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Gust Thompson, POW

6/6/2006:

America entered the European theater of WWII at Normandy, France, on D-Day, 62 years ago today. Among those who parachuted in behind enemy lines that morning was 18-year-old Gust Thompson, who looked like a young Tony Curtis. Gust grew up in Selz, the son of a Greek immigrant named Harry, and a German-Russian named Martha. The family had so much trouble with Harry’s Greek surname, Tsoutias (choo-chus), they ended up changing it to Thompson.

Gust was in F Co, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the hours and days following his drop into Normandy, he remembered feeling overwhelmingly alone. The paratroopers were dropped in a scattered pattern, many of them far from their intended target, and it was some time before Gust managed to hook up with his company. Armed only with an M-1 rifle when he jumped, he later said he would have vastly preferred a shotgun.

During the first few weeks in Normandy, the Americans fought German troops from hedgerow to hedgerow. When the Germans pushed his unit from their positions, chaos and urgency forced them leave some of their wounded behind. They came back as soon as possible, but by then, each of their comrades had been shot in the back of the head. After that, Gust said, they gave quarter to nobody.

During the post D-Day buildup, Gust became attached to another Division, moving inland to fill gaps and enlarge the beachhead. Although he later couldn’t remember what the unit was, he did remember he was captured near the town of Mortain—just as his former unit, the 82nd Airborne, was ironically pulled off the line and sent back to England.

Gust was on seven-man patrol when they ran into the enemy before dawn. A fire-fight ensued, and they were running out of ammunition. As they tried to get back to American lines, they ran right into another German unit. Gust said the enemy soldiers literally came right up out of the ground. Gust and the others dropped their weapons, but three of the seven patrol members were executed on the spot. Luckily for Gust, a German officer intervened, and the remaining four were taken prisoner.

Gust was sent to Stalag 7B, near Memingen, where the POWs’ main goal was to find enough food to stay alive. Fortunately, Gust knew how to speak German, because of his mother, and his command of the language helped him survive the next fourteen months. He was put to work in a cheese factory, but unfortunately, the job didn’t gain him much food. In fact, his weight had dropped from 170 to 82 pounds when they awoke, one morning, to find the Nazis had fled. As the prisoners walked out the gates, Gust found an older soldier who surrendered his pistol to him. Gust said there they walked into the next town and “we just took anything we wanted.”

After the war, Thompson took up farming near Othello, WA. He passed away on June 3rd, 2004—almost exactly 60 years after parachuting into France.

By Merry Helm