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The American who never said die

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Key west Citizen Editorial
published July 21, 2002
The American who never said die
By Tom Walker
Key West Citizen 
twalker@keysnews.com
He was one ornery individual. He suffered years of solitary confinement in jungle cages and dank cells, but he never said die. He went through nine years of torture, starvation and extreme deprivation, but he never gave up. He escaped from imprisonment five times and was recaptured each time, but he never stopped trying. He willed himself to overcome disease and he survived. After his release, he returned to find his wife and children living with another man and his position as longest-held prisoner of war in United States history usurped by another soldier. But he did not quit the fight. He spat in the face of his captors and he never gave an inch to his oppressors. He embodied the kind of American the world respects and our enemies mortally fear. 

He was Floyd "Jim" Thompson, who died in his condo at Key West by the Sea on
Tuesday, eight days after his 69th birthday. Thompson the soldier had plunged into imprisonment, captured within weeks of arriving in Vietnam when his observation plane was shot down and he broke his back in the crash. The horrors of North Vietnam's Bao Cao prison awaited him, beginning a nine-year way of life that few soldiers in history -- if any -- have encountered and lived to tell. Col. Thompson became the Viet Cong's worst nightmare. Despite being interrogated, tortured and mentally and physically deprived, he was belligerently hostile every minute of every day and night throughout his
harsh captivity. 

He taunted the enemy by living through the beatings and lacerations inflicted upon him, the excruciating humiliations beyond what normal human beings could bear. In corpse-like condition, he was once hurled into a cell with three other Americans where he began an exercise program that would lead to a vigorous escape. Thompson was eventually released in March 1973 and returned to the U.S. in Operation Homecoming. Now began the civilian troubles. During his absence, Thompson's wife and four children had moved in with a retired soldier and she instructed the Army to withhold Thompson's name from POW lists. As a consequence, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Everett Alvarez was hailed as the longest-held captive. 
Thompson went along with all this because he wanted to do the right thing. He ended up estranged from the family he rejoined and went on to experience just about every setback a returning vet could imagine. But he never blamed the Army or the Vietnam War for his woes. In 1981 he had a massive stroke and retired from the Army. He came to Key West, to be alone and to devote himself to veterans' affairs. Thompson's decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Service Medal, two Purple Hearts, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Vietnamese Medal of Honor, the Prisoner of War Medal and the George Washington Honor Medal. 

Col. Floyd James Thompson
was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.

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