Ernest Thompson, a WWII vet, a patriot, and now an Internet celebrity. Believe it or not, Mr. Thompson has over 5 million views on YouTube, fans all over the world, and the gratitude of all Americans thanks to his charm and dedication.
The World War II veteran, who is 98 years strong, served his country with pride. As a young man, he was on board the USS Tennessee during the attack on Pearl Harbor and served on the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered in the Second World War.
Moreover, many years later he continued serving in another way – by giving back. In 2000, after losing his wife, Thompson, who lives in Gardena, California, asked his grandson, Jonathan Williams, to visit the USS Missouri with him.
The trip moved the war hero to take action when he learned how important museum ships are to veterans. Williams explained:
“I witnessed an 82 year old man become 18 again and a flood of emotions that affected all that were present tremendously. When I returned home, I was so incredibly impacted by this experience that I felt other veterans should be able to experience this.”
When Thompson returned to California, he contacted several other vets to save and restore the USS Iowa, the sister ship of the USS Missouri. Williams was named the CEO of the Battleship IOWA Museum in Los Angeles. The museum is located 15 minutes away from his grandfather’s house.
Thompson became a member of the IOWA Museum Crew with other WWII veterans. Every Sunday they would volunteer their time to tell their story to the public at the museum. USS Iowa spokesperson Andrew Bossenmeyer said:
“It brings Thompson so much joy to tell his story, and he’s greatly influenced everyone who visits the museum on the importance of history, patriotism, and military/veteran appreciation.”
However, in the past weeks, due to health issues, Thompson has not been able to visit the ship as much as he would like. Seeing that the WWII vet could not longer go to the NAVY, the NAVY came to him.
When the Chief Selects from the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center learned that Thompson was not able to travel to the ship, they decided to surprise him at his house.
The Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center marched in the residential street and sang the Navy’s march song “Anchors Aweigh” in front of Thompson’s house.
Thompson stood tall as he saluted them as they sang and then each of the chief selects shook his hand. Thompson was also given a plaque made out of teak wood from the USS Iowa. Bossenmeyer stated:
“What’s so remarkable is that Thompson had fallen earlier in the year, and his was the first time he stood up since the incident.”
An emotional Thompson said:
“It was really a surprise, yeah. They marched up the street here and stopped out in front and sang a bunch of Navy songs.It was quite impressive. I enjoyed it very much.”
Thompson told Williams it was “one of the best days of his life.” Since the video was posted on August 13, it has received over 5.3 million views. Bossenmeyer added:
“The popularity of the video reaffirms the belief in patriotism and honoring our veterans.”
Williams shared pictures and wrote in a Facebook post that his grandfather said it was “one of the best days of his life.” Here is the Facebook post:
“People have asked me about the story of the video (after hundreds of new friend requests)… Here it goes. My grandfather served on the USS Tennessee prior to WWII and the USS Missouri during WWII, ultimately witnessing the end of WWII. He has become one of my best friends and is the reason that I became involved in saving the USS Iowa from scrap. When he lost my grandmother, the one thing he wanted to do was visit his ship (USS Missouri) again. We visited
his ship together in 2000 and I was able to experience what these museum ships meant to veterans. I witnessed an 82 year old man become 18 again and a flood of emotions that affected all that were present tremendously. When I returned home, I was so incredibly impacted by this experience that I felt other veterans should be able to experience this. I was blessed to find out that the USS Iowa (sister to the MISSOURI) needed to be saved and I decided to partner with amazing people and make it my life’s work to preserve IOWA for other veterans. We accomplished this and today I am blessed to serve as the CEO of the Battleship IOWA Museum in Los Angeles – 15 minutes from my grandfather’s home. We honor all veterans daily by announcing them on board when they visit with their families (just heard one as I write this). The emotional experience this provides them is the same one I felt 16 years ago. My grandfather joined the IOWA Museum Crew with other WWII veterans (such as Bob Despain from the USS Hoel) to come to the ship on Sundays and meet the public and tell their story. These public interactions have greatly influenced future generations, the public, and current Navy personnel on the importance of history, patriotism, and military/veteran appreciation. The Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center has made it part of Chief Select for 2 years to meet these WWII veterans. When they found out that my grandfather was unable to visit the ship lately due to health reasons, they decided to take it to him. They worked with the IOWA Volunteer Coordinator to arrange the surprise visit and when the day arrived he was surprised! The video shows the culmination of the planning and the amazing efforts of all involved. Neighbors came out of their houses to witness a once in a lifetime experience. My grandfather told me that it was one of the best days of his life! I am humbled by the efforts these young men and women to do this for my grandfather. Our IOWA crew tries to do this daily for all veterans and their families, it is our small gesture to let them know that we appreciate them.”
The clip really touched online commenters.