Stephen W. Thompson
Stephen W. Thompson was an American aviator
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

 of World War I, and the first person in the U.S. Military to shoot down an enemy aircraft
Military aviation
Military aviation is the use of aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling warfare, including national airlift capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Air power includes the national means of conducting such...

 (see also Kiffin Rockwell
Kiffin Rockwell
Kiffin Yates Rockwell was an early aviator whose major claim to fame is as the first American to shoot down an enemy aircraft in World War I....


Early life

Thompson was born in West Plains, Missouri
West Plains, Missouri
West Plains is a city in Howell County, Missouri, United States. The population was 10,866 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Howell County. The West Plains Micropolitan Statistical Area consists of Howell County.-Geography:...

. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, he was a senior in electrical engineering
Electrical engineering
Electrical engineering is a field of engineering that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics and electromagnetism. The field first became an identifiable occupation in the late nineteenth century after commercialization of the electric telegraph and electrical...

 at the University of Missouri
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri System is a state university system providing centralized administration for four universities, a health care system, an extension program, five research and technology parks, and a publishing press. More than 64,000 students are currently enrolled at its four campuses...

. The school announced that seniors who joined the military before graduation would receive their diplomas in June. So he enlisted in the Army and, after basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, in June he was sent to Fort Monroe, Virginia for training in the Coast Artillery Corps.
Coastal artillery
Coastal artillery is the branch of armed forces concerned with operating anti-ship artillery or fixed gun batteries in coastal fortifications....

 On the train coming in to Norfolk
Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. With a population of 242,803 as of the 2010 Census, it is Virginia's second-largest city behind neighboring Virginia Beach....

 he saw an airplane in the sky — the first he had ever seen.

When he got the opportunity he went to the flying field, the Curtis School at Newport News
Newport News, Virginia
Newport News is an independent city located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of Virginia. It is at the southeastern end of the Virginia Peninsula, on the north shore of the James River extending southeast from Skiffe's Creek along many miles of waterfront to the river's mouth at Newport News...

, and asked if he could take a ride. Thomas Scott Baldwin
Thomas Scott Baldwin
Thomas Scott Baldwin was a pioneer balloonist and U.S. Army major during World War I. He was the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute.-Early career:...

, who had been a famous performer in his own balloons and dirigibles, was in charge and said yes. The plane was a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny
Curtiss JN-4
The Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" was one of a series of "JN" biplanes built by the Curtiss Aeroplane Company of Hammondsport, New York, later the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. Although the Curtiss JN series was originally produced as a training aircraft for the U.S...

 and the pilot was Eddie Stinson, a prominent flyer at the time who later founded the Stinson Aircraft Company
Stinson Aircraft Company
The Stinson Aircraft Company was an aircraft manufacturing company in the United States between the 1920s and the 1950s.-The Company:The Stinson Aircraft Company was founded in Dayton, Ohio, in 1920 by aviator Edward “Eddie” Stinson, brother to Katherine Stinson. After five years of business...

. Stinson did a number of aerobatic maneuvers, including looping the loop five times in a row. Thompson said that the only thing that kept him from falling out of the plane at the top of the last loop was the lap belt. By the time he landed he had decided to apply for duty in the Air Service
United States Army Air Service
The Air Service, United States Army was a forerunner of the United States Air Force during and after World War I. It was established as an independent but temporary wartime branch of the War Department by two executive orders of President Woodrow Wilson: on May 24, 1918, replacing the Aviation...


World War I

He arrived in France in September and was assigned to the United States 1st Aero Squadron
1st Reconnaissance Squadron
The 1st Reconnaissance Squadron is a United States Air Force reconnaissance training unit based at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, California. It is the oldest squadron in the Air Force, and the first organization to be established as a U.S. military flying unit...

 for training as an observer. The commander was Major Ralph Royce
Ralph Royce
Ralph Royce was a United States Army Air Forces general during World War II. A West Point graduate who learned to fly in 1915–16, he served with the 1st Aero Squadron in the Pancho Villa Expedition and later led it on the Western Front...

, who became a general in the Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 during World War II. The training took place from a field in Amanty
Amanty is a commune in the Meuse department in the Lorraine region in north-eastern France....

. The French day bombardment squadron Br.123, which flew the Breguet 14 B2
Breguet 14
-See also:-References:*Tomasz J. Kowalski, Samolot Breguet 14, TBiU no.197, Warsaw 2002, ISBN 83-11-09461-6...

, was nearby at Neufchâteau
Neufchâteau, Vosges
Neufchâteau is a commune in the Vosges department in Lorraine in northeastern France.Inhabitants are called Néocastriens.-Geography:Positioned at the confluence of the Rivers Meuse and Mouzon, the little town dominates the Vosges Plain...

 aerodrome, and Royce was occasionally able to send one of his men along with the French on a raid.

