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Standing guard at home and abroad

WWII vet: ‘I learned a lot being a Marine’

Posted: May 18, 2012 9:42 a.m.
Updated: May 21, 2012 5:00 a.m.
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J.B. Campbell (left) of Ruby, and his twin brother, Melvin, of Elgin, joined 99 other veterans on an all-expense-paid trip to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., in April. The trip was sponsored by electric cooperatives in South Carolina and organized by Honor Flight of S.C. To donate, visit the www.HonorFlightSC.com.

(Recognizing the valor of South Carolinians who fought in World War II, 19 electric cooperatives joined Honor Flight of South Carolina in April to fly 100 veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial built in their honor and other historic sites. This is the final of three stories on Kershaw County veterans who served in World War II and who were part of this Honor Flight.)

The fighting was over by the time Melvin Campbell turned 18 in 1946, but the military still needed young men to serve overseas, so he decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After boot camp at Parris Island, Campbell was assigned to the USS Midway (CV-41) and sailed aboard the brand-new aircraft carrier on its first Mediterranean cruise in 1947. The marines aboard the ship exercised and performed odd jobs “just to keep busy,” he says, until the Midway made port calls. Then they would go ashore with either M1 rifles or carbines slung over their shoulders and .45s on their hips to stand guard duty at military posts. Sometimes they would just walk the streets as a “show of force,” so that wartime allies and former enemies alike knew the U.S. military was still on the job.  

“We had no trouble,” he recalls. “The war was all over.”

His unit did lose several men in an accident off the coast of France. The Midway was too big to dock at the local port and had anchored about 5 miles off the coast. The men shuttled to and from the ship in a fleet of small landing craft, and Campbell was supposed to meet several other marines on one of the boats headed back to the carrier.

“I missed the boat, but I said, ‘I’m not in a hurry. I’ll just wait for the next one,’” he recalls.

The landing craft he missed struck a buoy halfway back to the Midway and sank with the loss of all aboard except for one marine, who managed to swim more than 2 miles to the carrier.

“I lost eight friends right there,” Campbell says.

After six months aboard the Midway, Campbell was stationed at Camp Lejeune as part of a mortar company, and he finished his time in the Corps guarding a naval ammunition dump in Charleston. He was discharged in 1948 and went on to own a trucking company and a racing shop that built high-performance engines.

Today, the retired business owner is grateful that he had a chance to serve, and for the lessons he learned in the Corps.

“I just did what I had to do” he says. “And I learned a lot being a Marine … to do things the right way.”

-- Katrina Goggins

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