Category Archives: Marines and those who serve

Marine Corps Wife: My Mom’s Career

That's mom seated at bottom left, and Dad standing at upper right in 1959

That’s mom seated at bottom left, and Dad standing at upper right in 1959

Skimming through Mom and Dad’s photo albums from the late 50s, Dad is pictured at the pinnacle of his success in the Marines. While it was Dad’s obituary that carried the details of his promotions and assignments, in many ways his career was her career.

It wasn’t that she loyally followed Dad as Sarah followed Abraham. She was a woman with a mission. She kept the home front running and deployed her considerable social and organizational skills to the job of supporting Dad in the regimented social environment that surrounded officers’ wives.

Dad said he wasn’t keen on the idea of marrying in the tumultuous weeks that followed Pearl Harbor. Not that he didn’t love Mom. He did, passionately. But he was acutely aware of the potentially abbreviated life span of a Second Lieutenant in wartime, and he didn’t want to see her widowed.

When he shipped out in 1943, soon to join with the 4th Marine Division in the battle for Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands, he left Mom at home with my brother, Scott, who had been born that November. When the war ended and he returned, he joked that he had to fight for his pants. Actually what he said was that had to fight for his pants every day of their marriage. When the war ended, he returned from the horrors of Saipain, Tinian and Iwo Jima to a home where Mom was comfortably and firmly in charge.

As Dad’s assignments took them from Quantico, to Washington DC, up to Kingston Ontario, back to Washington DC, and then across a country and an ocean to Honolulu, Mom packed and unpacked, settled kids in schools.

Each time they arrived at a new post, she paid a social visit to the Commanding Officer’s wife, calling card in hand, as expected. She joined the Officers’ Wives Club, and knowing Mom, she did an exemplary job of supporting their activities. She loved the social whirl that went with an officer’s life in those days, like the formal party in honor of the promotion of Leonard Chapman to Brigadier General.

In 1951, my Mom found herself running a busy household with a nine year old, a four year old and a one year old – oh, and Nana, her mother. Mom and Dad’s worst fears came to pass when little Midge was diagnosed with leukemia, for which there was no known cure.

As a mother, I can’t imagine how she coped, but it was in character for her to forge ahead, hoping against hope. My uncle, a hematologist-oncologist, came down from Boston to administer experimental treatments and oversee Midge’s care. To no avail. She died October 22, 1953, a few months short of her fourth birthday.

Dad’s orders to ship out for a solo tour of duty with the 3rd Marine Division in Gifu, Japan, were held during the last months of Midge’s illness. Mom had learned, as Midge lay dying, that she was pregnant for the fourth time.

On February 21, 1954, Dad wrote Mom from Okinawa while in transit:

Postcard from Japan 1954

Although it was lost in Dad’s move to California, I remember reading a lengthy letter he wrote from his tour in Japan, sharing the pain of their devastating loss, saying how he longed to be there to hold her.

When my brother Dean was born in April 1954, Dad said, “It was if the sun came out.” That may be true, but now Mom was alone, managing a household with an 11 year old, a six year old, her mother, and a newborn. She was on her own when she had Dean christened:

Eileen Campbell with baby Dean, flanked by Bruce and Scott

In a professional portrait she had taken the next year, her expression is serene but somber.

Eileen Campbell raising three boys, 1955

This summer, we will inter both Mom and Dad with Midge at Arlington National Cemetery. While visiting Washington DC this past week to make arrangements, I wondered if it was fair to put so much emphasis on Dad’s career. After all, the burial with honors is provided because of his service, not hers.

Then I realized that it wasn’t just Dad’s efforts that deserve the recognition. Like most military spouses, she earned it, too. Knowing Dad, he would be the first to say that Mom made it possible for him to do what he did.

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Seeing Dad at the Marine Barracks’ Evening Parade

(Then) Lt. Col Henry S. Campbell, Gen. Pate and Gen. Leonard Chapman

As my plane ascends quickly out of Reagan National Airport, through the mist that hangs over Washington DC on this cloudy spring day, it banks steeply to the right, providing brief glimpses of the tree-lined suburbs below.

