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Maurice W Thompson
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Birth: Aug. 27, 1878
Death: Nov. 3, 1954, USA

One determined visionary took the Washington National Guard from horses to tanks and planes, and in and out of two world wars

By Capt. Keith Kosik
October 2010

The man's photo catches your attention right away. It's different from the other photos of Washington adjutants general hanging on the wall at the state joint-force headquarters at Camp Murray, Wash.

Is it the World War I-era uniform? The mustache? The cool first name?

The other photographs feature straightforward start and end dates—one of each—to mark each leader's time of service. His includes a mishmash of dates: 1914-1918, 1919-1941 and 1945-1947.

Why had he been adjutant general three times? Who has the energy to hold the job for that long? Who the heck was this guy?

Who was Maurice Thompson?

On April 23, 1898, President William McKinley issued a call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. The state of Washington's quota was one infantry regiment.

The Washington National Guard at the time consisted of two battalions, and almost every man in both units volunteered for service. Nineteen-year-old Maurice Thompson enlisted in Company B, 1st Washington Volunteer Infantry, eager to serve in the war.

A week later, 12 full companies of volunteers from across the state converged on Washington Guard headquarters at Camp Murray to muster into federal service.

Thompson was undoubtedly excited as he stood amidst the patriotic fervor and bravado of the volunteer infantry regiment. A stenographer from Seattle, he was a slight man standing 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

But he had big shoes to fill. His father, an accomplished lawyer, was a Civil War veteran who took part in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg and authored the poems, The High Tide at Gettysburg and The Bond of Blood. His mother was a descendent of the Revolutionary War legend Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Thompson was ambitious, enjoyed a good smoke and was looking for adventure. Though young, he was a man of great expectations and must have felt the weight of his family's history.

He was not insulated from the tough realities of life, and had even battled a case of typhoid as a teenager.

In short, he was prepared for what lay ahead of him in the Philippines.

Then something happened that must have been a crushing disappointment. He was rejected for federal service because he was underweight.

The man who would one day attain the rank of major general was too thin for federal service as a private.

Undeterred by his rejection, he immediately re-enlisted as a private in the Washington Guard's Company B, 2nd Regiment, and worked his way up the ranks to first sergeant. He accepted a commission in May 1901, and had earned the rank of major by the time he was appointed adjutant general May 1, 1914. The appointment came with the rank of brigadier general.

As adjutant general, Thompson became the once-in-a-generation leader every organization seeks and needs.

He was a visionary who saw change coming and knew that he had to be on its forefront. He prepared the Washington Guard for service in World War I and led the post-war reorganization of the Guard.

He oversaw the transition from horses to tanks. He led the state through the lean years of the Great Depression and the unpleasant task of quelling labor riots and civil unrest.

He prepared the Guard for mobilization in support of World War II. Perhaps his greatest transformative move and acquisition was securing airplanes for the Washington Guard, specifically the 116th Observation Squadron, in 1924.

Because of Thompson's influence and aggressive advocacy, Spokane, Wash., became the birthplace of modern aviation west of the Mississippi River. The squadron's Ace of Spades insignia endures today with 116th Air Refueling Squadron, part of the 141st Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base.

Through nearly three decades as the adjutant general, Thompson had to work through many of the same challenges current adjutants general face. The issues he articulated in his biennium reports to the governor from 1919 through 1941 are shockingly similar to the issues of today, with the notable exception of leasing pasture for the horse cavalry.

He consistently pleaded with the governor and state legislature for funds to maintain or build new armories, and was deeply concerned about the state of disrepair of some of the facilities. Thompson understood the vital importance of relationships with both the community and the media.

At the end of his stateside service during World War I, he became the supervisor of The Seattle Times "Veterans Bureau" and held that position until he once again assumed the duties of adjutant general in December 1919.


Thompson leveraged relationships in the communities to his advantage during the Great Depression to secure less expensive lease agreements during extraordinarily lean budget years. He learned that local governments could prove troublesome when the city of Seattle tried to have part of the Seattle armory condemned for a street right-of-way in the 1930s.

He was frustrated by "fraudulent disposal of federal property" when staff misused resources, and had to deal with the challenges of yearly turnover in personnel.

He was equally frustrated that businesses, civic groups and communities enjoyed the security and economic benefits the Guard provided, but did not do enough to help the Guard maintain a fully manned force.

