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Kyle Thompson - A Thousand Cups of Rice

Kyle O. Thompson was buried on Texas Independence Day, March 2, 2004. Thompson was not automatically eligible for plots at the State Cemetery, but it didn’t take too much discussion before the committee decided he deserved a place in the Cemetery. Thompson was perhaps most well known to Texans for being press secretary to Governor John Connally and Senator John Tower. He was the public face for two of Texas’s most notable elected officials, but it was his experiences in World War II that made Kyle Thompson someone truly special. Thompson was a member of the Lost Battalion, a Texas National Guard Artillery unit captured by the Japanese early in the war and used as slave labor in the jungles of Burma.
Thompson was a Staff Sergeant after he retired in 1946 with a Purple Heart, the POW Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with two Bronze Clusters and numerous campaign service medals. What he and hundreds of other Texans had to go through during the war in the rain forests of Southeast Asia is as terrible an experience as any prisoners of war anywhere in the world. Thompson and his cohorts worked on the “Death Railway” in Burma and Thailand. They worked in the cold, the heat, the wet monsoon season and the bug and disease infested jungle. “Death Railway” is not hyperbole, more than 115,000 Allied Prisoners of War and civilian workers died making the railway. Most of the Allied soldiers were British, Australian and Dutch and the civilians were mostly Javanese (natives to Java or Southeast Asian peoples), but neither their country of origin or language they spoke saved them from the horrors of the railway. Men died of dysentery, ulcers, cholera, fatigue, starvation or were beaten to death. The casualty estimates vary, some say more than 330,000 died making the railway, but 115,000 is a generally accepted figure. After the war, many of the Japanese officers who supervised the construction were prosecuted for war crimes.
The movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” was based on the construction of one of the bridges on the railway. Many of the survivors did not approve of the depiction of the Allied officers in the movie, but it remains one of the more popular World War II movies, despite its horrific origins.
Kyle Thompson survived the “Death Railway”. He wrote an amazing book based on his experiences called A Thousand Cups of Rice, the title coming from the cup of rice each worker was allotted at meal time. He described having to watch a fellow POW die during the height of the construction.
He {Jimmy Alexander} would look at me with round, sunken eyes, and say nothing. His very silence was a testimony to the extent of his misery and disease. He was virtually all skin and bones when he died. Dysentery had drained the very life from his body. He became too weak to sit up...
Thompson survived his experience in Southeast Asia, went home and became a journalist. His career lasted some 40 years and spanned from Wichita Falls to Austin to Washington D.C. to Dallas and finally Fort Worth where he retired from the Star Telegram in 1987. It says much about Thompson’s character that he went on to have a career at all, let alone one so successful.
His work in Texas politics was probably what got Kyle Thompson approved for plots by the Texas State Cemetery Committee, but his experience in World War II, the horrific work on the “Death Railway” was the more inspirational reason. He and thousands of Americans like him, made the world a better place because of their experiences. Thompson wrote about the feeling of the post-war era:
Instead of punishing old enemies who tried to destroy them, Americans opened their hearts and pocketbooks, pouring money, materials and even manpower into a massive reconstruction. We were immensely successful. Within a decade, both the German and the Japanese people were back on their feet…
-       WE