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Technician 5th Grade Arthur Thompson

D Company, 85th Chemical Mortar Battalion

B Company, 85th Chemical Mortar Battalion

Arthur Dean Thompson was born on September 18th, 1906 in Mercer County, Illinois. When World War I was raging across the Atlantic, Thompson was just 12 years old. Dropping out of high school in 1922, he worked in the Windsor, Illinois-area and married the love of his life, Martha, in 1930. In 1942, he was working as a block setter for a lumber mill before enlisting into the army on August 19th, 1943 in Chicago, doing his part in the war at the age of 37. Following basic training at Fort Custer, Michigan, he was sent to the US Army School for Bakers & Cooks in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. For eight weeks, he learned the ins and outs of preparing food for the men of D Company, 85th Chemical Mortar Battalion (abbreviated to the 85th CMB).

The concept of the chemical mortar battalion began in the great War with chemical warfare and the usage of trench mortars. In 1935, the United States began fielding battalions equipped with 4.2" mortars capable of firing high explosive, smoke, incendiary, chemical, and gas shells. During WWII, chemical mortar battalions were employed in the European and Pacific theatres and were always equipped with chemical and gas shells, though they never fired them. The rationale behind this came from the horrors of gas attacks during World War I. Wanting to prevent the same horrors from the last world war, the United States kept them on hand for retaliatory strikes, but never fired them as an act of hostility. Numbering 656 men, Thompson served as one of two cooks in D Company, preparing meals in a field kitchen for the 167 men in his company.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

Forty Miles on Beans & Hay: New Guinea & Hollandia

 

The 85th CMB sailed aboard the USAT President Johnson on July 20th, 1944 from San Francisco for the Pacific Theatre, docking in Finchaffen, New Guinea on August 24th. Finchaffen was an important Pacific supply base and the 85th CMB set to work establishing a camp there on a narrow coral peninsula. Fiver weeks later, they boarded another transport, the SS Marcus Daly, bound for Hollandia. Now known as Jayapura, Hollandia was the seat of Dutch New Guinea and the sight of a brutal military campaign to push the Imperial Japanese military off of the island. Disembarking from the transport on October 5th, D Company spent two nights encamped on the steep slopes overlooking Hollandia's bay before being attached to the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. On October 8th, Thompson and the rest of the company embarked on Auxiliary Personnel Assault Ships (APAs) to sail for Leyte. A convoy of military transports steamed out of the harbor on October 13th, sailing as part of the invasion fleet to liberate the Philippines and uphold General Douglas MacArthur's vow to return as a liberator.

Forty Miles on Beans & Hay: Leyte

On the morning of October 20th, American warships slung shells at Leyte, preparing for D-Day. Naval shelling hit coastal and inland military targets while naval air power began strafing shore installations and known Japanese strong points. Thompson, with the rest of his company, stood on the deck of their APA, watching the spectacular display of American military might. The first wave of infantry hit the beach at 10:00 AM, with D Company landing at 10:25 AM on Red Beach. They moved 200 yards inland to support the drive on Hill 522 by the 34th Infantry Regiment. They fought from Palo to Carigara and then on to Pinamopoan to challenge a Japanese flanking maneuver. On November 27th, D Company was sent to the rear near the town of Capoocan, setting up firing positions for their mortars to defend the landing zones. It was there in the coastal jungles around Capoocan that the men of the company enjoyed their first hot meals since landing on Leyte, all cooked by T/5 Thompson. Between November 27th and New Years Eve, the company moved to support infantry assaults across Leyte, taking part in three amphibious landings and providing fire support to all Allied Forces that needed it. On New years Eve, D Company and the rest of the 85th CMB was encamped near the town of Tunga, resting after 72 days in combat. In that time, they had fired 5,000 high explosive and white phosphorous shells, completing 25 fire missions. As 1945 began, the battalion was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division and D Company was redesignated B Company.

Forty Miles on Beans & Hay: Luzon

 

The Flying Column

B Company was alerted for redeployment on January 18th, 1945 following two weeks of rest, embarking on LSTs that day. On the 29th, they landed on Luzon near the town of San Fabian on the Lingayen Gulf, entering a bivouac near Santa Barbara. Attached to the 5th Cavalry Regiment, B Company provided close support during the entirety of the famed 'Flying Column.' The 1st Cavalry Division's 'Flying Column' was a highly mobile military convoy made up of mechanized motorized elements of the 1st Cavalry Division led by Brigadier General William Chase. Chase rolled down Highway Five for 100 miles, blasting through Japanese pill boxes, troops, and more to liberate Manilla. Saddling up, the column began their feat of courage on February 1st one minute past midnight,  riding hard for Manila. Thompson and the rest of B Company did not leave their bivouac until February 3rd to link up with the Flying Column and to provide support to the 5th Cavalry Regiment.

B Company drove down Highway Five, moving through Cabanatuan (where a POW camp was liberated by the 5th Ranger Battalion, immortalized in the movie The Great Raid) and on to Gapan, San Rafael, and Quezon, reaching Manila on February 5th. 

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

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