WILLIAM M. THOMPSON, LT, USN
William Thompson '53
Date of birth: March 23, 1930
Date of death: April 22, 1958
From the 1953 Lucky Bag:
Loss & Memorial
From The Herald of Sharon, Pennsylvania, on September 25, 2013:
Fifty five years after a Sharon man was lost at sea while serving on a submarine in the U.S. Navy, his shipmates gathered with family members to honor him in his hometown.
Lt. William M. Thompson was 28 years young when he lost his life in the North Atlantic on April 22, 1958. He served on the USS Cutlass, a Tench-class submarine that was patrolling those waters at the height of the Cold War.
Lt. Thompson was a Sharon native and graduated in 1948 from Sharon High, from which he went on to an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he was a standout on the golf team, which he captained.
During his time on the links, Lt. Thompson golfed against the Golden Bear, Arnold Palmer, who polished his skills early on at Latrobe High and then at Wake Forest University.
Thompson’s golfing pedigree was shaped by rounds played at Buhlland Golf Course, commonly called "Dum Dum" in Hermitage - which happens to be the only free course in the world.
It's fitting that to honor Thompson, his shipmates decided to install a bench in his honor on the course.
Thompson’s nephew, Bill Dunsmore of Hermitage, a retired teacher and administrator from the Sharon City School District, is his nearest surviving relative and Dunsmore was on hand last week when the U.S.S. Cutlass alumni association dedicated the bench.
"I was just amazed at the depth of friendship of the people who served on the ship," Dunsmore said.
They’re old, graying men now. Had he survived, Thompson would have been 83. But they retain memories of their time aboard the sub, although they still honor an oath of secrecy they took about their exact operations aboard it.
The exact circumstances under which Thompson was lost haven’t been revealed even after the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago, Dunsmore noted.
"My grandparents were never told the full story," Dunsmore said.
"Everyone was pretty much sworn to secrecy about the circumstances."
One of Thompson’s shipmates, Stuart P.Tulk, did put into writing his recollection of that stormy day, but they stop short of describing exactly what the Cutlass encountered, aside from very rough seas.
"We were heading into 40-50 foot sweels with white froth blowing on top," Tulk wrote.
Lt. Thompson and two others were on the bridge in "full foul-weather gear," he wrote, "tethered with belt and chain."
Tulk was in the control room were he served as auxiliary electrician. "We encountered a contact ahead," he wrote.
The captain ordered the bridge to be cleared and "Bill and the lookouts prepared to come below as we made the turn." "With the strong wind and the high seas on the port side of the very large sail, we went over to starboard about 85 to 90 degrees. We hung there for a while, less than a minute," he wrote.
The other two men were able to remain aboard the sub, but Thompson was swept overboard.
"We heard a panicked response on every MC button they could find: "The OD (officer of the deck) is overboard. The OD is overboard. The OD is overboard. The OD is overboard." Over and over," Tulk wrote.
They spent hours looking for him, to no avail, and he was presumed lost at sea.
But his legacy lives on, and now is marked with the bench at Buhland, something Dunsmore said he’s grateful for.
"The span of time from when that happened and their desire to do this spoke of the depth of their friendship," Dunsmore said of the shipmates.
William was the Chief Engineer at the time.
The June 1958 issue of SHIPMATE reported he was survived by his wife, Ginny, and son, Kit, but it seems notable that neither were mentioned above. (It also lists him as USNR; in the Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps of 1958 he is listed as a member of the regular Navy.)