The Center Grove ICON is recognizing two honorable and loyal Army veterans in our Faces of Freedom issue – Bryon Tompson and his daughter, Amanda. On Independence Day, please take a moment to remember those who are fighting or have fought for our country and thank those who currently serve or veterans for their service.
By Sherri Coner
In 1975, Bryon Thompson was an 18-year-old soldier in paratrooper training.
As the aircraft door opened for Thompson’s first jump as a member of the 82nd Airborne, he was suddenly paralyzed.
“I said, ‘I’m not gonna do this.’”
“I can still close my eyes and see the face of the jumpmaster,” Thompson said with a chuckle. “He said, ‘Oh you’re gonna do this.’ And he kicked me right out that door.’”
After serving four years’ active duty as a United States Army paratrooper and military policeman, Thompson came home to Johnson County and served at Camp Atterbury as a drill sergeant in the Reserves for another four years.
He is a man of honor with a deep respect for American soldiers and their families.
For 20 years, Thompson has been a devoted volunteer, helping to place more than 160 crosses and American flags on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn in Franklin for Memorial Day.
“Those crosses are a big part of my life,” Thompson said. “I remember being down there when I was a little kid. It’s a tradition in Johnson County.”
The last cross, the 165th cross to be placed, symbolizes the death of the last Johnson County soldier to lose his life for his country.
“That is Jimmy Waters’ cross,” Thompson said of Waters, a 2008 Whiteland Community High School graduate. “And I’m the only man who touches that cross.”
While deployed, PCE-4 Waters, son of Garry and Valerie Waters, lost his life on July 1, 2011, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Each year, Thompson places that particular cross next to the monument and the American flag on the courthouse lawn. After the Memorial Day ceremony, he presents the flag to Waters’ family.
In the midst of keeping military traditions alive, Thompson faced fears as a father when his only child Amanda Thompson chose to follow in her father’s military boot prints.
“In 2003, Amanda joined the United States Army 101st Airborne,” he said. “She was 19 years old, and her MOS was to be a cook.”
This father who lost his infant son and then the mother of his children faced a completely different type of fear when his daughter was deployed to Iraq, a few weeks after basic training.
“I told her, ‘Keep your butt down and your head up. No matter what, you stay in the non-commissioned officer’s back pocket.’”
While his baby girl “manned the guns and went on patrols,” her worried dad did what he could to support her while silently fighting his fears for her safety.
“I sent care packages,” Thompson said. “I sent her two and 300 pencils at a time to give to kids. They didn’t have anything like that.”
Amanda then wrote a letter asking her dad to send her softball glove.
“She gave that glove to a little boy in Iraq,” Thompson said of his daughter’s five-month deployment. “She was so proud of that.”
Although Thompson spent his own 21st birthday as a soldier on guard duty, he hoped for his daughter to enjoy a special celebration.
Less than a week before her 21st birthday, the weary but grateful and tearful dad embraced his baby-girl-turned soldier, who safely made it home from Iraq.
And he kept his promise.
“I took Amanda to downtown Nashville, Tenn. to celebrate her 21st birthday,” Thompson said.
Remarried for 10 happy years to his wife, Kim, Thompson plans a December 2023 retirement from a 44-year career in trucking.
He will continue to place the crosses for Memorial Day.
He will have more time to visit aging veterans and also serve as a pallbearer for military funerals.
More time with the wife he adores as well as the grandchildren he has introduced to Army life … those are also great things to look forward to.
“I am a United States veteran,” Thompson said as his voice broke with emotion. “It is the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I served my country.”