Larry J. Thompson
Born December 22, 1946 In Webster City, Iowa
United States Marine Corps and United States Navy Seabees
Vietnam War Veteran
Times were difficult, and jobs were hard to come by in the post-World War II and Korean War-era for Larry Thompson’s family. Thompson said his dad found work south of Fort Dodge, IA so the family moved down there. “I started at South Junior High School, but quit after ninth grade, Thompson recalled. “I tried to get a job myself but couldn’t. I turned 17. So, I thought I might as well join the service.”
He signed up with the United States Army, passed the physical but said he didn’t pass one of the written tests, so they turned him down. “I went back to the Army recruiter who asked if I really wanted to join the military. I said yes, and he told me to wait a minute. He brought in the U.S. Marine Corps recruiter and by April (1964) I was in Marine boot camp at Camp Pendleton, San Diego.”
Thompson’s first duty station was in Okinawa, Japan. Coincidentally that is where his father fought as part of the U.S. Army against the Japanese during fierce battles in World War II. Thompson was with the 3rd Marines Engineering Battalion, in support of the 3rd Marine Division. “My M.O.S. (military occupational specialty) was a combat engineer. We built things, did construction and I also trained with high explosives to blow up tunnels,” he remembered.
In 1965 the Marines sent Thompson to many areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including the Philippines and Thailand. “We left Thailand and went to Bangkok. As we headed back from time on leave, we got our orders to head to Vietnam,” he said. “We were in Da Nang helping move a combat field hospital closer to the front lines. My job was carrying the wounded off of incoming helicopters. That’s were I saw my first dead guy,” he admitted.
Again, Thompson headed to ‘Nam. “We were five-miles from the DMZ (demilitarized zone),” he said. “That’s how close I was to North Vietnam. Our jobs included sweeping roads for landmines, clearing them for convoys of supplies,” he said. “I had some close calls during my 3rd tour,” he added. “One time we found a boobytrapped mine. It was so powerful it blew up half the road.”
Thompson was also stationed at the U.S. Marines air base at Chu Lai where he had another very close call. “There was an incoming enemy rocket. We were running to our bunker and we could hear the rocket coming in when it hit. We were all knocked to the ground. I saw a buddy get killed and lots of others wounded,” he said. “That was too close of a call.”
The Iowa native got out of the Navy in 1970 and came back home to the Hawkeye state. “I still support our troops. But I can understand my dad’s point of view on war. He was a U.S. Army WWII veteran and Purple Heart recipient,” said Thompson.
Thompson re-entered civilian life and landed a job at Universal Manufacturing Company in Algona, Iowa, an automobile parts re-manufacturing firm, now known as ReTech. He worked for them for 34 years. “Now I’m 100-percent disabled because of Agent Orange,” he said. Thompson and his wife of 48 years, Karen, both live in Ringsted, IA.