THOMPSON, FLOYD JAMES
Longest-held American POW - RIP 07/16/2002
|Name: Floyd James Thompson
Rank/Branch: O3/US Army Special Forces
Date of Birth: 08 July 1933
Home City of Record:
Date of Loss: 26 March 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 163912N 1064621E (XD890419)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: Richard L. Whitesides (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 September 1990 from one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated
by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.
REMARKS: 730316 RELSD BY PRG
SYNOPSIS: In the early years of American involvement in Southeast Asia, most
Americans were not aware of the situation there. When Floyd J. Thompson told
his mother he was being shipped out to Vietnam for a six-month tour in early
1964, she asked, "Where the hell is that?" He replied, "I don't know."
On March 26, 1964, the Air Force L19 observation plane flown by CAPT Richard
L. Whitesides and U.S. Army Special Forces co-pilot CAPT Floyd J. Thompson
was downed by small arms fire about 20 kilometers from Thompson's Special
Forces Camp near Quang Tri, South Vietnam.
Thompson survived the crash, suffering burns, a bullet wound across the
cheek and a broken back, and was quickly captured by the Viet Cong. The
pilot of the aircraft was not found. Aerial search and ground patrols failed
to find a trace of the aircraft. This was before the excellent search and
rescue programs which would recover so many downed pilots had been
implemented in Southeast Asia.
The following day, an Army officer visited Thompson's home and informed his
wife that he was missing. The trauma sent Alyce into labor and their son,
and fourth child was born that evening.
Thompson spent the next nine years as a prisoner of war, first in the hands
of the Viet Cong and he later was moved to the Hanoi prison system. During
his captivity, he was tortured and starved, and suffered the mental anguish
of being nearly totally alone for years. He was released in mid-March, 1973
in Operation Homecoming. He is the longest held American POW from the
The Thompson/Whitesides loss cameos the heartache and problems faced by the
men who returned from captivity and by the families of those still missing.
Thompson faced a failed marriage and alcoholism, and later a heart attack
and debilitating stroke. The years of deprivation and mental and physical
torture took their toll. To add insult to injury, few understand that he,
not Ed Alvarez, was the longest-held POW, and his name is virtually unknown
to Americans who honor the brave men who were captives in our name.
Richard Whitesides was definitely known to the enemy, according to U.S.
intelligence. His name, however, did not appear on the so-called
"discrepancy" list given the Vietnamese by Henry Kissinger. To this day, the
Vietnamese deny any knowledge of Whitesides. Although Thompson was told by
the North Vietnamese that Whitesides had been killed, he had learned the
hard way that his captors were not to be believed, and is uncertain of
Over 10,000 reports of Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been
received by the U.S. since the war ended. Many authorities who have examined
this information have concluded that hundreds are still alive, and this puts
a new perspective on the loss of Americans in Southeast Asia. Their families
must wait to see if the country he proudly served will ever bring them home.
Floyd J. Thompson remained in the Army and was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Colonel. Richard L. Whitesides, who was declared killed, remained
at the rank of Captain.
Floyd Thompson retired from the United States Army as a Colonel. He lived in
Longest Held POW Remains Obscure Figure of Vietnam War
August/September 1996 Issue
By Ted Sampley
U.S. Veteran Dispatch
Army Special Forces Capt. Floyd "Jim" Thompson was held prisoner of war
longer than any other POW in American history, suffering nine years of
brutal torture and deprivation in jungle cages and cold prison cells. Yet,
he still remains a relatively obscure figure of the Vietnam War. On March
26, 1964, an L-19 observation plane co-piloted by Thompson was shot down by
small arms fire 20 kilometers west of his Special Forces camp at Khe Sanh in
the Republic of South Vietnam. Thompson, who suffered a broken back, a
bullet wound across the cheek and burns, was captured shortly thereafter by
the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong strapped Thompson to a bamboo stretcher and
quickly moved him away from the crash site through a maze of jungle trails
which led to a series of camps, from which they conducted their attacks on
the South Vietnamese.
The Viet Cong provided Thompson with very little medical care, telling him
there was nothing wrong with his back. For more than a month, Thompson was
unable to care for himself, depending on his captors to keep him alive by
feeding him rice gruel, the only food he could keep down. When Thompson
inquired about what happened to his pilot, Air Force Capt. Richard L.
