Don passed away December 10. 2009
We'll all miss this wonderful man
Donald Alexander Thompson is my father-in-law. Besides being the father of
my beautiful bride, he is a World War II veteran who was cited for bravery under
fire during the campaign to retake the Philippine Islands back from the
Japanese in 1945. This is the story of how Don got to where he was, what he
did to save his ship and shipmates, and the aftermath.
Don was born in Three Rivers, Michigan, but spent his teen age years on a farm near
Atkins, Michigan. Atkins was an unincorporated town consisting of two buildings: a
one-room schoolhouse; and a three-in-one general store, one-pump gas station, and
post office. His father farmed and worked on the lake freighters, a job that Don also tried
for a while. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Don Thompson was an 18 year
old, brand new father. As a new family man, the lakes lost their appeal and he began
looking for a job with more regular hours and closer to home. He soon was hired on at
Mueller Brass, the biggest factory in the area. He continued to work there until 1944,
when he was drafted into the US Navy. For further information about Atkins, Michigan, you
can go to http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mistcla2/Old_Towns.htm#Atkins.
Don’s first assignment was at Great Lakes Naval Base, Illinois
for Boot Camp. Upon completion, he was given the rating of
Fireman Apprentice. Now in the WW II Navy, a fireman was not
a person who puts out fires. A fireman worked in the engine
room on all the mechanical things that kept the ship operating.
Don’s specialty was as an electrician, a skill he learned from
his friend and shipmate, Hank May.
|Don & Older Brother Jimmy
After Boot Camp, he went to Fort Pierce, Florida to be trained in his additional shipboard duty – a 20 mm
gunner. From there, he went to Little Creek, Virginia and next to Norfolk for additional gunnery training. He
then received orders to report to Portland, Oregon where he was assigned to a brand new class of Navy
Warship – a Landing Craft Support (Large), or LCS(L). Specifically, Don was assigned to the LCS(L)-27,
which was still in the shipyard having her final touches applied. Don was present at the commissioning of
the 27, and he is what is known in the Navy as a plank-owner, that is a person who was assigned to the first
crew after the ship was built.
In order to fully appreciate the events that followed Don’s assignment to the 27, it’s necessary to digress a
bit and describe the LCS(L), why they were built, and how they were employed.
Landing Craft Support (Large) ships were developed to support
amphibious landings and to intercept inter-island barge traffic. Used
solely in the Pacific Theater of Operations, they were a further
development of gunboats that had been converted from Landing Craft
Infantry ships - LCIs.
The need for a close fire-support vessel was demonstrated during the
assault on Tarawa on 20 November 1944. After the larger ships had
shelled the beaches and landing zones to disrupt enemy defense
efforts, the landing craft headed for shore to deliver the troops.
Between the times that the naval bombardment had stopped and the
troops had landed, the enemy had time to regroup, and the effect on
the Marines was deadly. In order to deliver fire support to protect them,
a new type of vessel was necessary. It needed the ability to get in
close to shore and had to have sufficient armament to support the
landings. Fortunately, a more advanced gunboat had been in the
planning stages as early as 1942, and the first contracts for the new
fire support vessel had been awarded in 1943. The first of these gunboats, the LCS(L) 1, was launched on 15 May 1944 at the George
Lawley and Sons Shipyard in Neponset, Massachusetts.
|LCS(L) 27 Commissioning Ceremony
August 31, 1944
Using the existing plans for the LCI hull, the Lawley yard had
designed a new fire support ship, one that was not a modified
troop carrier but a true fighting ship. The result was the
Landing Craft Support (Large) or LCS(L). Packed with
firepower, the LCS(L)s had two twin 40mm guns, four 20mm
guns, and four .50 caliber machine guns. Mounted in the bow
was one of three guns, either a single 3.5”, a single 40mm, or
a twin 40mm. Just aft the bow gun were ten Mark 7 rocket
launchers. One writer described LCS(L)s as the most heavily
armed of the World War II gunboats, and still another claimed
that they looked like the Fourth of July fireworks when they were
leading an assault.
After the commissioning ceremony on 31 Aug 1944, Don’s ship the LCS(L) 27 sailed for San Diego,
where it joined four other LCS(L)s, which made up Flotilla One. The Flotilla sailed west in October.
They first stopped at Pearl Harbor and sailed on, crossing the equator on 17 Nov 1944. They
continued on to Elice Islands, Russell Island, and Hollandia, New Guinea, where they spent
Christmas. The Flotilla left shortly before the first of the year 1945 for Leyte Gulf, the Philippines,
where a mighty task force was being formed to attack Japanese positions on Luzon Island. The first
operation was at San Antonio, Luzon on 29 Jan 1945. By the time the task force arrived, the Japanese
had already left so the landings were unopposed. The same thing happened the next day at Subic
Bataan Peninsula on the
left, with Mariveles Bay
opening to the right and
the island of Corregedor.
With the Army advancing south toward Manila, the next landing called for
recapturing Corregidor which was still heavily fortified and held by the
Japanese. The first step was to clear Japanese and old US mines from
the entrance to Manila Bay and then landing on Bataan at Mariveles Bay.
The task force departed Subic Bay on the evening of 13 Feb. The 27 and
one other LCS(L) were assigned to support mine sweeping operations.
