|By Bob Weaver 2004|
"Dad's landing boat could not get close to shore because the sea was too rough,
and he was the first man to jump into the water," recalls his son David
It was D-Day - June 6, 1944 and the long-planned allied invasion of Europe had
begun at Normandy.
David Campbell's father, Grantsville resident Staff Sgt. Robert Campbell, (left) was in water well over his head, and immediately began struggling for his life, shedding his full field pack, rifle, steel helmet and Bangalore torpedoes.
"He had to learn to swim real quick," said his son, as he sank to the ocean
Campbell's story was written in the Atlantic Monthly in 1960 by eminent war
historian S. L. A. Marshall, and later recalled in "Calhoun County in World War II"
by Mary Ann Barrows.
Several other Calhoun soldiers participated in the Normandy Invasion.
The 60th anniversary of the invasion is tomorrow, recalled by America's media and a
visit to Normandy by President George Bush.
D-Day may well be one of the most tragic but successful invasions in military
history, with many of the assault troops drowning, killed and wounded.
The 116th Infantry's, 29th Division Able Company was the first to try the landing.
By the end of the day only two men survived. Then came Campbell's Baker
Company, who had already encountered problems with the rough sea, bailing
water from their boat using their steel helmets.
Sgt. Campbell fought for his life for nearly two hours, paddling around in the rough
sea, said David Campbell. He could see or hear nothing of the battle, often
thinking the invasion might have failed.
With his strength going fast, he worked his way to shore. There he
found a helmet, a rifle and five of his men, three of which were wounded.
S. L. A. Marshall's article says there was probably not a shot fired by these two companies
during the morning of the invasion. Staying alive was paramount, and not many
were able to do that.
Those who survived the tumultuous sea, took helmets and rifles from the dead
and tried to find cover. Mary Ann Barrows wrote "The chain of command
diminished greatly as the killing continued, but eventually Sgt. Campbell and
about twenty men from Baker Company took the little village of Vierville."
Sgt. Campbell was given a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant in June,
1944. Fighting his way to Berlin, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star
and the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, having been wounded in
combat. He also received two Presidential Citations.
David Campbell said his father, like many other soldiers, was reluctant to talk
about his experiences.
"As Oral Nichols (now deceased) said last November - war is a terrible, terrible
thing. Unless we listen to these old soldiers, we may never realize what it is all
about," concluded David Campbell.
Campbell was the son of Calhoun residents,Ora and Odessa Campbell, Ora was a
riverboat captain on the Little Kanawha. Robert married Evelyn Self of Gilmer County
in 1941, they had three children, Robert David, Joe Douglas and Deborah Fritz.
He obtained the rank of Major in the Army Reserves and was postmaster at
Grantsville for 27 years.
Staff Sgt. Robert and Evelyn Self Campbell