PCGS board members may recall that on September 17, 2008 a Chinook helicopter carrying Cpl. Michael E. Thompson went down in western Iraq. Lost with Cpl. Thompson were the remainder of his Red River 44 flying unit, part of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, including fellow sons of Oklahoma Chief Warrant Officer Brady J. Rudolf and Sgt. Daniel Eshbaugh as well as Sgt. Anthony Luke Mason, 1st Sgt. Julio Ordonez, Chief Warrant Officer Corry A. Edwards and 1st Lt. Robert Vallejo II all of Texas. The connection that Cpl. Michael E. Thompson had to many of us on the PCGS boards is that our fellow board member, BRdude, was his father. Longtime members of the board may remember BRdude as kokimoki from the old PCGS boards prior to the year 2000.
Inever had the privilege to personally meet Cpl. Thompson, but he left an impression on those both in and out of the military that is easy to see in his memorial guest book and his memorial page. While the individual burial ceremonies for the men were held before the one year anniversary of their deaths, a combined interment for the seven men was performed just prior to the one year anniversary in the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. An image that appeared in the Star-Telegram is below. The story and image may remind us of the terrible price that is paid by some in this and all conflicts.
Over the years I have always thought that three US coinage designs stood apart from all other regular issue coinage. These three designs include two that I believe are quintessential expressions of Americana and these two designs are the Bela Lyon Pratt incuse design gold issues (quarter and half-eagle) as well as the James Earle Fraser Buffalo nickel. The third design has always represented to me what it means to be an American and this design is the Walking Liberty half dollar. This piece of art has always made me wonder what people of other nationalities might have thought when they came upon the coin for the first time, whether received as contemporary change or viewed in some other manner. My favorite numismatic literary work was written by Cornelius Vermeule and is titled Numismatic Art In America . The first edition was produced by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and is long out of print, but my copy of Vermeule states in part-
"The "Walking Liberty" design particularly gives the true feeling for breadth and sculptural surfaces on the scale of a coin. These surfaces are formal, like a well-carved marble or precisely cast bronze relief for a war memorial… The spacing of the word LIBERTY parallels the success of the dime, and the rising sun amid landscape anchors the motion of Liberty, her olive branch, and her starry cloak. On the reverse, the eagle standing on rocks with a gnarled tree at the left dominates but does not overwhelm the design. The working of the feathers is a miraculous coup de force, already cited as a hallmark of Saint-Gaudens and his pupils."
Vermeule writes much more poetically than I do, but the Walking Liberty design represents to me, with its vibrant, flag-draped Liberty and vigorous eagle full of strength a country that I would want to be associated with and one that must have seemed quite wonderful to those who viewed this art during its time of issue.
Every Walking Liberty half dollar I have seen since first reading of the loss of Cpl. Thompson has made me think of him, his mission, his fellow fallen soldiers and his family. Of course his family would include BRdude who is among our extended PCGS board family. During this time I have also actively searched for a Walking Liberty half dollar to add to my complete US type set. Recently, I was fortunate to find the appropriate coin for the set and I must admit that every time I look at the coin I again think of Cpl. Thompson. The coin below is not mine, but Dave Wnuck and John Agre of Coin Rarities Online once offered it for sale and Mark Goodman produced the images. They have graciously provided the images and I wanted to include these in this tribute to Cpl. Thompson.