In a ceremony of historic significance and meaning on July 7, the recently built Marsh Harbour International Airport was renamed after one of Abaco’s most iconic sons of the soil as World War 2 hero Leonard M. Thompson was posthumously honoured.
Born in Hope Town in 1917 young Mr. Thompson fell in love with the idea of flying when he saw his first plane as a young boy and determined that he would himself become a pilot one day. He would go on to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force at 22 years old and later he would manage Bahamas Airways and represent Abaco in Parliament.
Members of the Thompson family flew in from across the region for the honour, and at just after 7pm Prime Minister Perry Christie declared the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport officially “Open for business” to the cheers of all in attendance.
Mr. Christie spoke of Capt. Thompson’s legacy as a war hero, aviator, politician and businessman at a special ceremony on Thursday.
“Captain Leonard Thompson flew 25 combat missions and his active service ended when his aircraft was shot down over Germany in 1944,” Mr. Christie said.
“The story has it that on his 25th bombing operation, his aircraft was struck by two missiles and he and the crew had to bail out. As he was about to bail out there was another explosion and Captain Thompson lost consciousness.”
He said “When he regained consciousness he was hanging in a tree a few feet from the ground. Here was a man falling out of the sky while unconscious. Under normal circumstances that was a sure death. Not so for Captain Thompson, because by divine intervention, and it only could have been divine intervention, his parachute caught in the tree branches, saving him. He was eventually captured by the Germans and was a prisoner of war for about 18 months until the war ended in April of 1945.
“He was a genuine war hero who faced enemy fire and who placed himself in danger and in this act alone, it was the stuff of heroes.”
Capt. Thompson returned home after the war and worked as a commercial pilot, pioneering the fledgling aviation industry and starting several airline companies. He was also involved in the island’s burgeoning tourism sector, credited for the start of the Treasure Cay Resort and the Great Abaco Beach Hotel.
He represented Abaco in the House of Assembly from 1949 to 1967. Mr. Christie pointed out that Capt. Thompson was among the group of Abaconians who opposed the country’s bid to become a sovereign nation, and petitioned the British Government for the island to be excluded from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
“All in all,” Mr. Christie said, “his life embodied excellence. He had his views, some of which he was passionate about but I have no doubt that he was the full embodiment of that excellence that should be honored and that is why we will memorialize his name and his life of distinction by re-naming this airport after him and as such we place his name in the annals of Bahamian history so that future generations will know of his life and diverse contribution to our national development.”
Mr. Christie said “It is because of the experience and accomplishments of men and women like Captain Thompson that the youth of today can have hope for tomorrow. They can see what other Bahamians before them have been able to accomplish, locally and on the world stage, in spite of obstacles and challenges.”