In May 1943, while serving in California, John was granted an unexpected leave. The wedding was quickly planned—not an easy feat with the country at war. Jean Thompson remembers her grandmother’s stories about the wedding, and the challenges posed by planning a reception while rationing was in effect.
Four days after graduating from SU, Jean Taylor married her college sweetheart at St. John the Evangelist Church in Syracuse. Jane Kendrick ’40, G’43, of Skaneateles, New York, a friend of the couple, attended the wedding. “They were so much in love, and you were just so happy for them,” Kendrick says. “Jean couldn’t have been happier.”
The couple spent a brief honeymoon in New York City, after which John returned to his post at Camp Young in California. Jean remained with her parents until she could join her new husband. During that time, Jean worked as a secretary in the University registrar’s office. When John was sent to Officer’s Training School at Camp Davis, North Carolina, Jean joined him. But their time together was brief. John shipped out to England, arriving there on Christmas Day 1943. Jean, pregnant with their first child, returned to Syracuse.
John never had a chance to hold that child, Catherine Jean, born June 29, 1944. He died August 8, 1944, while serving with a U.S. coastal artillery (anti-aircraft) unit in France. His obituary was published in the Syracuse Herald American on his 26th birthday. According to the obituary, Jean received a letter from her husband a few hours after receiving the War Department telegram notifying her of his death. In the letter, John told her that he received the pictures of their infant daughter.
That baby girl is now grown and happily married with daughters and grandchildren of her own. Jean Thompson grew up in Syracuse and attended SU, graduating in 1966 from the College of Arts and Sciences. She married, and gave birth to a daughter, Kristin. In a twist of fate that mirrored her mother’s experience, Jean lost her first husband, Marine Corps Capt. Richard Morin, in the Vietnam war. In 1974, she married Richard “Dick” Thompson, a Vietnam veteran and a 1967 graduate of the Maxwell School, where he earned a master’s degree in political science. Jean gave birth to another daughter, Beth.
Jean is active in a variety of Washington-area organizations. She has served as chair of the Women’s Committee of the Smithsonian Institution and is currently a member of the executive committees of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and the Congressional Club. Dick is vice president of government affairs for Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. He has served on the advisory boards of SU’s School of Management and the Maxwell School. He is currently a member of the board of the Meridian International Center and Ford’s Theater.
The Thompsons lead busy lives filled with family, friends, and activities. Some of their favorite times are spent with their young grandchildren, Stephen and Kaitlin. Even with the joy that now fills their lives, they do not forget the losses they’ve experienced.
Jean’s mother died last March. The Thompsons had considered a major gift, and after learning about the Remembrance Scholarship Fund, they decided it was the perfect way to memorialize Jean’s parents. “The loss of 35 students in the prime of their young lives touched the hearts of millions of people. So, too, did the loss of so many exceptional young men like John Phelan more than 50 years ago in World War II,” Dick Thompson says. “We therefore thought it fitting to support the Remembrance Scholarship with a gift in memory of Jean’s mother and father.”