My mind is cycling just as rapidly through images from this past week and especially the last two days.

Last night, seated next to an older man in the VIP section at Marine Barracks’ evening parade, we approached the end of the 90-minute spectacle of Marine precision. Pass in Review had just concluded after the Marine Corps Band, Drum and Bugle Corps, Alpha Company and Bravo Company had marched smartly and precisely in front of the evening’s honorees and Col. Christian Cabaniss, Commanding Officer of the Barracks.

“There he is,” my seatmate Larry said. Looking up to the tall parapet, above which the reproduction 15-star flag snapped in the rapidly changing wind, I saw what he noticed, a lone figure in a red Drum and Bugle Corps uniform. The lights on the parade ground darkened and a spotlight lit the bugler. The crowd rose, and waited.

So slowly that it ached, the bugler blew the haunting refrain of Taps. I wondered who Larry was remembering, afraid to look in his direction lest I catch him welling up for friends lost in the Vietnam war, his first combat operation.

Though my Dad was here 55 years ago, when the evening parade was a “moonlight innovation” (as the newspaper described it at the time), he was a phantom by my side the whole evening.

Major Sarah ArmstrongBefore the parade, in the Drum Room of Center House, I chatted with Maj. Sarah Armstrong who was manning the log of drinks served to active duty personnel of the Barracks. Her demeanor easily toggled from a relaxed chat with the visiting daughter of a late Marine Colonel — socially at ease, articulate, with a ready sense of humor winking under the surface — to a direct gaze and ramrod straight bearing when greeting the Commanding Officer.

Photo credit: USMC, Marine Barracks Washington 8th and I Facebook page

I told the Commanding Officer that, as the youngest of my siblings, I had no memory of the Barracks. The silent drill that I remembered was a demonstration performed at home by my father with an umbrella. The umbrella did not always fare well for the experience.

Col. Cabaniss said that his youngest daughter seemed less than impressed by his position in the Corps. She was more likely to “Oh, Daddy” him than his eight year old, who liked the idea of giving orders. “Sir, she even orders me when she visits,” added Major Johnson.

As the reception progressed, I superimposed my father upon it. He was there, standing and smiling in the direction of Gen. Pate. On the other side of Gen. Pate stood Gen. Leonard Chapman, then Commanding Officer of the Barracks and later Commandant.

In the photo, Gen. Chapman is smiling broadly, looking directly at the camera. Given his rank and position, he cannot be a man to trifle with, but the warmth and welcome in his face is striking.

Dad looks a little less relaxed, but you can tell he likes these men under whom he serves. Respect and admiration shows on his face, but so does affection.

Having grown up outside the shelter of the Corps, this is one of the things that strikes me: the obvious affection between the men and women I see around me.

In corporate life, we may develop deep and long-lasting friendships. We learn to behave as a team. Inevitably, we work with a few who set us on edge.

I know from my Dad’s stories that there were men he didn’t like and men who didn’t like him. He once reported for duty to his new Commanding Officer (not Col. Chapman) and was greeted with the statement, “I didn’t ask for you.”

But I know he loved many of the people in the photos. It was in his eyes when he spoke of those he admired.

I saw the same mutual respect and warmth in the relationship between Col. Cabaniss and the current Executive Officer, LtC. Tom Garnett. In response to my question about how he came to be Executive Officer, LtC. Garnett said that he had previously served as Col. Cabaniss’ XO and was asked to join him in that role again when the Col. was given command of the post.

When I left Center House that evening, LtC. Garnett was standing by the door. I thanked him for his hospitality and told him how deeply the event had affected me. I told him I appreciated meeting Col. Cabaniss and could see why he would be pleased to be his XO, not once, but twice. I added, “And I can see why he is lucky to have you.”

He raised his index finger to his lips, smiled and whispered, “Shhhh.”

These are men and women who train together not just for the ceremonies that are a major part of the mission of the Barracks, but for survival and success. The officers I met had a common thread in their service history: Afghanistan.

I grew up in the time before 9/11, during a long period of peace. My generation had never been called upon to defend our freedoms. Most of what my generation knew about warfare came from movies and video games. It took becoming a parent to make me realize the vulnerability of the men and women on the line of fire, someone else’s sons and daughters.

