What I Want You to Know about my Dad, Henry Snively Campbell

Henry Snively Campbell 2012

Betsy Campbell Stone and Henry S. Campbell (10-24-1916 to 1-12-2013)

What do I want you to know about my Dad when there is so much to say?  For those of you who knew my Dad late in his life, what you saw was a remnant.  But what a remnant it was.

My Dad overcame many things in his life.  Many of you know about his participation in the WWII battle to control the Pacific, on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian and finally, Iwo Jima.  Some of you know about the hardest challenge he ever faced, losing my sister Midgie to leukemia at age four.  Very few of you know what he overcame to become a good husband and father.  His last challenge was to persevere through very old age, as his friends passed away, he lost my mother, he suffered from heart disease and strokes, and he increasingly lost his hearing – and with it much of his ability to converse with other people.  Through it all, he remained an optimist who refused to surrender in the face of obstacles.

Though he is now gone, my father’s life held lessons for all of us, lessons in integrity, respect and love.  Perhaps it’s no accident that much of his life was devoted to an organization whose motto is Semper Fidelis, “always faithful.”

We hear a lot about bullying today, but bullying has been around for a long time.  Growing up in Yakima, the grandson of a local scion who ran for governor (and lost – it was a Republican year), Dad and his two brothers were quickly labeled by the family.  His older brother, Bill, was “the handsome one.”  His younger brother, Ed, was “the sweet one.”  Dad was “the smart one,” the one who was supposed to become the family lawyer.

Dad was accelerated by two years in high school, and as such, picked on as the younger, scrawny kid.  But besides bullying at school, he was bullied at home.  His father, Admiral, had escaped a mean life as an adolescent on a farm in Kentucky, hopped trains to Chicago, made money on the stock market, and got out with enough to put himself through dental school.  When he started squiring around Yakima with a matched set of horses and a carriage, he set his sights on the daughters of the biggest man in town, and eventually married my grandmother.  He was soon disappointed to learn that the family wealth had been exhausted by bad investments in ranching.  So, from the early years of his marriage, he left home after dinner to spend the evening and entertain friends at Erma’s house, with whom he had a lifelong relationship.  He was tough on his sons. Dad told me, “I never really knew my father.  He was the great ‘I am.’  It wasn’t unusual for a man of his social stature at the time to be focused on himself and his interests.  I knew very little about his life before dental school. Three sons, no daughters, and we were all afraid of him.”

Dad’s story isn’t that unusual for the early 20th century.  But what I think is unusual is what he did as a result of his experiences.

First, he found great comfort and inspiration in literature and poetry.  As a pimple-faced teenager, he loved Rabelais, who wrote bawdy stories in elaborate prose during the 16th century.  Dad memorized the passage about how the gigantic baby Gargantua underwent a process of experimentation to discover a “rumpswab,” which means exactly what you think it does.  It’s quite a passage.  Dad moved on to Shakespeare, developing a particular fondness for Macbeth.  He met my mother, Eileen, in a course devoted to Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book,” and committed to memory love sonnets and beautiful passages, such as Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra upon her barge. I don’t think it’s an accident that the last passage he recited from memory was Shakespeare’s love sonnet #130, or that I was reading him the same sonnet as he took his last breath.

My Dad also developed a deep sense of accountability and integrity that was a hallmark throughout his life.  He once told me, “When you’ve got the monkey, you’ve got it and nobody else has it.”  On Saipan, Dad was the supply officer for the 23rd Marines.  It was his job to make sure that there were sufficient men, supplies, equipment and ammunition for the regiment to achieve its objective.  He also had to direct the cargo ship loading process.  He explained, “You figure out what you need in terms of beans and bullets.  You figure out what you need first, and put them on last.”

