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CNE teacher puts heart into recognizing county veterans

CNE teacher puts heart into recognizing county veterans


Steve Thompson leads effort for designation as ‘Purple Heart School’

By Dick Maloney 

The banners are hard to miss as you drive U.S. 50 through Downtown Owensville, toward Clermont Northeastern High School.


They hang in tandem along poles on either side of the road, with photos and names of Clermont County heroes – men and women who have served their country, some giving their lives. Soon, the high school will have its own markers honoring a special group of veterans.


Clermont Northeastern social studies teacher Steve Thompson led the effort to have CNE designated as a Purple Heart School, as well as Owensville and Clermont County.


“It’s a way for a school district to say, especially to our Gold Star families, that we realize what you’ve done and what you’ve sacrificed and we want to honor the fallen and combat wounded veterans. Our school realizes what you have done in defense of this nation and all that we hold dear. We will always remember and we will never forget,” Thompson said.


CNE will be listed on the National Purple Heart Registry and become a part of the Purple Heart Trail. The stretch of U.S. 50 in front of the school is named for Lance Cpl. Nicholas Erdy, a Purple Heart recipient.


The Purple Heart is the oldest military medal or decoration, commissioned by George Washington and established in 1782.


Thompson said he was reading a copy of the Purple Heart magazine when the idea came to him.


“I actually saw it was, ‘Concord, New Hampshire, becomes a Purple Heart City’, and I thought to myself, ‘How does that work?’ And I eventually just went to the front of the magazine and started looking and calling down the list. As far as ‘Who do I get in touch with to make Owensville a Purple Heart City?’ It went on from making Owensville a Purple Heart City, to Clermont County a Purple Heart County and Clermont Northeastern a Purple Heart School. However, without my wife, Rachel, I would not have been able to complete this. She continuously makes me want to be a better person.”


Thompson contacted Daniel Hof, commander of The Military Order of The Purple Heart Chapter 156, based in Eastgate, to help secure an Ohio Department of Transportation sign with the designation, as well as sign for U.S. 50 which reads “Clermont Northeastern: A Purple Heart School.” Both were expected to be in place by the end of July.


“The MOPH Chapter 156 was instrumental in this process, I am indebted to them for their help. In addition to the signs we also have a ‘welcome’ sign and a reserved parking space for combat wounded Purple Heart veterans that will go right next to the flag pole, which were donated by the Wounded Warrior Family Support Center,” Thompson said.


Hof credits Thompson for all of the “heavy lifting.”


“(Our involvement) was very limited,” Hof said. “Steve took it upon himself to get everything coordinated.


“We stepped in and provided a (Purple Heart) flag, a plaque acknowledging our support,” Hof said.


In June, Thompson presented the board with that flag bearing the Purple Heart insignia and the words “Honoring America’s Wounded Combat Veterans and Fallen Service Members.” He is also trying to acquire a POW/MIA flag and an “Honor and Remember” flag. All would be flown on poles in front of the school, near Hutchinson Road.


High school Principal T.J. Glassmeyer appreciates Thompson’s efforts.


“It an incredible honor to be designated a Purple Heart School. I truly appreciate the efforts of Mr. Thompson and his hard work to get this designation. We owe Mr. Thompson a tremendous amount of praise for his military service and for helping us to secure the Purple Heart School status,” Glassmeyer said.


“We hope that this will in some small way thank those who served for their sacrifices and honor their service.”


Superintendent Michael Brandt signed the proclamation June 6.


“CNE has always had the greatest respect for the military and those who proudly served the US. This designation will honor those brave men and women who sacrificed so much for this great country,” Brandt said. “CNE is honored to receive this designation.”


Thompson is one of two Purple Heart recipients on the CNE faculty. Mike Tabor is the other.


A 1999 CNE graduate and a member of a military family, Thompson joined the Marines after the Sept. 11 attacks. He was attending The College of Mount St. Joseph (now Mount St. Joseph University), playing baseball and football and running track.


“Sept. 11 happened during my junior year, and I remember thinking, ‘OK, that’s it. Let’s get out of here.’ And my parents were like, ‘Hold up now. Pump the brakes a little bit, because you’ve got a lot of money tied up in some school loans here. So you’re almost done, so let’s just finish and again, they were right,” Thompson said,


“I remember I talked to my academic advisor, and he said, ‘Well, you can be out of here next semester with a history degree if you want.’ I’m like, ‘Cool. Let’s do that.’ So my teaching plans got put on hold and from there I graduated in December, and I was gone in January, and the rest is history.


