Remembering dad: Tommy Thompson

My dad died when I was very young, so memories of him were provided by others
William D. (Tommy) Thompson Sr.

Electricians’ First Mate William Douglas “Tommy” Thompson, Sr., survived World War II in the pacific and stood in his dress whites on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri as Japan surrendered to end that conflict in 1945.

He came home to his fiance, settled in Gibsonton, FL, his hometown just south of Tampa, and they married and I came along in late 1947. My dad died when I was nine months old in an electrical accident at the U.S. Phosphorus plant in Tampa when electrical power was mistakenly turned on to a motor he was repairing.

Because of my age when he died, I have only memories of my father that came from my mother, the former Ethel MacPeak of Meadows of Dan Virginia. They met when he was in Norfolk while waiting to reassignment after his ship was put in for repairs at the Navy Yard. She ran the gas stamp allocation office at the Yard and he had to get her approval for additional stamps to ride his Harley Davidson motorcycle down to Florida.

“He was a tall, handsome man with a thatch of thick black hair and a great smile,” mom told me in an early story about him. She also rode a Harley and gladly granted the extra stamps.

When dad returned from Florida, mom said he found her on a date in a bar in Norfolk after work and thanked her for the stamps.

“Let me take you to dinner to thank you,” she recalled him saying.

“You will have to talk to my date about that,” she said. Her date was also her boyfriend at the time, a Norfolk man, Joe Weatherly, a famous motorcycle racer at the time, who worked at the base during the war.

Weatherly, she recalled, challenged my future dad to a race through the streets of downtown Norfolk that night. My mother watched from the crowd when they roared off into the night and my dad returned a short time, later, ahead of Weatherly, and was declared the winner.

“I thought I was a crazy bastard,” mom remembered Weatherly, “but he’s wilder than me.”

That race he lost to Tommy Thompson would be her last date with Joe Weatherly. They remained good friends, He was also friends with Floyd’s Curtis Turner, who talked Weatherly into racing cars in NASCAR events. He died in a crash at Riverside’s road course in California on Jan. 18, 1964. My mother cried when she was told about his death.

From that first date in Norfolk during the war, became “Tommy’s girls” among the Motor Maids motorcycle club she road with. When he got orders to head for the Pacific to serve on the Missouri, Tommy proposed before leaving. She accepted.

The Missouri saw a lot of action during Tommy’s time as one of its Electrician’s Mate and was prepared to be the primary battleship for a planned invasion of mainland Japan and Tokyo after the bloody battle of Okinawa, which left thousands of American soldiers, and hundreds of thousand Japanese, dead. The Japanese military had vowed to fight until the last man, woman, and child died.

Mom said she cried herself to sleep each night worrying about the fate of the Missouri and its crew but was relieved when the staggering death tolls of two atomic bombs dropped by the United States and Hiroshima and Nagasaki convinced the Japanese Emporer and his military to accept the unconditional surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

With the war over, Tommy Thompson returned to Norfolk, married, and rode their motorcycles down to Gibsontao to start a home and family.

They performed at thrill shows on their cycles and he worked at the Phosphorus plant until his death in 1948. Mom remained in Gibsonton until I was five before we took the train to Roanoke and she could return home to Floyd County, VA.

She had told many stories about my dad, mostly good ones, and convinced me that no one could ever replace Thommy Thompson, but she remarried again to a divorced man with three kids and we moved to Farmville in Prince Edward County, where we lived on a farm and he owned a sawmill.

At age eight, I had accepted the belief that no one could ever replace my dad so I never gave my new stepfather a chance to be a father. That was my fault, not his. My dead lives in scrapbooks and hisNavy dog tags, which my mother gave me when I was five.

Happy Father’s Day, dad. I never knew you but you continue to live in the memories I was given and pride in your service to this nation.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse