During the Depression, young men in Atlanta picked prestigious Boys High School (now Grady H.S.) to groom their aptitudes for a college education. John Campbell graduated from Boys in 1939. After high school, he worked for Standard Oil on Marietta Street while attending night school at Atlanta Junior College (now Georgia State). He participated in both ROTC programs.
"I met my future wife Rebecca in college," Campbell said. "But after Pearl Harbor, I knew I'd be called up." He was. Campbell received training as an anti-aircraft gunner at Camp Maxey, Texas, and was chosen for Officer Candidate School. "That fell through because the anti-aircraft crews didn't need that many officers," he said. Instead, Campbell entered the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). "I was there about a year," he recalled. "I was fortunate enough to study engineering."
However, engineering and OCS were placed on permanent hold as the war in Europe heated up after the Normandy Invasion. John Campbell, a future lawyer and magistrate judge, was given a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and the rank of PFC before joining the 99th Infantry, 393rd Regiment, 2nd Battalion, F Company in Paris, Texas.
"About 5,000 of us boarded the cruise ship SS Argentina and sailed in a vast convoy to Southhampton, England," he said. "I bunked in the Ball Room, bottom bunk in a seven-high bunk system. Shoot, I got tired of being stepped on so asked for guard duty topside. At least I had fresh air."
Stationed for two months near the small coastal town of Piddlehinton, the 99th eventually crossed the English Channel to Le Havre, France. Campbell said, "From there, we were trucked into Aubel, Belgium, then assigned to the front lines near the villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath in front of the Dragon's Teeth of the West Wall." (Concrete pyramids, 2 to 5 feet high, mainly to stop tanks).
For the next two months, Campbell fought skirmishes on night patrols with 20 to 30 of his buddies until all hell broke loose on Dec 16, 1944. Americans called that hell The Battle of the Bulge.
Campbell said, "We hunkered down and held the ‘northern shoulder' of the Bulge from the Belgian border down to the besieged town of Bastogne for the better part of a week," Campbell said. "We took casualties, but not near as bad as other outfits. Some outfits lost 90 percent of their men, either captured, wounded or dead. I got hit on Dec. 22."
Campbell's foxhole buddy was a soldier named Jim Jenson, future VP of Honeywell in Minneapolis. "Jim and I were always digging," Campbell said. "We dug to stay alive from incoming artillery and tank fire. Enemy tanks and infantry came at us every day." The men were tired and hungry, low on ammo and food. Campbell volunteered for a sprint to the rear for K-rations. "I had just got back and was running from foxhole to foxhole throwing guys K-rations when an explosion knocked me off my feet."
Most of Campbell's left leg had been shredded by an 88mm artillery burst. He said, "I crawled over to the foxhole so Jim could apply a tourniquet. I was still outside the foxhole being treated when another nearby explosion sliced off my right leg." Bleeding profusely, Campbell and Jenson utilized both their belts as tourniquets.
Amid artillery fire and tank assaults, Campbell's buddies placed him on a stretcher and hustled him out of harm's way. With his stretcher tied to a jeep, Campbell kept hearing, ‘Don't pass out, don't pass out,' until reaching a MASH unit set up in the courtyard of a nearby farm house. He said, "They sort of trimmed off the rest of my leg, and
that's when I sort of passed out."
Sent to Eupen, Belgium, Campbell was placed on a Paris-bound train and received his first shot of morphine. "I'd been in agony before the shot," he said. "But I felt pretty good after receiving morphine."
Better treatment lay ahead in Paris, more trimming on the leg, and a DC-3 flight back to the states, via the Azores, Bermuda, and Mitchell Field, Long Island.
Campbell said, "They gave me a choice of hospitals. The first was Atlanta. I said, ‘Hold it right there, Atlanta is the place,' so I was on my way home." Home was the all barracks hospital of Lawson General (now Peachtree DeKalb Airport).
"Rebecca came to see me all the time," Campbell said. "I was on crutches in a month or so, and that helped my mobility." On a day Campbell was not in his barracks, the wounded warriors in his ward were visited by American World War I fighter Ace, Eddie Rickenbacker. Campbell said, "All the guys had pin-up girls over their beds. I had a photo of a DC-3. Rickenbacker told the men to relay a message to me, ‘Tell this man to call me and he has a job at Eastern Airlines.' Well, I did, and I got the job."
The job was in Miami. While there, Campbell earned a law degree from the University of Miami, passed the Florida Bar, and eventually worked for Lockheed in Atlanta. Campbell later worked for home builder Victor Harris, took and passed the Georgia Bar, and ended his working career as the night magistrate judge for DeKalb County.
He requested during the interview, "Do not make me into a hero. I just did my duty and returned home to live out my life as best I could, and, of course, to marry Rebecca." Married in 1946, John and Rebecca have been together for 66 years.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, freelance writer and columnist. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.