Thursday, December 11, 2008

Early Bird, Part 16

Two weeks after his death, The Reporter began a drive to raise money for a memorial to DeLloyd Thompson. "...He did as much, or possibly more than any resident of the City to bring honor to this community, as everywhere he went he made certain that people knew he was from Washington and proud of it," read an editorial promoting the fund.

July 13, 1949, was proclaimed DeLloyd Thompson Day by Washington Mayor Elmer Wilson, and more than 5,000 people attended the air show and ceremonies at Washington Airport that day, when memorial gates with bronze plaques honoring Thompson were unveiled and the airport itself dedicated as DeLloyd Thompson Memorial Field. Dignitaries representing the military and the Early Birds, a group of air pioneers that all flew before 1916, were in attendance, as was Col. Roscoe Turner, the great air racer.
"DeLloyd Thompson changed the course of my life when he permitted me to touch his airplane at Memphis, Tenn., in 1914," Turner told the crowd. "I always remembered his kindly attention and during my career tried to be as attentive to other youngsters. You never know when one of your acts will shape the course of some other person."

From the time that Dutch Thompson set the altitude record in 1914 until the end of his life, so much had happened in the development of aircraft. Thompson had lived to see the day when air power decided wars and airplanes flew without propellers. Just 12 years after his death, another local aviator – Joe Walker – would set the altitude record of 169,600 feet, flying the X-15 rocket plane.

The airport grew and went through many changes over the next 20 years, and the memorial gates were abandoned. But in 1969, the plaques were rebronzed and hung in the administration building, and the Washington County Commissioners officially rededicated the airport in honor of Thompson.

The plaques were later removed, however. "I rescued them," Margaret Thompson, widow of the aviator's son, joked. "I think they wanted to melt them down as scrap." She also acquired a wooden propeller from one of Dutch's planes and donated them along with an altimeter, scrapbooks and old photos to the Washington County Historical Society. They are now displayed in the military room at the LeMoyne House.

(Margaret Thompson donated memorabilia to the Washington County Historical Society.)

Few of the pilots who now hang out at the Washington County Airport terminal have even heard of Dutch Thompson, let alone know that it is his memorial field from which they fly. None of those who knew him are still living. His great achievements have disappeared from our consciousness and exist only in piles of crumbling newspaper clippings. One of those clippings is of an editorial tribute, under the headline, "Aviator 'Flies West'," written for The Reporter three days after Thompson's death by Cecil Northrop, once vice president of the newspaper:
"As an old aviator, it is with deep regret that I have been informed of the death of DeLloyd Thompson. His passing removes from the aviation scene one of the very early pioneers of flying, and a most colorful personage in the ever changing development of aviation. "Dutch" Thompson fortunately lived long enough to see his faith and hope in the future of flying vindicated; and his belief and dream that the ability of man to fly would change the course of men and nations 'in our time.'
"That "Dutch" derived little, in a material way, for his early courage and daring in the beginning of aviation, is of small consequence, for seldom indeed, have the pioneers in any field in the past died rich men. Without such men, however, this world of ours would be a sorry place in which to live. Intrepid souls, men of vision and courage, ever have paved the way for a great achievement and progress in every field of endeavor."



Brant said...

Another great story. Thanks. I assume a new one starts tomorrow. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You've done it again! A facinating story; can't wait for the next one.

Park Burroughs said...

Hey, people! How about a breather?
You'll get your story, but I have to cure this bad back and shake this cold first.
But be sure to catch the epilogue of "Early Bird" tomorrow. I want to explain some of the difficulties encountered in researching stories like this one.

Brant said...

It must be bad back season. My sciatic problem has been giving me fits the past few days. Thankfully, I haven't caught a cold lately, just a charming sinus infection. Don't you love winter?