I once asked Dad how he could have had the bravery to run toward enemy fire. He answered, “You do it for the guy next to you.” Your brother.

Here at the Barracks, you meet people who have been chosen to uphold the legacy of the Marine Corps, a storied history, ultimately, of military successes against terrible odds. The ribbons on the Marine Corps battle flag, presented during the ceremony, is a graphic reminder of each of the campaigns in which the Marine Corps has fought since the beginning of the country.

As the Marine Corps Hymn says: “… First to fight for right and freedom, and to keep our honor clean: We are proud to claim the title of United States Marine.”

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Tracing My Father’s Footsteps

marineband

The whole time that I was getting ready to leave for my meeting this morning, I was rehearsing what I would say in my mind. Everything sounded wrong. Then I put on my just-ironed white blouse. Too sheer. Put a tank underneath it. Tied a colorful scarf around my shoulders. Untied it. Did it a different way.

I was representing my Dad to his contemporary counterpart and I had to get it right to meet the Executive Officer of the Corps’ oldest post.

Having allowed for traffic, I arrived at 8th and I about a half hour early and pulled into one of the diagonal parking spots. Turned off the car.

I heard a trumpet fanfare. Sounded like the Marine Corps band. I thought perhaps one of the restaurants across the street was piping it outside to appeal to the tourists. Then the music stopped. Started again. Stopped again. The same musical phrase was repeated several times in a row.

I got out of the car and looked behind me. Between the two-story brick buildings, past the tidy painted iron fence, I could see the edge of reviewing stands. That’s the parade ground, I realized, the one in Dad’s black and white pictures of the evening parade.

The Marine Corps band was practicing outside at the very moment I arrived.

Entering the gate on 8th, I parked as directed alongside the parade ground, next to the building marked “Center House,” and “Bachelor’s Quarters.” Immediately, a precisely-pressed Marine approached me. It was LtC. Garnett, the current Exec Officer of Marine Barracks.

We entered Center House, which functions – as it did in my Dad’s day – as the reception area for visitors and Marine officers. LtC. Garnett stowed his tan cap in the slots provided for that purpose in the entry. He ushered me into a room with two large leather couches that faced each other. He asked if I had memories of my Dad’s service there, and I explained that I was born while Dad and Mom were stationed in Canada, just a few months before my Dad assumed his role as XO. I said that Dad had some wonderful experiences, experiences I was sure he was having, too, as one wasn’t asked to serve as XO unless someone wanted you there.

He explained that he had served in Afghanistan as Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Division. When his Commanding Officer of the 8th was appointed Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, he asked LtC. Garnett to come with him.

I pulled out my book of photos, worried that I would bore him – the equivalent of inflicting your home movies on a stranger.

He pointed out that the grass on the parade ground, which doubled as a baseball field in my Dad’s time, now had to be maintained perfectly. The evening parade, now a tradition for more than 50 years, was started while Gen. Leonard Chapman was Commanding Officer of the Barracks, and the same format and traditions persist today. In some of the photos, there is a tree, which the Lt. Colonel explained was the ceremonial tree. It had died of a virus, and a post and sign about it still serve as the dividing line between the south and north viewing stands. Guests of the post are seated just to its south.

“This is like royalty,” he said, looking at the officers in Dad’s photos, many of whom had legendary careers in the Marines.

When we got to photos of men holding silver mugs, standing in front of a wall of mugs, he said, “That’s here. That’s the drum room.”

LtC GarnettOn a brief tour of Center House, he explained that it’s still the gathering place on Friday nights. The drum room has an ample number of beer taps. Each of the officers assigned to the Barracks have a mug associated with their position, and on the far side of the mug is engraved the names of those who have held it in recent years. When room for names is exhausted, the mug is retired. He explained that, when the building was renovated in the 70s, the mugs were sent to Quantico with the intent of returning them following the renovation. Unfortunately, they were lost and never restored to the Barracks.

