Ernest Thompson had a front-row seat to the beginning and end of World War II.
Thompson, who is 98, served in the United States Navy. He was aboard the USS Tennessee when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he later witnessed Imperial Japanese forces surrender while serving on the USS Missouri, as Los Angeles news station KTLA and others reported.
During his years as a civilian, Thompson regularly visited the USS Iowa in San Pedro, about 15 minutes from his home in Gardena, California. It’s a sister ship of the USS Missouri, as Thompson’s grandson, Jonathan Williams, CEO of the Battleship Iowa Museum, noted on Facebook.
Due to his failing health, however, Thompson has not been able to visit the USS Iowa since earlier this year — so the Navy came to him.
With the help of volunteer coordinators, a group of chief selects from the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center visited Thompson at his home and sang the Navy’s march song, “Anchors Aweigh,” in formation in the middle of his neighborhood street. Thompson stood on his porch and gave them a full salute.
After the song ended, each chief select walked up to Thompson and personally shook his hand.
Thompson said he plans to visit the USS Iowa for his 99th birthday celebration.
The amazing thing, as a spokesman for the museum told KTLA, is that Thompson took a fall earlier this year — and standing to salute was the first time since the accident that he was able to walk or stand.
The chief selects also awarded Thompson a plaque to honor his service to the nation — a plaque made in part with teak wood from the deck of his beloved USS Iowa.
“My grandfather told me it was one of the best days of his life,” Williams wrote on Facebook of the generous tribute.
Thompson said he plans to visit the USS Iowa on his 99th birthday for a special celebration, but for now he’s keeping busy with visits from his two kids, his four grandchildren, and his five great-grandchildren, KTLA reported.
Jonathan Williams arranged the surprise for his grandfather. He said he didn’t know patriotism was so alive and well in this country until 4 million people — and counting — viewed the video of his grandfather’s visit from his brothers-in-arms (the video was first posted Aug. 13).
During World War II, 16 million men and women served our nation — and those who fought for the United States are now mostly in their 90s. Unfortunately, they are dying quickly — at the rate of about 430 a day, according to government figures.