Rear Admiral William Thompson, USN (Ret.)

©STUDIO M INC/CDR Toby Marquez, USN (Ret.)

©STUDIO M INC/CDR Toby Marquez, USN (Ret.)

Rear Admiral William “Bill” Thompson is considered the father of U.S. Navy Public Affairs and was the driving force behind the creation of the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

Under the leadership of Rear Admiral Thompson, the Navy Memorial sought and received the blessing of Congress to construct a public memorial in D.C. A bill was introduced in the Senate and House in 1978 and was signed into law by President Carter in 1980. He created the foundation, served for 15 years as the first President & CEO, and is credited with the vision, construction, and funding for the Memorial, the Visitor Center, and the Lone Sailor statue. To this day, the original Lone Sailor statue bears his initials (“W. T.”) and last name on the Sea Bag.


Rear Adm. Thompson was born on September 16, 1922 in Escanaba, Michigan and graduated from West High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He enlisted in the Navy Aviation Cadet Program (V-5) and Midshipman Program (V-12) attending Wabash College, Ind., and then Midshipman School at Notre Dame, where he was commissioned in 1945. He married his lifelong companion and best friend, Dorothy zum Buttel, on July 11, 1945.

He served as Special Assistant for Public Affairs to three Secretaries of the Navy: Paul Nitze, Paul Ignatius and John Chafee.



While attending Harvard University, Thompson was called by Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. to join the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) transition team, taking a lead role in overall planning and fleet visits. In 1970, then Capt. Thompson served as U.S. Navy Deputy Chief of Information and became the first public affairs officer in the Navy to be promoted to rear admiral and assigned as Chief of Navy Information (CHINFO). He served as CHINFO until he retired in 1975.

Rear Adm. Thompson set a standard of excellence for generations of Navy Public Affairs professionals in the decades since. He established the Navy’s internal communications program, which is recognized as one of the best in government and continues to be a model for the private sector.

Rear Adm. Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, two Navy Distinguished Public Service Medals, the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and numerous other awards. He is also the recipient of the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil Award for the Best Press Relations Program of the Year and the Navy League of the United States Robert M. Thompson Award for Outstanding Civilian Leadership. The U.S. Navy’s highest Public Affairs awards share his name, the Rear Adm. William Thompson/Rear Adm. Robert Ravitz Awards for Public Affairs Excellence.

Rear Admiral William “Bill” Thompson passed away on Monday, October 15th, 2018.  He served in the United States Navy during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He is survived by his wife Dorothy; brother Donald Thompson; three children Stephanie Graves, Craig Thompson, Brian Thompson; grandchildren William Graves, Stefanie “Stevii” Graves, Braden Graves, Jay Thompson, Jack Thompson and Zach Thompson; and six great grandchildren.

The United States Navy Memorial hosted a Celebration of Life for Rear Adm. Thompson on Sunday, December 2nd, 2018. You can watch the live stream of the ceremony on our Facebook page here:

The ceremony was widely attended by family members, friends, colleagues, and the Navy community. An outpouring of emotion and support during the ceremony made it evident that he was a mentor, hero, and inspiration to many.

©STUDIO M INC/CDR Toby Marquez, USN (Ret.)

©STUDIO M INC/CDR Toby Marquez, USN (Ret.)