“There was no other branch I was going to go into other than the U.S. Marines. My father (Russell) is a Marine. He served in Vietnam. I remember watching old war movies with him and looking through his stuff as a little boy, even playing in the woods at home thinking I was on a patrol in a rice paddy near Khe Sahn looking for ‘Charlie.’ What little boy doesn’t want to be like his dad and make him proud.”


Thompson’s younger brother Kenny, a 2011 CNE graduate, also served in the Marines in Afghanistan.


Thompson reported to Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp in February 2004, and eventually was assigned to 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune as a part of 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, India Company in North Carolina. From there, he was deployed to the Fallujah, Iraq in December 2004.


“That was my first deployment. It was the tail end of Operation Phantom Fury, some of the worst urban combat U.S. Marines encountered since Hue City in Vietnam in 1968. My unit, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, we weren’t even in country a month yet when we started ‘getting some.’ Our battalion was, ‘pretty green,’ meaning a lot of us from the top brass on down didn’t have any combat experience yet. The Iraq war was in the infant stages still. Afghanistan from 2001-2003 was mostly special operations and a Marine battalion fighting it out with the Taliban, but Iraq was the big fight during 2004-2007.


“We came across enemy fighters with passports from all over Middle East and North Africa. Serious fighters with Geneva Convention uniforms and obvious training. This was their holy war. This was their chance to fight the infidel. And we were happy to oblige. We took over an area of operation for another battalion, (1st Battalion 8th Marines) and it was, ‘Alright, here’s the keys to the shop, boys. There you go.’ Quite the eye-opener. Training wheels were off. In hindsight, our Fallujah deployment set us up for our second one to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006 which was as if Satan punched a hole in the ground and set up shop.”


Thompson was with his unit in a city named Al-Karmah on Feb. 20, 2005. They were conducting random checks of vehicles when late in the afternoon he noticed shops closing, and everybody “just starting to dissipate and just go away.”


“Looking back, as an after-action report we knew the TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) of the enemy, but it was almost surreal to see,” Thompson said.


His convoy headed down East Karmah Road to Route Michigan, and “as we pull out I notice a car that was parked on the side of the road, and as the first Humvee goes by, nothing, and as my Humvee goes by … I remember looking out the door and looking at it, and … a huge ball of fire just blowing up, and I remember thinking, ‘That car wasn’t there a few minutes ago. We should have checked that, and then all of a sudden it blows up, and my first thought was ‘I didn’t fire my weapon yet. This is how I die? This isn’t cool.’ 


Thompson was eventually taken to a facility named Bravo Surgical in Camp Fallujah, and returned to his unit within a few weeks. His platoon would be hit hard the following day.


“The higher ups wanted to do some battle damage assessments and my platoon was leading the elements out and was eventually ambushed and we took several casualties and lost one Marine, Cpl. John Olson,” Thompson said.


He served 4 ½ years and three deployments before returning home and attending graduate school at Northern Kentucky University to get his master’s degree and teaching certificate. He rejoined the military, working as a security specialist for U.S. ambassadors in embassies in the Middle East and Africa before before landing what he calls his dream job at CNE in 2017.


“I have wanted to be a teacher and football coach here at Clermont Northeastern since the sixth-grade. It was a mission of mine to eventually be back here. Service above self is extremely important to me. It is an incredible honor for me to get to stand in front and teach and lead the young men and women at my alma mater.” 


He willingly discusses his service with his students, and advises those who are considering military service.


“I tell them it would be a great opportunity for you. The foundation that I live my life around was built in the United States Marine Corps. I tell them to look at every avenue and weigh every and all options … me personally, I think there’s no other job in the Marine Corps other than infantry and special operations, but then again, I’m biased. However, I understand that may not be the route they want to take, so I am there to help facilitate that search,” Thompson said.


“We are incredibly proud of the veterans we have on staff, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Tabor, and the graduates each year who enlist in the military. We hope that this will in some small way thank those who served for their sacrifices and honor their service,” Glassmeyer said.


The designation adds to Clermont County’s deeply rooted support of the military.


“I mean, this town, this community, this county, this state, is pretty heavy on military service,” Thompson said. “This county’s big. This county alone, from the time I was in, around May 2005, was hit extremely, extremely hard. It was hit pretty hard. We’ve got a lot of our own blood on those red stripes.”


About Clermont Northeastern School District


CNE, in partnership with the community, will provide students with the skills and exploratory experiences that enable them to reach their fullest potential. To accomplish this, the CNE staff will:


- Strive to make children confident and creative builders of their future


- Research, design, and provide the best academic program and learning environment possible for students.


Schools in the CNE District include Clermont Northeastern High School, Clermont Northeastern Middle School, Clermont Northeastern Elementary School and Clermont Northeastern Preschool.

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