Ordered to get all of his regiment’s communications equipment and anti-tank guns ashore several hours into the invasion on Saipan, he was actually threatened with court martial for proceeding without waiting for the order from the landing control officer.  He had seized the moment when there was a gap on the beach between waves of landing forces.  But that night, the Japanese counter attack came and the equipment made it possible for them to repulse it.  Dad received a bronze star for his efforts, the citation for which read, “By his initiative, perseverance and outstanding ability, he not only provided by proper planning for the supply of his organization but during the early phases of the Saipan operation while beaches were congested, under heavy hostile gunfire, and threatened by Japanese counterattack, he through several sleepless days and nights not only insured the combat supply of his own unit, but also supplied other units for whom immediate supplies were unavailable…. During the entire operation on Saipan, lasting for a period of approximately one month, never once did his regiment suffer for lack of supplies or equipment.”

Once a policy or rule was established, he enforced it.  When Dad was later head of officer detail for the Marine Corps, which made him responsible for assigning officers to their next post (and therefore influencing the trajectory of their career), he was asked to make special arrangements for a particular Captain who did not like his assignment.  A General who headed the Marine Corps intelligence section called him to task about it.  Dad held his ground telling him, “I have no doubt that the way to advancement is not by saying no to superior officers.  But I told my men if I caught them playing footsie, I’d skin them alive.  I can do no less.  If you have a problem with that, you should talk to my superior officer.”

When my Dad loved something or someone, he was fully committed, despite the example he had seen in his early life.  My father fell passionately in love with my mother.  He remembers seeing “this vision enter the room” when he saw her for the first time in Dr. Padelford’s classroom.  In choosing my Mom, Dad didn’t pick a retiring woman for his life partner.  She was an only child, born late in life to her parents, a Tomboy.  The kind of woman who, upon learning that Dad had his pin on a girl in Yakima, handed him train fare to go retrieve it.  Sparks flew.  Knowing of his father’s marital infidelities, I once asked him if he were tempted to look outside his marriage.  I’m certain he had the opportunity.  After all, he used to be told he looked like Humphrey Bogart.  He told me, “The price was too high.” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 109 spoke to him, “Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.”

I don’t know what it would be like to have your first child in the middle of a war that stretched across the globe.  Or to have your second child just two years after the war’s end.  Mom had gotten used to handling things on the home front and Dad laughingly remarked that he had to “fight for his pants every day of his life.”  But it is truly beyond my imagination to understand what my parents felt when they learned that their daughter, Madeline, had leukemia.  My uncle, a hematologist-oncologist, came down from Boston to oversee her care at Walter Reed, but, despite experimental treatments, nothing could save her.  Dad told me, “I wish your sister had lived.  In my last memory of her she was in an oxygen tent, holding out her arms and saying, ‘Daddy help me.’  I couldn’t do a thing.

As my Dad aged, he softened.  I once remarked on the fact that it seemed he had grown more tolerant… kinder… with time.  He responded, “Who am I to judge?”  He also continued to worry about all of us, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  He thought of all of us with nothing but sympathy and love.  He was always in our court.

Spending as much time as I have with my Dad these past years has been an amazing gift.  It’s given me time to understand his greatest accomplishment, which was to overcome the legacy that he received from his father – and, for all I know, from his father’s father.  To become a loving and committed husband.  To be a different kind of father.  To break a cycle of abuse and give to all of us, his children, a role model of integrity, respect and love.

I understand what he gave me, and all of us, but it doesn’t change the fact that I wish he was still here. Miss you, Dad.


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5 responses to “What I Want You to Know about my Dad, Henry Snively Campbell

  1. Lissie Krauss

    A beautiful tribute to your father . . . what courage it took for him to change the familial patterns and become his own man: principled, true and loving. I know it probably doesn’t feel like it . . . but you are one lucky, blessed gal !! I wish I had know my father in this way. Peace to you . . .

  2. Rick weidman

    Hey Betsy- so sorry to hear about the passing of your father- I have followed your blog about him for some time, marveling at the similarities of the situations you have had that I did in the last months of my dads life. It’s so hard to deal with the finality of it all- like you, I lost my mom first- so when you loose the last parent it just makes you feel so lonely. I don’t know if you heard but Alan Bennett’s father just passed this last week also. Would love to hear from you- I’m still at the same shop-I’m thinking of you and your family and hope the many fond memories of all you did with your dad will help ease you through this difficult time- I know it did for me- take care and hope to hear from you! Your old swing chior partner – Rick Weidman

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