My father served under Gen. Leonard Chapman, then CO of Marine Barracks

My father served under Gen. Leonard Chapman, then CO of Marine Barracks

I said several times that I didn’t want to take too much of his time. He explained, smiling, “This is part of what we do. This is the legacy of the Marines.”

He said that he hoped that some day his son would be interested in learning more about his father’s experience at Marine Barracks. His son, now three, was born while he was in Afghanistan.

I noted that it was my mother’s decision to come east to marry Dad, and that she sent him a telegram to that effect not long after Pearl Harbor.

“She was a pretty strong woman,” I commented. He smiled. “I guess we attract strong women,” he said, smiling. He had asked his wife to follow him on one of his deployments prior to Afghanistan. “She said she’d go… with a ring on her finger,” he noted.

After covering a few logistics, he walked me out to the car.

“I bet your Dad is up there organizing things in heaven,” he said. I replied, “Mom got there first and I’m sure she had it all under control.”

As I approached the car, the Marine Corps Band had just come to the finale of the song that always reduced Dad to tears: “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His Truth is marching on.” Dad said he cried because it reminded him of all of the good men he knew, men that died in the War. We ended Dad’s memorial with the Mormon Tabernacle choir version.

The way the Marines play it, it ends with what seems to be the final chord,  but after a pause, it crescendos in slow pulses, a half step higher, and another half step, and another half – again and again, until finally the trumpets blare in a massive, perfect chord. The air vibrates as the echo dies away.

It felt like Dad had arranged it, just for me.

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Scott speaks to Dad’s exemplification of Marine values

scottdad

My eldest brother, Scott, 15 years senior, kicked off the family remarks at my father’s memorial on Saturday. He spoke from notes rather than full text, so I’ve done the best I can to recreate them here:

My Dad was, quite simply, the finest man I’ve ever known. He was always a rock for everyone in the family, and his passing has left a void that will never be filled. The family was very fortunate that he was a major part of our lives for so long.

If I were to describe my Dad’s character, I would say that he exemplified the core values of the USMC:

Honor,which means to display the highest ethical and moral behavior; of abiding by an uncompromising code of integrity; and of respecting others. The quality of maturity, dedication, trust and dependability commit Marines to be responsible and be accountable for their actions; to fulfill their obligations; and to hold others accountable for their actions.

Courage, which entails the mental, moral and physical strength expected of all Marines. It carries them through the challenges of combat and helps them overcome fear. It is the inner strength that enables a Marine to do what is right; to adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct; and to make tough decisions under stress and pressure.

Commitment is the spirit of determination and dedication found in Marines, it leads to the highest order of discipline for individuals and units, and it inspires a driving determination to achieve a standard of excellence in every endeavor.

Dad displayed an abundance of all these qualities throughout his life.

But Dad’s most important achievement was of a more personal nature. Dad did not have a particularly happy relationship with his father, although he did not talk about it much until the latter years of his life. He made a deliberate decision to break that cycle and to be the best father he could be. Several pivotal events in his life may have influenced that decision: marrying our mother, Eileen; combat in WWII, the death of Midge, their first daughter; and his heart attack in 1962, which forced his retirement from the Marine Corps.

He was a romantic in the complete sense of the word, with a deep love for his wife and family. There were almost certainly times during WWII when he wondered if he would come home alive. If he had not, I’d be his only child, and I would not have the same brothers and sister.

After Ken Burns’ series about the Civil War aired Maj. Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife, I shared it with Dad. He told me that, had he been writing in the 19th century, he might have written a letter very much like this one:

July 14, 1861

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure — and it may be one of some conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done.

If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.

I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows — when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children — is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my forefathers floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last hours, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been!

How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

Sullivan

Major Ballou perished at the first battle of Bull Run.

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What D-Day means to my Dad

Henry at the 23rd Marine’s base camp in Maui, 1945

Two weeks after my father’s recent (and, thankfully, small) stroke, we were in his internist’s office for a follow-up visit.  It was June 6, D-Day.  Dr. F. asked him, “So where were you on D-Day?”

I knew what was going through my Dad’s mind.  Which D-Day?  D-Day for my Dad was February 19, 1945, the invasion of Iwo Jima.  For most Americans, D-Day is Normandy, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers.

