SALEM, UT – Salem Hills High School will be honoring a special WWII at their annual Veteran’s Day Assembly, this coming Thursday, Nov. 12th in the SHHS Auditorium at 10:00 am. Rex K. Thompson has a personal history that will help the students to connect with the heritage and purpose of Veteran’s Day.
Rex K. Thompson came from pioneer stock who left England and Scotland and settled in Clarkston, in Northern Utah. He was born on December 30, 1919, the first child of Kenneth G. and Peru Jardine Thompson. He attended Cache County Schools and Utah State University before leaving on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Rex served his mission in the Northwestern States. While in the mission field, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the war began. The US government allowed missionaries already serving to finish their missions, with the understanding they would report for military service once they returned home. Rex returned in September of 1943. He married his lifetime sweetheart Edna Griffin in October of that year, and reported for his induction physical at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City in January 1944.
In February he left his home with other recruits for the Navy enlistment office. While waiting in a big room, a Marine Sergeant entered and called for Rex, his cousin Edwin and a young early high school graduate to follow him. The Sergeant informed them because of their excellent physical condition they would have the great opportunity to join the Marine Corps. The next day the papers were signed, and the next day after that they were on a train to San Diego for basic training.
Surviving basic training and a mad dog drill instructor was a relief. After completing basic, Rex learned he had been assigned to military communications. He was transferred to Camp Pendleton near Oceanside CA for schooling in communications. After passing the communication testing, Rex was assigned to the 5th JASCO (Joint Assault Signal Company). Their duty was to be liaisons between landing troops and ships at sea. Beach landings and practice invasions were simulated. Hauling gear out of the Higgins boats and setting up working message centers on land was their goal.
In late July they boarded ships and left San Diego for Hilo Hawaii, and eventually Camp Tarawa near Kamuela on the huge Parker Ranch on the big island of Hawaii. This became their second home. More training, and a baseball game occurred while the Marines waited for combat. Rex became the camp barber. His team officer asked the group if anyone had ever cut hair before. No one had. Had anyone ever sheared sheep--still no one. Rex said he had roached horses, so he was given the barber kit and started cutting hair. By then he had a baby daughter at home, and his buddies insisted that guys had better tip Rex for their haircuts so a college fund could be set up for baby sis, who they called "Snooks." One friend actually said if any "cheep low-down bastard" didn't donate he would get his ear cut the next time instead of his hair.
On January 4, 1945 the Marines boarded troop ship APA 96 Cecil, and spent the next few weeks sailing between islands. They were in and out of Honolulu, sailed around Diamond Head and practiced landings on Maui. They left the home islands on January 27th heading for Siapan and then Iwo Jima. The landing on Iwo Jima began at 3:30 a.m. on February 19, 1945. What was supposed to be a battle of a few days duration became a six week ordeal. The Japanese were dug in; many, many Marines were in a terrible struggle digging them out. Hand to hand combat was common. On February 23, 1945 Rex was processing a message when he heard shouting and cheering. His friend Vard Hadley informed him that the flag had just gone up on Mt. Suribachi. The battle went on for weeks more, but Iwo was finally secured and the JASCO team was evacuated off Iwo on March 21, 1945. Back to Hawaii, and then to Japan as part of the occupying forces. Rex landed at the famous Sasebo Harbor in September of 1945. Not a soul was in sight. All the people had evacuated to the hills fearing the invading troops. Eventually the local people emerged and began trading with the Marines. The kids learned to play baseball. The war was over. Rex returned home in March of 1946. His points for being married and having a child sent him home ahead of his band of brothers. Through the years he maintained contact with his Marine Corps friends. Many are now gone, but those feelings of friendship never die.
Rex became a barber after the war. His Marine Corps experiences, cutting the hair of his buddies, helped him choose this career. Later he worked as a Letter Carrier for the US Post Office. He and Edna raised five children in Logan, Utah about 20 miles from their hometown of Clarkston. They have been involved throughout their lives severing in the community (delivering Meals on Wheels into their 90's) and serving in their church. They still live in Logan, and are loved and celebrated by their five children, 25 grandchildren and 67 great grandchildren.
Salem Hills is honored to host Rex as a guest speaker.