By TACOM Public AffairsNovember 21, 2017
(Editor's note: The following article is part of a series of stories and graphics reprinted from TACOM or Army Tank Automotive Center (TACOM's predecessor) newsletters in 1967 in honor of the command's 50th anniversary. The terms "ATAC" and "TACOM" are interchangeable throughout this series. This story ran in the November 1967 issue of "The Detroit Arsenal News.")
Almost three years in a North Korean prison camp where he watched scores of fellow Americans die of starvation.
"Beating the rap" on a two and a half year prison sentence imposed by the Chinese Reds.
These are two of the things Sgt. Major James Thompson, 50, will remember when he retires on Dec. 1, 1967. Sgt. Major to the ATAC Command, Thompson will have had 26 years and 10 months in the Army when he retires.
Most of his service fits into a pattern -- drafted in 1941, combat service in Europe during World War
Two, numerous stateside assignments, a routine assignment in Korea in 1947 and 1948.
His moments of misery began on Dec. 1, 1950, when he was captured in Korea during the Battle of Natong. Along with hundreds of other captured Americans he was hustled off to a prison camp at the Yalu River.
"There it was the survival of the fittest," the Sgt. Major recalls. "At least half of the 400 in camp died of starvation and weakness from overwork and disease. Our only food for months was millett seed."
The Sgt. Major and several other prisoners were tried by the Chinese and North Koreans on general charges of disregarding prison camp rules and sentenced to two and a half years in prison -- to be served after the cessation of hostilities.
On the final day of the deadline set for the exchange of prisoners, the Chinese relented on the prison sentence and decreed that Sgt. Major Thompson be returned to the Americans. This was 33 1/2 months after he was captured.
After arriving back in the United States it only took a month of hospital rest for him to recuperate from his terrible ordeal. The retiring Thompson has been a Sgt. Major since 1959 and assigned to ATAC since 1963.
He and his wife, Florence, who is a Detroit school teacher, live in Detroit with their daughter Clarissa, 10.
Thompson said he will enter private business after a vacation.