When M/Sgt. Luther Thompson of Lula, Georgia, as a boy first began tinkering with an austere looking 1916 Dodge touring car, he could have not have dreamed that 20 years later he would be one of the world’s foremost experts on the engine of the plane upon which the outcome of a World War, in part, depended. As Line Chief for the Air Technical Service Command’s Bomber Flight Test Branch at Wright Field, he supervised the activities of all mechanics that are keeping the newer B-29 test models in perfect operating condition so that vital experimental flights could be preformed without a hitch. And it all started because the officer who now guides the B-29 production program sold him on being an airplane mechanic way back in 1923. That was the year that Thompson strolled into an Atlanta recruiting office, and agreed with 2nd. Lt. Kenneth B. Wolfe, that the Army offered a bright future to mechanically minded young men.
For five years, Thompson was stationed in the United States and became as intimate with the old Liberty engine as he had been with his reluctant Dodge. The years that followed were marked by the usual tours in Panama, the Phillipines and back to the States. On the line he was overhauling 0-19’s, B 3’s, P-12’s. It was the Old Army Life, and Thompson enjoyed it, despite such peace time annoyances as an automatic break in grade each time he re-enlisted. At 7:30am, Sunday, December 7, 1941, he sat in the Hickam Field Inspector’s office. With others present, he assumed the distant drone of aircraft engines was the Navy. Suddenly he spotted red circles on the wing tips. “Navy, hell, it’s the Japs!” He spent the rest of the day sweating out waves of Nipponease bombers, herding women and children from the NCO club, hauling dead and wounded out of smouldering hangers, standing alert in a machine gun pit. The Army had a job to do and Thompson was in the thick of it.
Two months after Pearl Harbor, he began a two-year assignment as Line Chief of a B-17 task force in the South Pacific. Nearly every month the squadron changed bases; Figi Islands, Canton Islands, New Caledonia, Christmas Islands, Midway. Thompson and crews spent most of their time robbing one B-17 to get another in the air, between work shifts spent 23 Jap raids in slit trenches.
In April, 1943, the wind-beaten veteran mechanic was recalled to the United States for his most important assignment --- First Line Chief in the 20th Bomber Command, headed by his former recruiting officer and close friend, General Wolfe. For 10 months, Thompson lived with B-29 engines in the Bell Bomber Plant, Marietta, Georgia; then he flew to a secret Superfortress base in India. “Those weeks in India were the hardest and most anxious of my life. The weather was hot and sticky, the roofs leaked, the mud was knee deep. The food (C ration) powdered eggs, concentrated stew, hotcakes, coffee, was hard to live on.” But, M/Sgt. Thompson and crews tuned their big B-29 engines to a test perfection. One tense day, the world’s biggest bombers took off from bases in China. On June 15, 1944, they droned out the night, and plastered the sprawling Imperial Iron and Steel Works with tons of explosives. Thompson stayed for one more raid, then headed back to the United States for assignment at Wright Field, Ohio, as Line Chief for the Bomber Flight Test Branch.
Military Service of M/Sgt. Luther Thompson
Place of Entrance: Ft. McPherson, Georgia
Branch of Service: Army Air Corp.
Date: January 16, 1923
First Assignment: Brooks Field - San Antonio, Texas
* Chanute Field Technical School
* Brooks Field Texas Engine School
* Parachute School - Phillipines
* Chemical Warfare - Hawaii
* Boing B29 - Seattle, Washington State
* Line Chief - Hq. 20th Air Force
* Line Chief Bomber Test - Wright Field, Ohio
* Air Force Inspector at Bell Bomber Plant - Georgia
Foreign Service and Combat ... World War ll
* Pearl Harbor
* Battle of Midway
* Cauton Island
Retired from Duty: April 1, 1946 - Ft. McPherson, Georgia
Released: November 23, 1953 - Denver, Colorado
As written down by Iris, daughter of M/Sgt. Luther Thompson