Friday, December 30, 2005

 

Dan Thompson, one of original treasure hunters, dies at 85

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TCPalm.com
By Dan Garcia
December 28, 2005


VERO BEACH — Jane Thompson said her father hardly could have said no when Dan Fox Thompson asked for her hand in marriage in 1964.

After all, while on his knees, Dan Thompson laid a clump of silver coins at her dad's feet.
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Dan Thompson, one of eight original members of the Real Eight Corp., a group of divers who helped to recover millions of dollars worth of treasure from the 1715 Spanish Fleet shipwrecks off the coast of Sebastian and Fort Pierce, died Friday at his home in Indian Harbour Beach.
He was 85.

Jane Thompson, who described her husband as "a remarkable man who led a full and rich life," recalled how the Real Eight Corp. was created by eight friends who simply loved diving as a hobby.

Like his fellow explorers, Dan Thompson, a retired Air Force colonel, didn't get rich, but experienced the priceless thrills of discovering treasure on the ocean floor.

"I remember them 41 years ago, when they were young fellows meeting in the living room, all full of their dreams," Jane Thompson said. "I can remember a day when Dan and Lou Ullian brought home so many pieces of silver, I counted with them until my fingers got tired."

The Real Eight group, founded by the late Kip Wagner of Sebastian, consisted of Thompson, Ullian, Harry E. Cannon, Dr. Kip Kelso, Delfine Long, Bob Johnson and John Jones. Cannon, Kelso, Wagner and Johnson are deceased.

"We were all divers, but we did it as a hobby," said Ullian, 73, of Merritt Island, who described Thompson as "one of our best divers."

"I'll always remember the day in January 1960 about two miles south of the Sebastian Inlet, when Dan came up with silver coins worth about $8,000," Ullian said. "It was 70 pounds of silver coins that came from a ship that was going back to Spain from Mexico.

"The diving paid for itself, but the important thing was that we stayed friends all these years."

Jane Thompson said her husband recently enjoyed spending a day at the McLarty Treasure Museum in Sebastian, watching a newly released DVD that recounts the exploits of the Real Eight Corp.

"He was so happy to watch it," she said. "When I asked Dan why he loved diving, he said, 'My dad dug up half of Georgia.' So it must have been in his blood."

Jane Thompson recalled the Real Eight group as a "salty and sunburned" bunch who routinely dived in deep and dark waters, digging under layers of sand shifted by hurricanes. They usually received 40 percent of the value of their finds from the state, and often had to fight the bureaucracy to maintain their lease rights.

"In 1962, the first night I met him, he had just been diving, and he threw out a couple of pieces of eight on the dining room table," Jane Thompson said. "Everybody thought what they were doing was crazy, but one day Harry Cannon put some silver in his wife's hands, and she said, 'Is this really silver?' He said it was, so she said, 'What are you doing home? It's only 3:30."

In addition to his wife, Dan Thompson is survived by sons, Dan Jr. and John; daughters, Merri Lynn Howard Beverly, Gay Elizabeth Withers and Jan Hart; and 11 grandchildren.

Thompson, who earned the Legion of Merit upon retirement from Patrick Air Force Base, where he served as director of range safety operations, will have his cremains partially interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

His remains also will be scattered in the ocean at the site of the Real Eight discoveries.
"He always said he ate a lot of fish during his lifetime, so someday it would be their turn," his wife said.

A celebration of Thompson's life will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 7 at Capehart Chapel at Patrick AFB.


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