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The Last Frost Call?

Scan 2

The first time a “Frost Call” landed in my inbox, I was startled. It turned out to be a death notice from a member of my father’s USMC 5th Reserve Officers Commissioning class — a group of 304 men who became second lieutenants just before the United States entered WWII. Talk about gallows humor, I thought when I looked back to the subject line.

I’d taken my father to a reunion of the the “Fighting Fifth” at the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco. One of his classmates, I soon figured out, had taken on the role of communicator and regularly sent out “the poop” on gatherings and classmates. I added myself to the email list.

“Frost Calls,” which came with increasing frequency, heralded the passing of another classmate. I debated whether I should tell my father. What’s it like when the only news of old friends is of their death? When they are dropping like flies? In the end, I printed out the emails and gave them to him at the breakfast table. Some were — had been — good friends. He’d say something short like, “Good man.” Then he was quiet. I couldn’t tell if he was remembering his friend, Quantico, wondering when he might die, or refocused on the day’s paper.

Once a year, two lists were mailed out: the long list of Fifth R.O.C. members who were deceased, and the short list of those who were hanging on.

In 2009, the class was down to 38.

In 2011, 31.

In 2012, 28, then 25.

On New Year’s Dad, 2013, Dad’s classmate sent out an email with the subject “Geezers.” He announced that five classmates were 96 years old. I wrote back, asking how he was doing. He responded:

I’m doing OK, hard to get out of chairs, it’s now 14 years of living alone in a big house with pool to tend to, but no complaints.  I purchased a walker with a seat in it, works fine.  I can walk with it because it is something to hold on to, like a grocery cart. So walk with it about a mile every day without difficulty.  Knees bad, have to push with both arms to get out of chairs, and resist all stooping over to pick up things.  Result:  Clutter, but still enough room to get over it, or around it. Driving OK, with license renewal due when I’m 100 in Aug 2016.

I wrote him when Dad died on January 12, 2013, sent him the obit. He sent out my father’s Frost Call on January 15, 2013, adding, “We are all in the zone, and it is another marker for our Quantico Commissioning Class of 29 May 1941.  …Semper Fi!”

Since then, I’ve tried several times to reach Dad’s classmate. I’ve emailed and snail mailed. According to Google, he signed up for a youtube channel seven months ago. No death notice. I sent him a friend request on Facebook. He hasn’t responded.

I went back to the last list of living officers, dated 9 December 2011. As best I can tell from online search, 17 more classmates have died. Funeral notices usually show up high on the list of search results.

Fourteen members of the 5th R.O.C. remain. So few. Maybe that’s why Dad’s classmate stopped sending out Frost Calls.

Meade Whitaker, Harry Guinivan and Henry S. Campbell, USMC 5th R.O.C.

Left to right: Meade Whitaker, Harry Guinivan and Henry S. Campbell, newly promoted to Second Lieutenant, USMC, as part of the USMC 5th Reserve Officers Commissioning class, May 1941

Scan 2

Robert A. Campbell, Henry S. Campbell and J.P. Campbell on graduation day: the caption for the photo at left reads, “A la Pall Mall (cigarette) ads”

Robert A. Campbell, San Diego, CA

Robert A. Campbell (late of San Diego, CA) — the caption reads, “R.A. feeling his oats” (Graduation day of the USMC 5th R.O.C., 1941)

Scan 4

J.P. Campbell on graduation day, USMC 5th R.O.C. The caption reads “iron man of Kentucky.”

Henry S. Campbell, Robert A. Campbell, Joseph Anastasio, USMC 5th R.O.C.

Left to right, standing: Henry S. Campbell, Robert A. Campbell, J.P. Campbell, R.N. Barrett, Bill Bray, Leon Case, Cakin (?). Kneeling: Joseph Anastasio (recently late of Woodbridge, CT). Graduation day of the USMC 5th R.O.C., May 29, 1941

close-to-war officer training, Quantico, VA, 1941

Members of the USMC 5th R.O.C. The caption reads, “between classes.” Henry S. Campbell leaning against the car.

Henry S. Campbell, USMC 5th R.O.C., 1941

Henry S. Campbell, graduation day, USMC 5th R.O.C., Quantico, VA, May 29, 1941

USMC officer candidates training, 1941

The caption reads, “R.O.C. boys watch the candidates march by.” Quantico, VA, 1941

USMC 5th R.O.C., 1941

Getting ready for graduation: USMC 5th R.O.C., May 29, 1941


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The Intimacy of Leadership



Henry S Campbell, 1945, 23rd Marine base camp Maui

What makes young men and women willing to risk their lives on the front line? What is leadership in a military organization? How is it taught and instilled? These are some of the questions I’m pondering in preparation for some research I’m undertaking as background for a memoir.

My father, a retired Marine Corps Colonel who fought in World War II, rarely talked about his wartime experiences. Sometimes his emotions overwhelmed him, but more often, he didn’t think they were worthy of elaboration; like many of his era, he didn’t consider himself a hero. The heroes were the other guys. The ones who died.

My brother Dean recently stumbled across a video recording of his conversation with my father in 2003, ten years before his death. Talking about his officer training in Quantico in 1941, he recalled that his mother and aunt visited the base just as he came off the bayonet course. He remembered that he “ran it for blood.” Then he explained why he took the training so seriously — not because he needed to save his own skin when facing an enemy, but because, as a second lieutenant, he would likely be responsible for his platoon:

“You’re going to teach kids this stuff. You’re their mommy, you’re their daddy. They depend on you for literally everything at the platoon level, which is the message I drilled my young candidates on. It’s your monkey. It ain’t going anywhere. You better fly it.

“If you’re good at this, you’ll know their names, and if they’re married, you’ll know their wive’s names and the names of their kids, be interested in them as individuals. Because when you get into battle time, there’s no time to get an introduction. All that should be behind you. You’re familiar with the guy; you’ll know what he’ll do and what he won’t do. You’ve got to know this and that takes intimate contact. That’s a serious matter, which is why the Marine Corps is good at what they do. There’s nothing impersonal about any of it, no matter what you see in the movies.”

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