Blue plaque for Ulster-born Medal of Honor hero

The only Ulster-born soldier to win the United States’ highest honour for gallantry during World War One has been commemorated with a blue plaque in his Co Down home town.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 6:45 pm
At the unveiling were (from left) Ian Crozier, Ulster-Scots Agency, Bernard Gilliland, American Legion, Samuel Hamilton, Kilmorey Arms Hotel, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau and Maynard Hanna, Kilkeel
At the unveiling were (from left) Ian Crozier, Ulster-Scots Agency, Bernard Gilliland, American Legion, Samuel Hamilton, Kilmorey Arms Hotel, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau and Maynard Hanna, Kilkeel

American Consul-General in Belfast, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, unveiled the tribute to Joseph Henry Thompson on the Kilmorey Arms Hotel in Kilkeel yesterday.

Born in September 1871 the accomplished sportsman, coach, lawyer and a state legislator served with distinction on the Western Front and, in October 1918, Major Thompson would earn the Medal of Honor for displaying “extraordinary heroism” at Apremont in France.

Major Thompson was wounded four times during the war but remained on duty despite his injuries on each occasion. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel immediately following his daring exploits at Apremont – where he persistently braved heavy enemy fire to attack an enemy machine gun nest – and was made a full colonel just five months later.

Ulster-born US Colonel Joseph Henry Thompson

The son of Jacob Thompson, a farmer, and Sarah Jane Reilly, 18-year-old Joseph Thompson emigrated from Kilkeel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1889 and was granted US citizenship in 1896.

He played American football at the University of Pittsburgh between 1904 and 1906, and in 1909 he graduated from Pitt Law School.

He was admitted to the bar and practised law in his home district of Beaver Falls.

Between 1913 and 1916 – while an officer in the National Guard – he represented the 47th District in the Pennsylvania State Senate as a member of the Republican Party.

Speaking ahead of the unveiling ceremony, Ulster History Circle chairman Chris Spurr said: “Joseph H Thompson was an award-winning college football coach, attorney and state senator in Pennsylvania, who then distinguished himself on military service in France in 1918.

“His valour there led to him receiving the United States Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest personal military decoration, and he is the only Ulster-born soldier to win this medal in World War I.

“The Ulster History Circle is pleased to commemorate this renowned soldier with a blue plaque in Kilkeel, the place of his birth, and we are honoured that the American Consul-General, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, will unveil the plaque.”

Mr Spurr added: “The Circle would particularly like to thank the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards this plaque, and the Kilmorey Arms Hotel for their assistance.”

In 1908, Joseph Thompson married a Californian lady, Violet Edith Smeight, and they had one son, Joseph Smeight Thompson. ‘Colonel Joe,’ as he was known, died in February 1928 aged 56 and was buried with full military honours at Beaver Falls cemetery in a veteran’s grave.