Vietnam War Commemoration Commission

Week of March 26

On March 26, 1964, Air Force Captain Richard L. Whitesides and Army Special Forces Captain Floyd J. Thompson were conducting a reconnaissance mission aboard a small observation airplane near the Demilitarized Zone. While making a low pass over a forested area, their aircraft was hit by Việt Cộng small arms fire and crashed. Whitesides, the pilot, was never found and presumed killed. Thompson survived, but he was severely wounded with a broken back, a broken leg, burns, facial wounds, and a concussion. He was then captured by the Việt Cộng.

Thompson went on to spend nine harrowing years as a prisoner of war, becoming the longest held POW in United States history. His captors moved him a dozen times to a series of small, isolated camps in South Vietnam, Laos, and North Vietnam. While imprisoned, Thompson attempted to escape several times and endured beatings and long interrogation sessions. He spent most of his captivity alone, and did not have contact with another American military POW until February 1973, just one month before he was released on March 23, 1973, as part of Operation HOMECOMING. Thompson passed away in 2002 at the age of 69.1

1Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973 (Wash DC: Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1998), 60, 81-85; Douglas Martin, "F. J. Thompson, 69, Longtime P.O.W., Dies," New York Times, July 18, 2002; Elaine Woo, "Floyd J. Thompson, 69; Held Longest of Any U.S. POW," Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2002; Tom Philpott, Glory Denied: The Vietnam Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest Held Prisoner of War (2nd Edition; New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), 447; John Prados and Ray W. Stubbe, Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 16.

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