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Thursday, 27-Oct-2005 00:00
Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Thompson

Navy corpsman from Millers Creek dies in Iraq
Marines are killed when armored vehicle is hit by a roadside bomb near Baghdad
By Monte Mitchell
Monday, October 24, 2005


A Wilkes County native, who was a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines, was killed in Iraq on Friday in a roadside bomb attack.

"I can't let my Marines go without me," Chris Thompson, 25, told his father, just before shipping out on his second combat tour. "I take care of them."

A corpsman - similar to a medic in the Army - goes on patrol with the Marines and tries to keep the wounded alive. Thompson was a petty officer hospitalman third class. Thompson and another member of the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) were killed in the bombing near Amiriyah, 25 miles west of Baghdad. Thompson was riding in the left rear seat of an armored vehicle when someone set off an improvised explosive device, his parents said.

Larry and Geraldine Thompson were home at 9:25 p.m. Friday when they got the news. She was already in bed reading. While he was in the living room, Larry Thompson looked up from the television and through the front door's glass panel to see Navy officers in dress blues. He knew immediately why they were there, Larry Thompson said.

Churches throughout Wilkes County offered up prayers for Chris Thompson and his family yesterday as news of his death spread. Mourners offered condolences at the family's home beside a road off N.C. 16 in the Millers Creek community.

His brother, David, also a Navy hospital corpsman assigned to the Marines, said that Chris Thompson's executive officer told him he was proud to go to war with Chris.

"He knew if something happened he'd take care of them," David said. "If things were worst, he'd be the first one to step up."

David Thompson, 35, hugged his parents before leaving yesterday to return to Camp Lejeune. He is scheduled to travel to Iraq on Nov. 4 and expects to meet with his commanding officer today to see if he will still do that.

The family doesn't know when Chris Thompson's body will come home.

Larry and Geraldine Thompson sat at their kitchen table as they talked about their son. They wore yellow bracelets with the message "Support Our Troops."

The bracelets were a gift from Chris, presented as they all stood in the rain July 21 at Camp Lejeune and he boarded the bus that would take him to the plane back to Iraq.

"We promised him we wouldn't take them off until he got back and they haven't been off," Larry Thompson said.

"Mine neither," Geraldine Thompson said.

While he had been home from his first combat tour, someone asked him how he could manage to insert an IV in someone's arm on a battlefield, while bullets were crackling by and bombs exploding.

"He said, 'All I can tell you is I haven't missed yet. When you've got somebody dying, you've got to do what you can do,'" Larry Thompson recalled.

During his first tour, from March 2004 to October 2004, Thompson used those skills to help four Marines seriously hurt when a bomb exploded beside the Humvee in front of his. One man was blinded. Another lost his right leg. Another lost his right arm. Another had a head injury.

Thompson attended to them, and held a fifth Marine, his best friend, who died in his arms.

When the fight was over, they would find two bullets inside Thompson's medical pack. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with valor for his actions.

When he was home, he talked to his father about still seeing the faces of those who had died.

Larry Thompson, an Army veteran, understood. Larry said he still sees faces of those lost when he was in Vietnam in 1967-68.

"I don't want to forget them," he says he told his son. "I want to remember them and honor them.... You do the best you can and come home. That's all you can do."

His mother remembers a funny boy. She told the story of how as a teenager he would sneak her convertible out to take his buddies for a ride. He would think she didn't notice when she'd crank up and the gas needle would be on empty and the radio blaring. She never told him she knew.

She remembers the time he was wrestling for fun with his oldest brother, Jimmy Epley, who is now 42. Epley pinned him against the wall, but Chris got the last word by saying he would still be young when Epley was old.

Chris Thompson played football and baseball at North Wilkes High School. He grew up in the Mulberry area, and the family only recently moved to Millers Creek.

He joined the Navy when he was 21, and finished basic training three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He didn't get to go to his promised school, but was sent straight to the fleet as a seaman aboard the USS Austin.

Eighteen months later, he finally started the corpsman training that he had wanted.

Because Wilkes County was relatively close to Camp Lejeune, it wasn't uncommon for the Thompsons to come home and find tents hanging outside to dry. Their son and several Marine friends would be sprawled asleep inside the house.

Chris Thompson wanted to become a coach and teacher. Once his military duty ended in July 2006, he hoped to study at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C.

In his parent's last phone conversation with him Thursday, Thompson asked them to send some clear lenses for his sunglasses. He also wanted some Kool-Aid mix because the water there tasted nasty.

They talked for only five minutes.

"He said 'Dad, I'm awfully tired, I can't stay long, I'm going out on another patrol,'" Larry Thompson remembers. "He said, 'I love you,' and we said 'We love you.'"

They talked about Coastal Carolina's overtime football win against Gardner-Webb University the previous weekend.

"He said, 'I'll go down there and go to school and you may see me on the sideline next year,'" his father recalled.

Military officials have told them that Chris Thompson's body will be flown into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, his father said. They plan to have the funeral at Peace Haven Baptist Church and bury him nearby in Mountlawn Memorial Park.

• Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at (336) 667-5691 or at mmitchell@wsjournal.com

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