more or less drunk
tank in a shattered building, with a bunch of other guys.  I had no shirt
on, no undershirt, no shoes, no socks.

Nobody found socks for me, but somebody found me a shirt and a pair of Army
boots, hightop shoes, rough side out, about size 9, and I'm size 12.  While
walking and hitching rides back to Batangas and my ship, I wore huge
blisters on my heels, and when I think of it now, 55 years later, I guess I
wore blisters on my soul, or spirit, and on my memory.

What follows I learned about later, from rumors about poisoned liquor, and
most details I learned, some sooner, some in much later years, from Ab.
Apparently I almost died from poisoned liquor, whiskey or whatever was in
the drink that we had to say farewell.  Some farewell.  Rumor had it that
the "Japs had poisoned whiskey and left it as booby traps."

Whatever.  Anyhow, I had become unconscious.  Ab got an ambulance, an Army
ambulance, I guess.  I was in the back, dead gone, and a drunk jumped in
behind the wheel and drove the thing off and crashed it and in the process
ran over a Filipino who was killed.

Me, the MP's or SP's or whoever, me, they took to the brig/sick bay and
dumped me, and the next day told me to clear out--so I went back to my

Ab they held as a witness.  For six months or more they held him as a
witness until the trial came up of the drunk who had crashed the ambulance.
The German or European War had ended.  The Bombs had been dropped, the
Pacific war had ended, and still they held Ab until the slow-turning wheels
of justice brought about the trial.  Ab made his testimony, and they sent
him home in the fall of 1945.   Long later, he told me that he shot a lot
of baskets while killing time--a long, miserable, hot, fumy, rotten dirty

From Manila he caught a ride in an Army plane that couldn't get the wheels
down to land at Kwajelein.   They sprayed the field with foam and they
finally made a landing of some sort that they lived through, at least, and
at last he made it to Pearl Harbor.  He would not get back in the airplane,
he refused to get back in any airplane, and caught a ride to San Francisco
on a cruiser, I think maybe the Helena, but I'm not sure.

So then.  After I had got back on my blistered heels and sore head to my
ship in Batangas, we later sailed up to Manila, where we rotted a while,
and then sailed for San Francisco, along about July or August of 1945.  I
was home on leave when they quit fire-bombing and dropped the Big Bombs.

From Bremerton, I got out in February of 1946.  I didn't want a medal or
anything, it's not clear, I don't remember, but I suppose I wanted a
welcome home of some sort.  Brother Bob "escaped" just ahead of me. 
Brother Wally, back from his air war towing gliders and paratroopers from
England to the Continent, got back and got out and got home.  Brother Ab
got out, finally.  We all got back and got out and got home, anyhow, and I
guess you'd have to say that we were all four of us lucky.

The war stopped Hitler and his insanity, stopped Japan's expansion and
bastard cruelty, and this, history says, makes it worthwhile.  Sometimes it
seems that we did it for the benefit of politicians and profiteers and so
that drug dealers and pukes could take over the streets.  Times are NOT
better, it seems to me.  But it had to be done.  We only know that it had
to be done.

It often hits me how the names of those far away places, so alive in our
memories, mean nothing to recent  generations, to millions since.

I had to think of this during the recent WTO fracus in Seattle, when the
anarchists were busting up the downtown and hooting about their "rights,"
and about democracy.   It made us heartsick.  Seattle is a relatively small
town, compared with New York or London or many of the truly giant cities,
and we remember what fun it was to go to Seattle, to walk the streets most
anywhere, and to feel safe.  And how it has so changed, even apart from the
riots.  Is it the same in London?

You Norman, who flew the planes, you, Senator, you, Dan, Brian, Mel, Tom,
who sailed the seas, flew the planes, you, Pete--sailed the seas and blown
to hell out of your carrier, and to all of you, friends who know and live
in the places where this all took know, and you remember.

Though this is a just personal story about brothers, I think of all of you
who lived through those times as brothers, and yes, today, if concerned, as
brothers and sisters all.

If you have waded this far...let me finish by saying that I don't like
particularly to dwell on those times, on the war, but at times, it hits me,
times like today, and that trip that started 17 December 1944.

That last trip seems somewhat harrowing.  It plowed deep.  This is why 17
December always haunts me.  I live with it a little bit every year, never
quite get over it, and now this year, it hits me especially hard to think
that it's 55 years since THAT December 17th.

We were so young.

Jess Thompson

Individual Pictures

Jess at 17 years of age

Jess, then and now!

Jess and wife, Doris

Jess Thompson and Wally Thatcher

Back Row: L to R: Thatcher, Kelly, and Thompson. Front Row: L to R: Unknown, Mike Peters, Pruett

Kelly, a Signalman; Pruett, a Gunners Mate; and Jess Thompson, Radioman

Jess and Eddie, a Merchant Marine, and Oats

Jess and Tom Fowler

Armed Guard crew of the SS Fort Winnebago

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