The task of the two LCS(L)s was to follow the mine sweepers and
destroy all mines cut loose by the sweepers. At first, they were using a
rifle to hit the detonators. Soon there were so many mines floating
around them that they soon began using their 20mm and 40 mm guns.
At one point, they even used their 3.5 in gun. Over a two day period, the
27 destroyed a total of 53 mines. The next morning, 15 Feb, the landing
force had assembled off Manila Bay and the LCS(L)s led the first wave
into Mariveles firing their rockets, 40mm and 20mm guns. After the first
wave, they laid off on the flanks looking for targets of opportunity. The
At about 3:20 AM on 16 Feb 1945, all hell broke loose. LCS(L) 7 was observed to receive a terrific explosion on the port side. General
Quarters was sounded and all gun stations were warned to watch for floating mines. After about a minute, LCS(L) 49 was seen to take
a similar explosion on her port side followed by another within 30 seconds on her starboard side. The 7 was now burning and
appeared to be sinking; the 49 went down almost immediately. About this time the Skipper realized that suicide boats were ramming
the ships and orders were given to get underway. By this time, all guns were firing at targets and suspected targets; Don Thompson
was manning the forward starboard 20 mm machine gun. Several suicide boats were seen in the water approaching the 27. One was
sunk on the port side by concentrated 20 mm and 40 mm fire. Another on the port side bore in and was engaged by all guns on that
side. Even thought it was seen to be hit several times, it continued toward the 27 and exploded approximately 3 feet from the vessel. A
boat on the starboard side was seen approaching and was engaged and sunk by Don’s 20 mm gun. By this time, the ship was
underway toward the beach, on fire and beginning to list to the port. Another boat was observed approaching on the starboard side
and it was also sunk by 20 mm fire from Don’s gun. At approximately 3:40 AM, the 27 grounded at standard speed having reached a
port list of about 25 degrees. Don Thompson was credited with sinking two of the suicide boats; had that second starboard boat
succeeded in hitting the ship after it was already hit on the port side, the 27 would have surely been sunk with the loss of many more
personnel. As recently expressed by the Engineering Officer Harry Meister, Don Thompson saved their necks.
landings went smoothly. However a number of the landing craft hit residual mines and suffered some
causalities. At the end of the day, the group of five LCS(L)s were ordered to anchor across the mouth of
Mariveles Bay to provide protection for the landing ships.
Approximately one third of the personnel aboard the 27 were wounded
and 2 were killed. All told, 3 LCS(L)s were sunk and one was put out of
action; 75 men were killed and many more wounded. The remaining
two operational LCS(L)s supported the successful Corregidor landings
the next day. The 27 received a temporary patch on the port side at
Mariveles, next went to Subic Bay for a more substantial patch, and then
sailed to Mios Wendi, New Guinea where it was repaired. They then
returned to the Philippines to train for the assault on the Japanese
mainland, which of course became unnecessary after the atomic
bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered. The 27 then proceeded
Korea and Northern China to support the landing of Occupation Troops
and assist in the removal of mines from harbors. In December, they
received orders to proceed back to the United States, arriving in Seattle
in January 1946. It was over.
|LCS(L) 27 Being Repaired at Mios Wendy
|Four from the crew of the LCS(L) 27
received awards for bravery during the
morning of 16 Feb 1945: BM2c John M.
Smith, F1c Donald A. Thompson, Ens
Leigh D. Steele, and RM3c Fantley T.
In the Autumn of 2006, my wife began
inquiring about her Dad’s WW II
experiences and the story of the LCS(L)
27 and Don’s role finally was told.
None of Don’s four children knew the
story, let alone any of his grandchildren.
We also learned that he never actually
received his award, he only received a
letter. We were determined to remedy
We researched everything we could find
about the LCS(L) story. I contacted the
LCS(L) Association and located the
Captain of the 27 Risley Lawrence, and
the Engineering Officer Harry Meister,
who was Don’s boss aboard ship. We
assembled a book with the complete
history of the 27, Flotilla One, the battle
at Mariveles Bay, and included pictures
and excerpts from Don’s official Navy
records, as well as letters to Don from
his old skipper and boss.
|Don Thompson receiving his award aboard
an LCI at Subic Bay
On Veteran’s Day 2006, Don’s son Alex picked up his Dad, ostensibly to take him to a birthday party. In fact, we had assembled 50+
family members and friends to honor Don. I pinned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal on his chest while his grandson,
a former Marine, read the citation signed by Adm Kinkaid, then Commander of the 7th Fleet. We also presented him with a Navy Flag
and the book that we had put together containing all the history and memorabilia.
The next page contains the story that Pixie put together after calling her Dad and listening to his description of his Navy exploits. It also
contains scans of the letters from Risley Lawrence, the 27's Captain and Harry Meister, the Engineering Officer that were presented to
Don at the ceremony.
After that is a page containing pictures from the family ceremony on Veteran's Day, 2006.
I can't thank Harry Meister enough for all that he did to make this possible. First of all, he took the time a few years ago to write a book
about the LCS(L) 27, from which I shamelessly plagiarized. Secondly, he went to the trouble of making sure I had all the information
possible to put together Don's book and the ceremony. And finally, like Don, Risley Lawrence, my Dad, and millions of WW II Vets, they
are members of the "greatest generation" who saved our world. Thank you and God Bless you all.
For a more inclusive recap of the events in this battle as it relates to the LCSs, click on the "Flotilla One" button.