Joseph H. Thompson

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Joseph H. Thompson
Cmoh army.jpg
1909 photo of Joe Thompson during his Pitt coaching years
Nickname(s)"Colonel Joe"
Born:(1871-09-26)September 26, 1871
Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland
Died:February 1, 1928(1928-02-01) (aged 56)
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Career information
CollegeGeneva College
Western University (PA)
Career history
As coach
1907Carnegie Tech
As player
1904–1906Western University (PA)
Career highlights and awards
Military career
AllegianceUnited States United States
Service/branchUnited States Army seal U.S. Army
Years of service1917–1919 (active duty)
Unit110th Infantry, 28th Division
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsMedal of Honor
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate
from the 47th district
In office
Personal details
Political partyRepublican

Joseph "Colonel Joe" Henry Thompson (September 26, 1871 – February 1, 1928) was a highly decorated World War I veteran, recipient of the Medal of Honor, lawyer, Pennsylvania state senator, head football coach of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, and College Football Hall of Fame inductee.

College years[edit]

Geneva College[edit]

Thompson came to the United States from Ireland in 1898 at the age of 18 and entered Geneva College that year. He immediately became a basketball star and also participated in gymnastics and wrestling, but did not go out for football until 1900. He served as Geneva's player-coach for three years, with his football teams compiling a 27–2–3 record.

University of Pittsburgh[edit]

Thompson continued his education at the University of Pittsburgh, then called the Western University of Pennsylvania, where he played football from 1904 and 1906,[2] during which time the Panthers compiled a 26–6 record. He captained the Pitt football team to its first perfect season in 1904 when the Panthers won all ten games and surrendered only one touchdown. Thompson graduated from Pitt in 1905 and continued on with post-graduate work in the School of Law completing his law degree.[3] While at Pitt he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.[4]

Professional life[edit]


Following graduation from Pitt's law school, Thompson assumed the head coaching position at Pitt from 1909 to 1912, during which period he led Pitt to a 22–11–2 record. The highlight of his coaching tenure was the 1910 season in which Pitt went undefeated and unscored upon and was considered by many to be that season's national champion.[1] While compiling its 9–0 record, Pitt outscored its opponents 282–0. During this time, he attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, graduating in 1909, and was admitted to the bar.

A song to Thompson was written to honor him as football coach at Pitt. Entitled "Joe Thompson" it was sung to the tune of the American folk song "Old Black Joe" by Stephen Foster.[5]

Who plans the plays to spring upon the foe?

Who fought for Wup, five years or more ago?

Who's still for Pitt, does anybody know?

Just hear those loyal rooters shouting:
Joe! Joe! Joe!

We're coming, we're coming;

We have the foe in tow,

So here's a cheer for Pittsburgh dear

And Joe! Joe! Joe!

While at Pitt, Thompson also coached the track and field team beginning in 1904.[6][7] At various points, he also coached football at Pittsburgh High School and Carnegie Technical Schools—now known as Carnegie Mellon University—and was Rochester High School's first football coach.

Politics and law[edit]

Thompson represented the 47th District as a member of the Republican Party in the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1913 to 1916[8] and practiced law in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania until his death in 1928 from ailments aggravated by war wounds.

Hall of Fame[edit]

Thompson was inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and has been inducted into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.[9][10]

Military service[edit]

A page from the 1920 Pitt student yearbook

Thompson enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard's Company H, 14th Infantry Regiment on February 16, 1905. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant on November 1, 1906; to Captain in Company B, 10th Infantry, Pennsylvania National Guard on December 16, 1909; to Major on June 29, 1912; to Lieutenant Colonel on October 28, 1918; and finally to Colonel on March 15, 1919. While serving in WWI he was wounded four times: on September 29, 1918; September 30, 1918; October 1, 1918; and again on October 1, 1918, when he was gassed. He remained on duty after each instance. As of April 12, 1919, he was commanding the 110th Infantry Regiment. Thompson initially returned to the United States on May 11, 1919. He returned to France in June 1919, in order to redeploy the 110th Infantry Regiment to the United States. He was discharged from active duty in December 1919.[11]

While serving in France with the 110th Infantry, then Major Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor on October 1, 1918, during which action he was wounded for the fourth time.[12] This decoration was subsequently upgraded to the Medal of Honor on October 5, 1925. His four wounds entitled him to wear four wound chevrons (the precursor to the Purple Heart which was reestablished by the President of the United States per War Department General Orders 3, 1932) on his uniform's lower right sleeve.

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army, 110th Infantry, 28th Division. Place and date: At Apremont, France; October 1, 1918. Entered service at: Beaver Falls, Pa. Born: September 26, 1871; Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland. General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 21 (October 5, 1925).[13]


Counterattacked by two regiments of the enemy, Major Thompson encouraged his battalion in the front line by constantly braving the hazardous fire of machineguns and artillery. His courage was mainly responsible for the heavy repulse of the enemy. Later in the action, when the advance of his assaulting companies was held up by fire from a hostile machinegun nest and all but one of the six assaulting tanks were disabled, Major Thompson, with great gallantry and coolness, rushed forward on foot three separate times in advance of the assaulting line, under heavy machinegun and antitank-gun fire, and led the one remaining tank to within a few yards of the enemy machinegun nest, which succeeded in reducing it, thereby making it possible for the infantry to advance.[13]

Military awards[edit]

Thompson's military decorations and awards include:

Silver star
1st row Medal of Honor
2nd row World War I Victory Medal w/one silver service star to denote credit for the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector battle clasps. Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur degree of Knight (French Republic) Croix de guerre 1914–1918 w/ bronze palm (French Republic)


Head coaching record[edit]

College football[edit]

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Carnegie Tech Tartans (Independent) (1907)
1907 Carnegie Tech 1–8
Carnegie Tech: 1–8
Pittsburgh Panthers (Independent) (1909–1912)
1909 Pittsburgh 6–2–1
1910 Pittsburgh 9–0
1911 Pittsburgh 4–3–1
1912 Pittsburgh 3–6
Pittsburgh: 22–11–2
Total: 23–19–2
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title or championship game berth

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
  1. ^ a b Yearly National Championship Selections at
  2. ^ Sam Sciullo; Sam Sciullo, Jr. (2004). Tales from the Pitt Panthers. Sports Publishing LLC. p. 1. ISBN 1-58261-198-X. colonel joe thompson.
  3. ^ "Joseph H. Thompson". The Pittsburgh Record. University of Pittsburgh. 2 (3): 222. April 1928. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2008-02-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Assorted University of Pittsburgh Publications at
  6. ^ O'Brien, Jim (editor) (1982). Hail to Pitt: A Sports History of the University of Pittsburgh. Wolfson Publishing Co. p. 66. ISBN 0-916114-08-2.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Documenting Pitt at
  8. ^ The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Thompson, J. at
  9. ^ Colonel Joe Thompson at
  10. ^ Joseph H. Thompson at the College Football Hall of Fame
  11. ^ Extract from "The Twenty-eighth Division, Pennsylvania's Guard in the World War, Volume II by Colonel Edward Martin"=1924. 28th Division Publishing Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  12. ^ Pennsylvania in the World War Volume II - An Illustrated History of the Twenty-Eighth Division=1921. States Publications Society, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Chicago, Illinois. p. 431. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Medal of Honor recipients". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. August 3, 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
  14. ^ "Joseph H. Thompson Biography". Pennsylvania State Senate, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 18, 2017.

External links[edit]