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At age 90, Bill Campbell has seen his share of war, segregation and difficult times.
Despite that, the Radcliff resident managed to complete 27 years of military service, raise a family and help children with learning disabilities.
Originally from New Jersey, Campbell was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1942. He recalled going to Army training in Kansas, but it wasn’t Fort Riley. Because Campbell is black, he trained at another camp set up specifically for black servicemen.
“It was something else,” he said.
After being sent to California, Arizona and a few other places, Campbell was ordered to England.
“England was as prejudiced as the states,” he said.
But Campbell dealt with it by “staying away from it,” he said.
Other European countries showed no signs of discrimination, particularly businesses, he said. To them, Campbell and everyone else were just customers.
“I did five campaigns with the 3rd Army in Europe,” he said.
Campbell served under Gen. George S. Patton.
Though he left the service briefly in 1945, Campbell returned and served in Korea and Vietnam.
During his service he continuously faced segregation. Having grown up in an integrated school system from the time he was 5, Campbell wasn’t used to being told where he could or could not eat, he said, but he managed to get through it.
But he felt ostracized in other ways in the military.
“In some ways I
didn’t fit in because I was a non-drinker,” Campbell said, explaining soldiers often bought drinks for one another and superior officers.
It was during a stint while serving in Austria, driving for the chief of staff, that Campbell met his future wife, Herta. She was working as a dress maker near the barracks where he was stationed, and he would occasionally strike up a conversation with her.
“I took some courses and learned to speak German,” he said.
The two were married Feb. 9, 1952, in Salzburg, Austria.
They returned to New Jersey, and Herta, who is known as Sue to most, became a U.S. citizen.
Before his military service was over, Campbell had earned the Bronze Star.
Jobs following his military service included time in Indiana and Louisville before he began working at UARCO, a printing plant in Elizabethtown. He worked at UARCO for 17 years as a platemaker and trainer and in that time frame went to then-Elizabethtown Community College and earned an associate’s degree in business management.
Campbell retired at age 70, but then his work with children with learning disabilities began.
“My wife volunteered me,” he said, chuckling.
Working with children with learning disabilities was not difficult for him, he said, because he was used to training others. His work garnered him recognition, too, including the Lilly K. Sullivan Outstanding Volunteer Award 2002 and the J.T. Alton Middle School Volunteer of the Year Award April 2002.
Campbell is also a Kentucky Colonel and at one time coached little league soccer.
These days health issues, which include kidney dialysis three times a week, keep Campbell from being too active. But he is happy with his accomplishments.
A successful family that includes sons and grandchildren who are serving or have served in the military is Campbell’s proudest achievement. He said he was glad he was able to keep them on the right path.
His family, likewise, thinks Campbell is special.
“We’re proud of Dad,” daughter Sandy Campbell said.
Sue described her husband as someone who “takes life as it comes and deals with it” and puts his heart into everything.
“He’s got a lot of things accomplished in his life,” Sue said.
Campbell seemed to agree.
“I’ve had a pretty good life,” he said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or email@example.com.
MORE ABOUT BILL CAMPBELL:
City of birth: Summerville, N.J.
City of residence: Radcliff
Family: Wife, Hertha, and five children
Favorite music: Jazz
Favorite TV shows: Detective shows