Donn G. Thompson
Lt Col
U. S. Army Air Forces
Korean War
WWII US Military
Bombardier, 466 Bomb Group, 466 BG, 785 BS

One of three children of Grayton and Annie Wainwright Thompson, Donn was born in his mother's hometown of Bernice, Louisiana. The family, however, lived in Belcher, where Grayton, a gasoline and oil agent, delivered fuels to service stations in northern Caddo Parish. Grayton was transferred to Ashdown, Arkansas, then was laid off in 1931. "Things were kind of tough," Donn says, of the family's move to his grandparents' home in Bernice. Grayton worked in road building with the state highway department, then was hired by Standard Oil Company, which re-located the family to Shreveport. He was laid off again, then sold insurance for the rest of his life. In Shreveport the Thompsons kept a milk cow and raised a vegetable garden. Donn supplemented the family income by working at many endeavors as a youngster. He sold magazines, worked in the school cafeteria, and ran a newspaper route for the Shreveport Journal. In the summer of 1938 he sub-contracted his paper route while he worked eight-hour days at Nehi Bottling Company, earning ten cents an hour. At Big Chain, a grocer, he earned two dollars for each day that often stretched to sixteen hours. Donn graduated from Fair Park High School in 1939, then enrolled at Centenary College, where he learned to fly in a civilian training program. Entering the U.S. Army Air Forces on April 19, 1942, he took basic training at Santa Ana, California, then entered bombardier school at Victorville, California, where one of his instructors was the country music star, Tennessee Ernie Ford. Completing School of Applied Tactics in Orlando, Florida, he was placed in the 9th Bombardment Group, and became armament officer of the 430th Bombardment Squadron. At Montbrook Army Air Field near Williston, Florida, he practiced bombing and flew coastal patrols. At Blythe Army Air Field in Blythe, California, he served as an instructor teaching tactics on short bomb runs. At Camp Kearns, Utah, he joined a B-24 crew in the 466th Bombardment Group that was sent to a base near Attlebridge, England near Norwich. On March 22, 1944, in the plane the crew named "Spare Parts," Donn flew his first mission, bombing a railroad station in Berlin. On another over Hamm, Germany, flak smashed his bombsight, so he bombed without a bombsight. During his sixth mission against the Herman Goering Steel Works in Braunschweig, Germany, he recalls saying to himself, "I can get killed up here. That's the first time I really realized that I wasn't indestructible. It can happen to me. Lordy, that was a revelation. I'll tell you, there are no agnostics in airplanes. You pray." He recalls D-Day morning as "wild. It was wild. Airplanes were everywhere." He flew two missions that day, bombing first at 18,000 feet through cloud cover at 6,000 feet, and then hitting a railroad intersection. Upon returning to base they were told they would fly yet again. "The flight surgeon put Benzedrine in our mouths and had us swallow it while he was right there," Donn recalls. "Everybody on the crew got a bennie to keep us awake." They were already on the plane with engines throbbing, when they were told the target had already been hit. "So all of us went back to quarters and we were lying there wide-eyed. We couldn't sleep," he says. "We cussed that flight surgeon all night long." Missions often lasted eight to nine hours. The crew took water aboard, but no food, except for chocolate bars. Several in his crew reached twenty-five missions, and departed. Donn stayed on, made captain, and flew a total of thirty missions, his last in November of 1944 in a raid over railroad yards in Karlsruhe, Germany. "I flew in the nose turret and when I got down and got out of the airplane I hit the ground and heaved up," he relates. "I was sick as a dog; just so nervous. I didn't think I was going to get back home." He briefed crews until late January of 1945. In February he returned to the States as a passenger on a hospital ship, where he looked at faces of other servicemen and realized how he had aged compared to those who had experienced combat. He recalls his reaction on seeing the Statue of Liberty. "You didn't want to, but several of us just started to crying and couldn't help it," he says. Discharged at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he enjoyed a thirty-day leave in Shreveport, then was sent to Santa Ana, California, where he underwent a physical examination. "The flight surgeon felt my palms and he said, `Son, you're going to the Flack Farm,'" Donn says, referring to a facility at the base to treat stress from combat. While there, he slept, took hot baths, and enjoyed American foods after a year of bland British fare. He was then sent to Midland, Texas, for a refresher course in bombing. While there, he married Evelyne Marie Soballe, whom he had dated before he entered service. At Carlsbad Army Air Field near Carlsbad, New Mexico, he was named administrative air inspector. He was taking a recruiting course at Fort Douglas in Utah when the war ended in the Pacific. He was then sent to Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia for further recruiting training, then eventually was assigned as recruiting officer in Bellingham, Washington. There he was assigned as inspector general for the recruiting service in Washington and northern Idaho. While in Seattle, Donn received his regular commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. On July 1, 1947, he passed primary and basic pilot training at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, then took advanced training in B-25s at Barksdale Air Force Base. After receiving his wings, he joined the 326th Bombardment Squadron, 92nd Bombardment Group at Spokane, Washington, and was sent to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah to escort bodies of veterans from overseas to their homes for burial in Colorado, Utah, and northern California. He accompanied his squadron on to a base at Sculthorpe, England, where he flew B-29 missions. He was sent to Spokane, then was ordered to Mesa Army Air Field in California to return to navigator, bombardier, and radar schools "to become a four-headed monster," he says, referring to officers who could navigate, bomb, work radar, pilot an airplane, and communicate in Morse code as a radio operator. While there, he and Evelyne adopted a little girl. After he graduated in December of 1950, he went to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, where he was checked out in jets, and promoted to major. He found jets "too fast for me," he recalls, and got off flying status. He next served as director of plans at Mitchell Field in New York in April of 1952, then applied for overseas duty and was sent to Korea as adjutant of the 502nd Tactical Control Group. In early 1953 he was sent to Chodo Island as commander of an aircraft control and warning radar site. "We controlled MIG Alley," he says, referring to an area of North Korea. He remained there for about six months, until hostilities ended in July of 1953. Returning to America, he became commander of headquarters squadron of 29th Air Division in Great Falls, Montana, where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In May of 1956 he entered Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. A classmate was Chappie James, who would become the first African-American four-star general. During this time he spent two weeks at the Royal Canadian Air Force Command and Staff College in Toronto. He was sent to the Pentagon as deputy chief of staff for security review and information of Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, in which he witnessed several atomic test blasts. He calls the assignment "stressful because everything was highly classified," he remarks. "You couldn't tell your wife anything." Next, based in Iceland, he served as deputy chief of staff in a joint service posting, working with Navy, Air Force, and Army. He was then sent to New Jersey and the 64th Air Division as executive of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line. Donn's first wife passed away in 1961, and he was sent to Barksdale on a compassionate transfer so he could be near his family to help raise his children. He was made director of administrative services for the Wing. Meanwhile, he was learning the oil business, and had drilled three wells by the time he retired in August of 1962. In 1963 he married Margaret Nell Wallace, who died in 1984. In 1985, he married her sister, Era Elizabeth Wallace. Donn has two children, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.