Roy Thompson Jr., real-life and movie hero, dies at 85

In “Cease Fire,” Mr. Thompson led a patrol unit behind enemy lines during the last day of the war.
In “Cease Fire,” Mr. Thompson led a patrol unit behind enemy lines during the last day of the war.

NEW YORK — Roy Thompson — a decorated officer during the Korean War who, while still on duty, starred as himself in a Hollywood movie shot entirely on location — died April 22 in Panama City, Fla.

His death, at 85, came after a brief illness.

It was 1953 and the war was nearly over when Mr. Thompson, then a lieutenant in the US Army, was asked to play the lead role in “Cease Fire.” The film, shot in 3-D and sometimes called a semidocumentary, was part propaganda and part Hollywood. One of its producers was Hal B. Wallis, whose credits included “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon.”


The Defense Department approved the project, and the director, Owen Crump, built a cast from active-duty soldiers. Crump selected Mr. Thompson for the role of a rock-solid lieutenant who is asked to lead a patrol unit from Easy Company on a dangerous reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines during what is supposed to be the final day of the war.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Mr. Thompson told The Lakeland Ledger in Florida in 1959 that the filmmakers “wanted it to be an authentic story of footslogging infantrymen during the last battle.”

In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that Crump “went to Korea last spring with the idea of doing a picture that would manifest the nature of war and the irony of the expression ‘A quiet day on the front.’ ”

Crowther noted the soldiers’ limited acting skills, but said the film had “a harsh, authentic ring.” He singled out Mr. Thompson for doing “perhaps the most effective job of suggesting individual tension, because of the decisive nature of the role he plays.”

Mr. Thompson promoted the film, appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Along the way he met Grace Kelly and Bob Hope. But he remained in the Army. After the Korean War, he held posts in the United States, Europe, and Vietnam. He retired in 1967 as a lieutenant colonel. He received two Purple Hearts and two Silver Starsfor his service in Korea.


Roy Thompson Jr. was born in Bartow, Fla. After retiring, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s in business administration from Western Carolina University.

Mr. Thompson also became active in politics, running the Hillsborough County, Fla., campaign for Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 presidential bid.

Many of those in the movie had served enough time in the area to be transferred elsewhere, Mr. Thompson said later, “but most of us wanted to stay to finish the movie.”

In the film, most of the patrol survived. One who did not, Ricardo Carrasco, was killed off at his own request because he wanted to rejoin his real unit on the front lines. Within days, Carrasco was killed in action.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Thompson leaves two sons; a stepdaughter; and 10 grandchildren.