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The Greek Thompsons

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Martha and Harry Thompson of Selz, North Dakota had six children. Son Gust was born in 1923 – tomorrow would be his birthday. He joined the army when he was barely 18 and parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. Sometime later, he would become a German prisoner.

Two of Gust’s brothers also enlisted. Their niece, Jackie Knott, related a story about an episode where Harry, her grandfather, was in the local bar when “Someone mentioned (in German) that when Germany won the war, everyone would be speaking German.” With three of his sons fighting overseas, Harry took exception. Built like a bulldog and really powerful, Harry grabbed the guy and punched him. Four others jumped in, and Harry took them all on and cleaned the bar out.

When Harry’s son Gust was liberated as a prisoner, he weighed only 86 pounds. He got a farm in Washington state. He and his wife raised two daughters, but they would lose everything in a fire, and Gust’s wife ended up leaving him.

Gust’s sister, Ann, died in 1963. Before she passed, she asked him to raise her 13-year-old daughter, Jackie – a girl he barely knew. Jackie says, “I was bitter and angry when I arrived on his doorstep. He sat me down and listened, and then he told me, ‘It may be your parents’ fault you are the way you are. But it’s your own fault if you stay this way.’” The message was crystal clear.

Jackie says she owes almost everything to Gust, and she was glad when she had the opportunity to repay him in some measure. As Gust’s health failed, he wanted to provide veterans’ benefits for his wife, but he couldn’t prove he was a veteran. Copies of his military records were lost in the house fire, and a fire in St. Louis had destroyed the originals.

Jackie learned Texas billionaire, Ross Perot, was helping veterans, so she sent him an email. The next day, Perot called her. He would be meeting with the head of the VA, and asked her for some of hard documentation, saying: “I’ll shove it in their face and demand they help this man.”

They found a book that listed POWs, including Gust. Within a week Gust’s wife was approved for survivor benefits. The family was surprised, however, when Gust received a POW disability check. He could have had the benefit all along.

Gust passed away two months later, in June 2004.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm

Knott, Jackie and Spencer, Dawn. Private correspondence, March and April, 2005.

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