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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Sixty-fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11, 1934.

[image ALT: A head-and‑shoulders photograph of a young man in a United States Army uniform, wearing the insignia of the Air Corps on its lapels. He is West Point graduate Keith Allen Thompson, the subject of this webpage.]

 p300  Keith Allen Thompson
No. 9583 Class of 1932
Died July 20, 1933, near Hallettsville, Texas
aged 23 years.

Keith Allen Thompson was born at Ogdensburg, Wisconsin, on February 3, 1910, the youngest of the five children of Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Thompson.

His education started in the local grammar school and continued through high school, from which he was graduated in 1928. Having no connections with the federal services he knew nothing of the Military Academy when his Congressman offered him the opportunity to "go East" and attend West Point.

To one accustomed to the freedom of the Wisconsin woods, its great forests and clear streams, West Point must seem like a prison. And so it was with Keith. All his life he had found pleasure and recreation by hunting, fishing, and camping in the abundant open spaces of his native state. Never have I known a man who so thoroughly enjoyed the simple routines of nature. Living in the open was so simple and enjoyable that he could never quite reconcile himself to the complications of an army career. Reports, drills, examinations, and demerits  p301 seemed so unnecessary, compared to the elementary requirements of the Wisconsin woods.

But he could not make a living in the woods; unlimited freedom was not his only consideration. So in July (the same month that was to claim his life five years later) of 1928 he entered the Military Academy, unannounced and unheralded, to be swallowed in the monotony of the gray battalions.

The story of his four years at we can be summed up in one word — work. Always hovering around the bottom of the class, turned out every year in at least one subject, he plugged and plugged with hardly any time for anything but study, until on Graduation Day he took his place in the long gray line — next to the last man,​a the triumph of a sound mind, a strong will, and a stout heart.

Four years was not required to produce a man who was labelled by all his classmates as an unselfish friend. His personality was a grand mixture of sterling qualities. He had the strength of a backwoodsman and at the same time the unspoiled sweetness of a child. His sunny disposition aided by a most infectious smile seemed to work its way into your heart. You just had to like him; it was inevitable. His genuine sincerity and unfailing sense of humor impressed everyone with whom he came in contact. Not many men have had truer friends nor fewer enemies than he. He had that rare characteristic of those who are summoned before their time — that indefinable birth of greatness that makes men ask, "Why did he have to go?".

I wish one more capable than I were to write his obituary, one who could reproduce thoughts in writing without losing one iota of feeling. But then a Shakespeare could not do him justice.

The tragic story of his death is the story of a gallant officer calmly doing his duty in the face of eternity. His every action during those fleeting minutes was a credit to the Air Corps, to West Point, and to his Country.

They were flying at night on a return trip to San Antonio — ten planes in all. A light rain was falling. Near Hallettsville where the ground is slightly hilly Tommy's engine cut out. With the skill of a veteran he nosed down once — twice — and on the third attempt to bring the engine back to life it started into a spin. Tommy cut off the switch and bailed out, but it was too late. Keith Allen Thompson gave up his unconquerable soul and took his place in that part of the long gray line that has passed on.

For those who wish to convey the expression of their loss personally to his Mother, her address is:

Mrs. J. F. Thompson,
Box 65
Ogdensburg, Wisconsin.

Not for a second do I question the Infinite Wisdom of Him who placed such a heavy burden on our hearts, but I cannot help but wonder, in a human way, what a finer world it would be if Tommy had not passed on.

E. E. F.

Thayer's Note:

a Not absolutely accurate; Cadet Thompson graduated 260th of 262.

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Page updated: 28 Nov 14