Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Jocko Thompson


Date and Place of Birth: January 17, 1917 Beverly, Massachusetts

Died: February 3, 1988 Olney, Maryland

Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: First Lieutenant
Military Unit: Company E, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division US Army

Area Served: European Theater of Operations


John S “Jocko” Thompson was born in Beverly, Massachusetts on January 17, 1917. The tall lefthander hurled at Northeastern University and was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1940.


Thompson won 19 games during his rookie season for the Centreville Red Sox in the Eastern Shore League. The following year he was in the Army and joined the paratroopers, attached to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

On 17 September, 1944, Lieutenant Thompson played a vital role in Operation Market Garden - the largest airborne operation in history. As platoon leader, he and his men landed only 600 hundred yards from the southwestern edge of the bridge at Grave that spanned the Maas River. He could hear erratic firing from the town itself but everything around the bridge was quiet. Thompson was unsure whether he should attack with the 16 men in his platoon or wait for the remainder of the company. “Since this was our primary mission, I decided to attack,” he told author Cornelius Ryan.

Thompson led his platoon to cover in nearby drainage ditches, before wading in water up to their necks as they worked their way towards the bridge. They soon began receiving fire from a tower on the bridge and also noticed a lot of other activity around a building on the bridge that Thompson thought might be a powerplant. Thompson believed the Germans might be preparing to blow up the bridge so he deployed his men to attack the building. “We raked the area with machine guns, overran the power plant, found four dead Germans and one wounded,” recalled Thompson. Shortly afterwards, Thompson heard two trucks approaching from the town. The driver of the lead vehicle was killed and the other vehicle quickly came to a halt. German soldiers poured out of the back of both vehicles and were met with a hail of fire from Thompson’s platoon. They soon retreated back towards the town.

Grave Bridge in Holland

Thompson’s bazooka man then dealt with the machine-gun fire coming from the tower on the bridge, and the platoon set up a road block, securing the bridge until the arrival of further elements of the 82nd Airborne.

Lieutenant Thompson was wounded in action twice during the war and in addition to being awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star, he also received decorations from the French, Dutch and Belgians. He saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and at the end of the war he served as an aide to General James Gavin in the occupation of Berlin.

Thompson was back playing baseball in 1946 and posted a 15-7 record with the Scranton Red Sox of the Eastern League. He was with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1947 and remained with the Maple Leafs in 1948 when the working agreement with Boston ended and he became the property of the Philadelphia Phillies.

He was 13-8 with Toronto and on September 21, 1948, 31-year-old Thompson made his major league debut with Philadelphia, beating the Reds on a 5-hitter.

Thompson was 14-5 with Toronto in 1949 and made eight appearances with the Phillies posting a 1-3 record. In 1950 he was 10-14 in Toronto and made two relief appearances in Philadelphia. Thompson, at 34, pitched in 29 games for the Phillies in 1951, with a 4-8 won-loss record and a 3.85 ERA.

Jocko Thompson passed away in Olney, Maryland on February 3, 1988. In September 17, 2004 – 60 years after Thompson’s platoon captured the bridge at Grave in Holland - it was renamed Lieutenant John S Thompson Bridge. His widow and many WWII veterans were present at the ceremony.

Thanks to Dave Berry at for help with this biography. Some of the above information was taken from Cornelius Ryan’s “A Bridge Too Far” (Simon & Schuster Inc; Reprinted Ed edition May 1995)

Created February 10, 2007.


Copyright © 2008 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.