Until Dad was in his early 80s, about the time my Mom died, he never talked about the war.  When he did begin to describe it, interrupted by long buried tears, he often began by describing the long, narrow beach at Iwo Jima where anti-aircraft guns rained fire from their unobstructed vantage points above.  I wrote notes as we sat on the couch in my parents’ home in Tacoma:

When we pulled in offshore, the light was growing.  You’re up on the deck and you see this ungodly, ghostly tower rising 600 to 700 feet in the air.  It was a volcanic spire — the goddamnedest thing I ever saw.  Scary.

On the night of D+2, he described sitting in a Japanese pillbox that had become the 23rd Marines first command post:

There was a tremendous concussion over my head. Sand came raining down.  I think a round bounced off (the pillbox).  The next night, the Japanese fired 240 mm mortars, as big as a trash can.  You’d see it go up, but you wouldn’t know where it would come down.  They dropped one about 30 yards outside the pillbox.  Afterwards there was just a crater where 15 or 16 people had been standing.  Just like that, they were gone.

The American victory at Iwo Jima was a crushing blow to the Empire of Japan.  Despite the superior numbers of the American forces — roughly 70,000 battle-hardened Marines to 22,000 Japanese — winning the island and its two strategically located airfields took more than seven weeks to win.  The topography of the island, and the preparation of the Japanese with thousands of bunkers, hidden artillery and a warren of underground tunnels, made it the Marine’s toughest challenge of the War of the Pacific.

What everyone remembers is the famous photo of the American colors being raised on Mt. Suribachi.  And Dr. F. asked about that, too.  Years ago, I asked Dad that same question:

What you saw in the picture was the second time they put up the flag.  One officer had a flag in his back pocket.  When they took the hill, they ran the flag up.  Later, they sent in a full-sized holiday flag.

As I listened to my Dad, I couldn’t imagine how he had the guts to face the enemy fire that they did on Iwo Jima.  At 28, he was just a few years older than my daughter is now.  I asked him how he did it.  Wasn’t he afraid to go ashore?  “You did it for the guy next to you,” he said.

Like many WWII vets, my Dad is always a little surprised when people thank him for his service or call him a hero.  He was twice decorated, the second time for his efforts as operations officer for the 23rd Regiment, 4th Marine Division, during the Iwo Jima campaign.  But when he thinks “heroes,” he thinks of moments like this:

The island was shaped like a pork chop – a volcanic mound with steep sides, honeycombed with caves. It overlooked the beaches we landed on — perfect visibility.  Down at the far end was another escarpment looking the other way.  We had one fine officer who took a posthumous award for scooping up men without leaders and taking the key point.  They got all shot up.

As for his own moments of fear, he tended to make light of them:

Some days later, maybe D+4, we were in reserve because we’d  lost about a third of our troops by then.  My job was to prepare to take over and I needed to know where everyone was, their weaponry, etc.  So I went down to Division HQ.  Enough of the island had been taken by then that you could move around.  I had to walk about one mile to the other end of the island.  The shooting had died off.  The map was surrounded by officers and I couldn’t see anything.  Then, the Japanese started firing high velocity rounds from their position on a cliff.  Division HQ staff bailed out and I took all of the information I needed and walked out.

But Monday, as we talked with my Dad’s physician, it saddened me to think that most people no longer see “the Colonel.”  They may see a 94 year old man with a number of chronic conditions and assume he is frail.  They may hear a gravelly voice and assume he’s crotchety.  They may take his hearing loss — “too many bombs,” he says — to mean that he is stupid when he cannot understand them. Or they may not see him at all, and just treat him as invisible.

When my father was being discharged from Sutter General two weeks ago, two staff members made the mistake of discussing Dad — three feet away — without involving him in the conversation.  He said:

I am not a defective person.  Why are you not addressing me?

He may not look like the Major that he was in 1945, much less the Colonel, but he still knows how to command.

For more first-hand reports from Marines who served at Iwo Jima, here’s a source I recently found when looking for news of Dad’s friend, Col. Shelton Scales.

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