First aerial victory

On February 5, 1918 Thompson flew as a gunner-bombardier with the French on a bombing raid over Saarbrücken
Saarbrücken is the capital of the state of Saarland in Germany. The city is situated at the heart of a metropolitan area that borders on the west on Dillingen and to the north-east on Neunkirchen, where most of the people of the Saarland live....

, Germany. After the bombs were dropped the squadron was attacked by Albatros D.III
Albatros D.III
The Albatros D.III was a biplane fighter aircraft used by the Imperial German Army Air Service and the Austro-Hungarian Air Service during World War I. The D.III was flown by many top German aces, including Manfred von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Erich Löwenhardt, Kurt Wolff, and Karl Emil Schäfer...

 fighters, and Thompson shot one of them down. This was the first aerial victory by the U.S. military. He was awarded the Croix de guerre
Croix de guerre
The Croix de guerre is a military decoration of France. It was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts...

 with Palm for the action.

In May he was assigned to the new 12th Aero Squadron
12th Reconnaissance Squadron
The 12th Reconnaissance Squadron is a United States Air Force reconnaissance unit based at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, California. It is a component of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and operates the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle...

 at Ourches
Ourches-sur-Meuse is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-See also:*Communes of the Meuse department...

 airdrome, commanded by Capt. Lewis H. Brereton
Lewis H. Brereton
Lewis Hyde Brereton was a military aviation pioneer and lieutenant general in the United States Air Force...

. On July 28, now flying from a farm field near La Ferté-sous-Jouarre
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne département in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.It is located at a crossing point over the River Marne between Meaux and Château-Thierry.-History:...

, he was in another memorable battle. While doing artillery spotting during a battle near Château-Thierry
Château-Thierry is a commune in northern France about east-northeast of Paris. It is a sub-prefecture of the Aisne department in Picardy.-History:...

, his Salmson 2 A2
Salmson 2
|-References:* Davilla, James J., & Soltan, Arthur M., French Aircraft of the First World War. Stratford, Connecticut: Flying Machines Press, 1997. ISBN 0-9637110-4-0...

 was attacked by four Fokker D.VII
Fokker D.VII
The Fokker D.VII was a German World War I fighter aircraft designed by Reinhold Platz of the Fokker-Flugzeugwerke. Germany produced around 3,300 D.VII aircraft in the summer and autumn of 1918. In service, the D.VII quickly proved itself to be a formidable aircraft...

s from what had been Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen , also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service during World War I...

's Flying Circus
Jagdgeschwader 1 (World War 1)
The Jagdgeschwader 1 of World War I, was a fighter unit comprising four Jastas or 'fighter squadrons', originally raised by combining Jastas 4, 6, 10 and 11, on 24 June 1917 with Manfred von Richthofen as commodore...

 but was then under the command of Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

. Thompson shot down the first two planes that attacked him, but a bullet from the third hit his machine gun and disabled it. He was then hit in the leg, and his pilot was hit in the stomach by an exploding bullet. The pilot managed to crash land the plane before he died of his wounds. Thompson dug the bullet out of his leg with a pocket knife. The pilot who shot them down was the famous German ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

 Erich Löwenhardt
Erich Löwenhardt
Erich Löwenhardt was the 3rd highest German flying ace with 54 victories during the First World War, behind only Manfred von Richthofen and Ernst Udet.-Early life and service:...

, who at the time was second only to Richthofen in victories.

The uniform that Thompson was wearing when he shot down the Albatros D.III
Albatros D.III
The Albatros D.III was a biplane fighter aircraft used by the Imperial German Army Air Service and the Austro-Hungarian Air Service during World War I. The D.III was flown by many top German aces, including Manfred von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Erich Löwenhardt, Kurt Wolff, and Karl Emil Schäfer...

 and the bullet he dug from his leg are on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
National Museum of the United States Air Force
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The NMUSAF is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display...


Post-war life

After the war Thompson worked for several years as an engineer at McCook Field
McCook Field
McCook Field was an airfield and aviation experimentation station operated by the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps and its successor the United States Army Air Service from 1917-1927...

, the predecessor of today's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base in Greene and Montgomery counties in the state of Ohio. It includes both Wright and Patterson Fields, which were originally Wilbur Wright Field and Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot. Patterson Field is located approximately...

. He then became a high school mathematics teacher. During World War II he taught preflight and meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

. He maintained an interest in aviation and in 1940 he received U.S. Patent No. 2,210,642 for a tailless flying wing
Flying wing
A flying wing is a tailless fixed-wing aircraft which has no definite fuselage, with most of the crew, payload and equipment being housed inside the main wing structure....

. He died in Dayton, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

at age 83.
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