William "Bill" Manley Thompson was a naval officer who was killed on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His remains were identified in April 2017.
William Thompson was born on May 25, 1920 in White Plains, New York to Mildred and Osceola Thompson as the second child of three and the first boy. Mildred was a high school English teacher who taught other languages and Osceola was a mechanical engineer and an inventor. Thompson, who was described as highly intelligent, entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1937. At UNC, he was a member of the swimming team for three years, the debate squad his freshman year, the University band for two years (Thompson loved music and played the bass, flute, and guitar), and the symphony orchestra for three years, a musical comedy club called Sound and Fury, and was a secretary at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He graduated majoring in business.
After graduating, Thompson enlisted in the United States Navy. Ensign Thompson was assigned to the USS Oklahoma as an ensign a month before the Pearl Harbor attack.
Pearl Harbor Attack
At about 7:48 AM on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service conducted a surprise military strike against the United States at the naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS Oklahoma was one of the first ships to be attacked. Thompson’s battle station was in the code room, which was an approximate location of one of the torpedo explosions. He was killed in the explosion and was the first UNC alumni and person from Mountain Lakes to die in World War II. His remains were located, but not identified. As a result, he was considered Missing in Action while his remains were buried in Section Q, site 323 of the Punchbowl at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii with six other unidentified remains of soldiers killed in the attack.
Overall, 2,335 Americans were killed in the attack, 429, including Thompson, were on the USS Oklahoma. The surprise attack led to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy". The following day, the US Congress declared war on Japan which led to the United States' formal entry into World War II.
After his death, Thompson was awarded the Purple Heart.
The alumni secretary at UNC, Maryon "Spike" Saunders wrote to Thompson's parents saying, "The University community and many former students who knew Bill here on the campus were distressed to hear the sad news of his death last month. He lived and worked on this campus in his undergraduate days in such a way that recollections of him stand as a living testimony always of the place he had earned in the heart and life of this campus. I know that his achievement of a splendid campus career and a wide circle of close friendships will give you strength to help in your distress."
Mildred passed away on July 20, 1976, and Osceola passed away on March 11, 1956. Both are buried in Ward E, Square 1, Section 3 of Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.
The William Manley Thompson Memorial Scholarship, designed to be awarded to deserving out-of-state students, was established in Thompson’s memory in 1968.
The Department of Defense and the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency initiated a program to exhume the unidentified sailors of the USS Oklahoma to try and match their DNA against the DNA of family members whose loved ones were never identified. DNA from Thompson’s remains matched that of his oldest living relative and niece, Nancy Rube. Rube, along with her brother, sent in their DNA back in 2012 and were informed of the identification of their relative in April 2017.
Thompson's status was then changed from Missing in Action to Killed in Action. He was transported from Oahu, Hawaii with a military escort to his family plot in Blandford Cemetery. He received a full military funeral and is now buried alongside his parents.