99-year-old WWII veteran honored at memorial service on USS Iowa

The USS Iowa berthed at its permanent home in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.
The USS Iowa berthed at its permanent home in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.
Pacific Battleship Center

World War II veteran Ernest Thompson, who passed away on November 3rd at age 99, is being honored Sunday at a public memorial aboard the USS Iowa.

Born in Georgia, Thompson enlisted in the Navy in 1936 at age 19. He worked as a water tender, first on the USS Tennessee and then on the USS Missouri. The job involves burning oil at high temperatures to create steam to power the vessel.

"We forget what kind of duty that is," says his grandson Jonathan Williams, who is also the CEO of the Battleship Iowa. "When you're inside the ship and below deck, you don't always realize what's going on outside. Your ship can roll over and sink. And by the time you know it, you would not be able to escape."

In 1945, Thompson was aboard the USS Missouri where he witnessed the surrender of the Japanese. After his service, Thompson moved to Gardena and went to work for the LADWP.

Williams remembers how much his grandfather loved telling stories about his time in the Navy:

"I've heard numerous stories — funny stories, difficult stories. Late one night, he and his crew in the fire room diverted some bacon and eggs from the refrigerator area and moved it down the fire room. They cooked it with some bread  and castor oil. The smell went all the way up to the ventilation system. The chief engineer walked down and caught them cooking it and after asking for one of them told them to be more cautious about cooking the sandwich."

A recent YouTube video of Thompson went viral. In the clip, he rises from his wheelchair and stands at attention as USS Iowa volunteers sing the Navy march song outside his home.

navy vid

"He always said, he wasn't a hero. He served his country," Williams says.

The celebration of Thompson's life begins at 1 p.m. and is open to the public. It will include speakers, a flag-raising, playing Taps and singing Thompson's favorite song, "God Bless America."