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Inked into memory

Father makes unique shell casing "Freedom Pens" in remembrance of son

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The call that is every parent's nightmare came for Minnesota residents Charlie and Barb Thompson on a warm summer evening while away in Florida. Their son, Sgt. Jacob Thompson, had died in Iraq. Charlie's fishing buddy was gone, Barb's baby boy was no more and the Tomahawks of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, had lost a dear friend. 

The appreciation pens, made of purpleheart wood that Charlie Thompson began making when Jacob received a Purple Heart in 2004, now took on greater meaning.

"I learned to make rifle shell pens and created a new design so it held up better," said Thompson, a former Navy petty officer with an engineering background. "I wanted to honor Jacob and show our Armed Forces that people appreciated them and were honored by what they did for us."

Hence, the Freedom Pen and the Pens for Warriors Project was born.

Each writing instrument takes 17 steps and about 35 minutes to make. Two .308 shell casings salvaged from military target ranges are joined together, and when twisted, open and close to reveal a ballpoint pen that has a refillable cartridge.

"My son was a special kind of hero," said Thompson. "I lost him because he was fighting for my freedom. How much prouder can a parent be?"

Like his father, Sgt. Jacob Thompson was an avid fisherman. But the 26-year old was much more. He gave his Purple Heart to another Soldier he thought deserved it more. He reenlisted early to go back to Iraq on his second and final tour. He once paid for a roundtrip ticket for another Soldier to see his dying father - no strings attached. While on block leave, he purchased his most prized possession - a 2007 Dodge Charger Limited edition, and told his brother "if anything happens to me, it's my nephew's." Sgt. Thompson died months later, on Aug. 6, 2007, in an IED attack.

"The city of North Mankato, Minn. built the Jacob Thompson Memorial Pier for fishing," said Thompson, "and the governor replaced his Purple Heart and gave us another one. The Freedom Pen is our thank you to troops, our way of saying we understand and acknowledge you."

Thompson reached the 13,100 mark with an order from JBLM's 3-2 SBCT before it left for Afghanistan in December. "It took 1,500 hours to make 3,150 pens," said Thompson. "My wife and I worked 12-hour days, seven days a week."

Except for 65 to 70 volunteers who sometimes help with large orders such as this, Thompson makes each pen himself. In fact, he's personally financed the entire project since its inception and relies on donations to keep making pens. The 70-year-old veteran has had two hand surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome, and though it's painful for him to continue making pens, he insists it's worth it.

"I've trained more than 20 people nationwide to make the pens, too," said Thompson. "I'd teach anyone who wants to learn."

Included with each pen is a personalized thank you note expressing the Thompsons' gratitude to Servicemembers. Thompson only donates the gold-metal style pens to active-duty military serving in Afghanistan (and Iraq, before U.S. withdrawal). In July, he began making black Honor Pens for military families, as well.  

The true resonance of the Freedom Pen comes from creating lasting beauty through written words; Thompson hopes owners summon forth such beauty in honor of all those who have fallen.

To donate and for more information, email Thompson at or call (850) 630-4360.

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