Whitesides, the Viet Cong told him that Whitesides had been killed.
Whitesides is still listed missing in action. U.S. search planes and ground
patrols failed to find any sign of Thompson's downed L-19. No one knew if
Thompson or Whitesides were alive or dead.
Thompson began to lose weight rapidly in captivity and then suffered his
first attack of malaria. He realized that unless he learned to take care of
himself, he would certainly die. He disciplined himself to ignore the pain
and began to wiggle his toes and to stretch his arms and legs. By June,
1964, Thompson had recovered to the point that he could sit and walk. Soon
after, Viet Cong interrogators made him the target of three months of
torture that almost killed him. Finally in August, Thompson gave in and
signed a propaganda statement saying he was being treated well and praising
the strength of communist forces.
It was that same month a young Navy pilot, Lt. (jg) Everett Alvarez was shot
down over North Vietnam during a retaliatory raid that later became known as
the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Alvarez's capture was highly publicized by the
international press. As the war continued to escalate and the public became
more interested in the plight of U.S. servicemen held captive in Vietnam,
Alvarez was presented over and over again as the longest held U.S. prisoner
of war. He and a handful of other prominent POWs, mostly aviators, became
the symbols of a national campaign to free captured U.S. servicemen. The
American servicemen held captive in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were
virtually ignored. They were mostly enlisted men captured on the ground who
were being held in primitive bamboo cages and as a result, had no organized
command structure within their peers as was developed by American prisoners
in North Vietnamese prisons. Although Alvarez topped every Pentagon list of
POWs by 1969, there was no mention of Thompson, whose name the Pentagon
refused to make public.
In the late 60's, when POW/MIA organizations began engraving the names of
America's missing servicemen on bracelets as part of their campaigns to
force communist Vietnam to release American prisoners, Thompson's name was
never engraved on a bracelet. The POW/MIA organizations had been refused
permission from Thompson's wife to put his name on POW/MIA bracelets.
Thompson had left for Vietnam the day after Christmas, 1963, leaving behind
Alyce, his wife of nine years, and three daughters -- Pam, 6; Laura, 4;
Ruth, 3. He had been in Vietnam less than three months on a six-month
temporary assignment from Ft. Bragg, N.C., when he was shot down. The day
after he was shot down, an Army officer visited the Thompson home to notify
Alyce that her husband was missing in action. The news sent Alyce into labor
and she gave birth that evening to the couple's only son. Alyce, now with a
newborn and three more small children to care for and not knowing if her
husband was alive or dead, felt overwhelmed.
In the beginning, relatives, friends and sympathetic neighbors gave her much
needed support. But that slowly dissipated until she was again alone. In
the spring of 1965, Alyce sent word to the Army to forward Thompson's
allotment checks to an address in Massachusetts belonging to an Army
sergeant she had met a year before at the post bowling alley. She gathered
her kids and moved in with the sergeant who had just retired to
Alyce, insisting she needed privacy for the sake of her children, warned the
Army never to release Thompson's name to the public. "He went through hell,
but I went through hell too," she later claimed. "There are certain things I
did I'm not too proud of. But I felt I had to do them for my children and to
keep my sanity." In the meantime, the Viet Cong continued to brutalize
Thompson with constant beatings and deprivation.
In July 1967, the Viet Cong started Thompson walking, blindfolded, on a long
journey up the Ho Chi Minh trail toward North Vietnam. He was kept isolated
from other U.S. prisoners. Upon reaching the eighth POW camp on the trail,
his Viet Cong interrogators escalated their torture. They wanted him to sign
statements proving that the United State's involvement in Vietnam was
criminal and when he refused, his guards beat him with bamboo sticks. They
choked him and hung him by his thumbs. They tied his elbows behind his back
and hung him from a rafter until he passed out. At night he was tossed into
a tiny wooden cage in which he was handcuffed and shackled in leg irons.
When he refused to bow to his captors, they denied him food for three days
and nights and followed with a "lesson" in bowing. The guards grabbed him by
the hair and slammed his head onto the hard earth until he was unconscious.
It wasn't until Thompson was nearly halfway through his captivity that he
was confined with other American prisoners. He later made an escape attempt
with Lew Meyer, a Navy civilian employee. The Viet Cong captured them within
two days. Both men were severely punished for the attempt. Thompson was
finally moved to the "Hanoi Hilton" in Hanoi on January 28, 1973. Two weeks
later, Alvarez was released from there in the first group of prisoners to go
home. Headlines all over the United States declared that Alvarez, the
longest held POW, had finally been released. A month later, the "mystical"
Thompson was returned to the United States.
