Profiles from the Archives: Frank M. Thompson

Author: 
Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Frank Martin Thompson was born on April 21, 1886, in Raleigh, N.C., to John W. and Sallie J. Ellington Thompson. John Thompson worked as a real estate agent and later a life insurance agent. Frank Thompson attended the Raleigh Public Schools. He was sent then to the Morson and Denson Academy (an all-male academy) in Raleigh from 1899 to 1904. He would go to Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., studying there from September 1904 to June 1905.

 

After transferring colleges, Frank Thompson would attend North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University) in Raleigh from September 1905 to June 1909. He would graduate in 1910 with a degree in civil engineering. While at the college, Thompson was noted as a successful tenor for the textile quartette. He was a captain and star on the North Carolina College’s varsity football and baseball teams.

Instead of going into a career in civil engineering, Frank Thompson stayed in Raleigh after graduation, coaching for three years athletic teams at North Carolina College. He eventually coached baseball and football at Wake Forest College in Wake Forest, N.C. Thompson worked as a secretary and treasurer for the Raleigh Real Estate and Trust Company after his coaching ended.

 

At age 31, Frank Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Army, and trained during the summer of 1917 in the first Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at their training camps at Fort Oglethorpe, Camp Forrest, and Chickamauga Park, Georgia. He was unable to complete his training program on-time due to contracting influenza, for which he was granted a furlough to recover. Thompson would be sent to the second ROTC camp at Fort Oglethorpe to complete his training after his illness. He was called into active U.S. Army service during World War I from ROTC on November 27, 1917. Thompson received his commission as an officer with the rank of First Lieutenant on November 8, 1917.

 

Thompson was assigned to the 15th Machine Gun Battalion, 5th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, in which unit he remained throughout his service. After being stationed at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, he left from the United States on a troop transport ship for Europe on April 24, 1918.

 

Reportedly in September 1918, Thompson and his unit were in Regnéville-sur-Meuse, France. Thompson was commanding a battalion of machine gunners beginning on the night of September 11, 1918, as part of the Allies’ advance in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. 100 years ago this week on September 13, 1918 (also reported as September 12 in one account), Frank Thompson was killed by machine gun fire within thirty minutes of leading his battalion against his first live enemy fire at St. Mihiel, France. He was buried in the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial at Thiaucourt-Regnieville, France, in Section D, Row 04, Grave 28. Posthumously, Thompson was awarded the Silver Star Medal.

Back at his alma mater which had become North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering by 1918, the school would dedicate a new gymnasium in his honor at 4 P.M. on June 8, 1925, as the Frank Thompson Gymnasium. It would later become the Thompson Theater, and after renovations in 2009 was renamed Frank Thompson Hall. In an address at the dedication of the Thompson Gymnasium in 1925, 30th Infantry Division chaplain Benjamin R. Lacy Jr., who also served as Thompson’s military chaplain and was a friend, stated that “When the Fifth Division returned…I hunted up his [Thompson’s] outfit. Two things the men dwelt upon. One was that the Fifth Division lost but one officer…and that was Frank Thompson. The other was that his men loved him as a father. There can be no greater tribute than this last.”

Thompson is also one of the 34 North Carolina State alumni who died in World War I that are remembered in the Memorial Bell Tower on the campus grounds of North Carolina State University.

 

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

 

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.

 

Resources

 

Chris Saunders, “Frank Thompson’s legacy is secure in the Memorial Bell Tower,” N.C. State Alumni Association News blog post, viewed at https://www.alumni.ncsu.edu/s/1209/16/interior. aspx?sid=1209&gid=1001&pgid=5238&cid=8659&ecid=8659&crid=0&calpgid=61&calcid=7982 

 

"Roll of Honor: Frank M. Thompson" folder, Box 7, Folder 51, Compiled Individual Military Service Records, WWI 14, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.