For the past decade, the Soviet-backed North Vietnamese Army had been at war with the government of South Vietnam, which in turn was supported by allies including the United States. While the communist forces in North Vietnam sought to unify the country, the U.S. hoped to stop the spread of communism by supporting South Vietnam.
After years of increasing their military presence in the region, America officially entered the war on March 8, 1965. On that day 3,500 marines arrived in the city of Da Nang. And over the course of the next eight years, some 2.7 million U.S. troops would serve in Vietnam. Nearly 60,000 of them would never see home again.
In the midst of this bloody chaos, Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Army. After completing his training at Fort Wolters in Texas, he was posted to Company B in the 123rd Aviation Battalion – part of the 23rd Infantry Division – and in December 1967 he departed for Vietnam.