Tom Philpott, writing for the Air Force Times described Thompson's family
"On the morning of March 20, 1973, one wing of Valley Forge Army Hospital,
Pa., began to crackle with excitement. A small crowd gathered expectantly in
the hallways as word spread. In his two-room suite, Jim Thompson donned his
green beret at the proper rakish angle and walked with Alyce and their
escort officers down the corridor through double glass doors and outside
into the crisp morning air. Though terribly thin and pale, and sporting deep
circles under his eyes, Thompson wore a broad smile as he waite d at the top
of a cement ramp.
"Medical staff and fellow patients pressed against every available window to
glimpse a scene that would burn in their memory for a lifetime. America's
longest held POW was about to meet his daughters for the first time in nine
years and to hold a son he had never seen. Suddenly the children rounded the
corner and turned into the sunshine. The girls had grown from golden haired
toddlers to teen-age brunettes. The only towhead now among them suddenly
bolted from his sisters and ran up the ramp. "Jimmy!"
"The boy leapt into his father's arms and knocked the skinny soldier to the
pavement. There they sat hugging each other as Pamela, Laura and Ruth piled
on. The escorts remembered they had lumps in their throats the size of golf
balls and tears blurred their camera angles. At that moment, Alyce says, she
decided to return to Jim, if he would have her, so the children would know
After the homecoming, Alyce did return to Thompson, but their marriage fell
apart in the summer of 1974 and they divorced soon after. Thompson said he
could not forget how Alyce lived while he was in captivity. He began to
Alyce remarried and Thompson's second marriage failed in 1977. He went into
depression and finally ended up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in
Washington, D.C. After several years of therapy and regular sessions with
Alcoholics Anonymous, Thompson's life had begun a turn for the better. In
January 1981, Thompson, who was still on active duty, suffered a mild heart
attack. Then a few weeks later, a severe stroke left him unable to read,
write or speak effectively.
Thompson retired from the Army in December 1981 and moved to Key West,
Florida, where he lives alone. He has successfully recovered some of his
communications skills lost after his stroke.
After retiring from the Navy in 1980 with the rank of Commander, Alvarez was
appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the position of Deputy Director of
the Peace Corps. A year and a half later he was appointed Deputy
Administrator of the Veterans Administration where he remained until 1986.
Alvarez says that he wants the record set straight that it was Thompson, not
he, who was the longest held POW. He says he corrects the error every time
the issue comes up.
Editors' note: Information for this article was based on wire copy and a
January 26, 1987 Air Force Times article written by Tom Philpott.
Southern California Living; View Desk
Book Review A Soldier's Life, and Faith Lost, in an Unpopular War GLORY
The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War
By Tom Philpott ; W.W. Norton: $26.95, 460 pages
"Glory Denied" is a sad, moving book about the havoc the Vietnam War wrought
with one American soldier and his family. That soldier is Jim Thompson, a
Green Beret who was captured by the Viet Cong in 1964 and held until 1973,
longer than any prisoner of war in American history.....
The Vietnam Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held POW,
was reissued in paperback in Memorial Day 2012 by W.W. Norton. The book was excerpted in New Yorker
magazine and has been made into an acclaimed opera by composer Tom Cipullo.
militaryupdate.com/biography.html -Philpott Bio
https://tomcipullo.net/glory-denied - Tom Cipullo website
The story of Colonel Thompson is worth reading as well as viewing in Opera form courtesy of Tom Cipullo.
ability to start to comprehend the complexities of a life that has
survived nearly nine (9) years as a Prisoner of War
will be greatly enhanced.
Hope you get the opportunity to;
1 . read the book
2. enjoy the opera
Post or let any Vets you know to see if they want to attend.
The battle is over for America's longest held POW is dead at age 68
BY TOM WALKER
Florida Keys News
The battle is over for the man recognized as America's longest held prisoner
of war and a prominent figure in local celebrations honoring the country's
fighting men and women.
Lt. Col. Floyd James Thompson, of Key West, was found dead Tuesday in his
Key West By the Sea Condominium. He was 68......
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