Thompson also had to address assertions that during World War I, Guard officers were not treated with the same esteem and consideration their active-component
counterparts received.

He continually found himself having to fight efforts in the state legislature to scale back units and facilities in order to save money.

He wrote in the biennial report of 1933-34, "To disband any unit will result in a most vigorous protest from the interested community. Delegations from the various cities and towns have repeatedly urged the establishment of additional National Guard units in the localities."

In his report to the governor on Nov. 1, 1932, Thompson decried drastic budget cuts, writing, "This makes the third successive reduction received in the last six years. … This condition has precluded any effort being made to expand our forces in accordance with the National Defense Act, and we are indeed fortunate that we have not been forced to disband some of the existing organizations."

Thompson's first retirement came in the spring of 1941 on the heels of a new governor taking office.

According to a Seattle Times article from April 1941, Gov. Arthur Langlie intended to bring youth into his cabinet and sought to replace many of the state agency directors left over from the previous administration.

It was no surprise when the governor announced Thompson's resignation May 6. Thompson's influence and shaping of the Guard's preparations for World War II were already in place, however. In late 1939, Thompson issued the first of several general orders disbanding, organizing and reorganizing units.

On Aug. 27, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8530 ordering the vast majority of the Washington Guard into federal service, effective Sept. 16.

Although Thompson remained on the sidelines for World War II, it was his leadership that ensured a well-led, sufficiently trained and professionally organized Washington Guard would help win the war.

The election of 1944 brought the defeat of Langlie by U.S. Sen. Monrad Wallgren.

At the time Wallgren took office in 1945, the Washington National Guard remained mobilized for World War II. On hand was only the State Defense Force, currently known as the State Guard.

Wallgren knew his citizen-soldiers would have to be reintegrated into the Guard when the war ended, so he recalled Thompson to state active duty and detailed him as the acting adjutant general March 6, 1945.

Thompson was now nearly 67 and had been battling serious health problems, but his sense of duty proved much stronger than his ailments.


Immediately following the war, the Guard was completely demobilized and discharged from federal service.

As the War Department crafted its vision for the Guard, it was decided that the Washington Guard would be three times as large as its pre-war strength. Thompson once again presided over a post-war reintegration and reorganization, but this time the force was much larger and the volume of equipment was exponentially larger.

In February 1947, Thompson asked the governor to relieve him of active state service. His final day of duty was Feb. 27.

Thompson's career spanned nearly half a century. He passed away Nov. 3, 1954.

He faced tough challenges and disappointments. He was not an academy golden boy, nor was he simply handed a commission or an appointment.

In order to succeed, he had to bounce back from rejection and work his way up the ranks.

He was a career Guardsman and a lifelong Washingtonian from the time he moved to Seattle as a boy in 1889, two years before Washington became a state.

Like most citizen-soldiers, he had a civilian career. He worked for the Great Northern Railroad until 1905, and was then appointed deputy county auditor for King County.

The challenges he faced were not unlike those faced today as our leaders have transformed the Guard from a Cold War strategic reserve into a 21st-century operational force that the U.S. military cannot do without.

Thompson, very much aware of his "Guard roots," said it best when he quoted one of his predecessors, Gen. R.G. O'Brien, in his biennium report to the governor in 1932: "Members of the National Guard say by their actions: I am ready to place myself between all harm, and the good order and happiness of the community, for the protection of life and property, and with my life answer for the preservation of these things most dear to every citizen."

Capt. Keith Kosik is the state public affairs officer for the Washington National Guard.
Year of birth estimated based on him being 19 years old in 1898.
 (bio by: Greg Raike) 
Family links: 
  William Henry Thompson (1846 - 1918)
  Ida Lee Thompson (1854 - 1906)
  Maurice W Thompson (1878 - 1954)
  Oscar Lee Thompson (1887 - 1945)*
  Elsie Thompson (1892 - 1892)*
*Calculated relationship
Lake View Cemetery
King County
Washington, USA
Created by: Bayview Steve
Record added: Jun 01, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 91152161
Maurice W Thompson
Added by: Greg Raike
Maurice W Thompson
Added by: Karen Sipe
Maurice W Thompson
Added by: Bayview Steve
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 Added: Jul. 15, 2014

- Brenda Ramsey
 Added: Apr. 25, 2013

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