The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Robert Campbell [01/18/2005]

Carl Cox:

Hello, and welcome to the Veterans History Project. My name is Carl Cox and we are here with the Voluntary Resource Management Service of the VA San Diego Healthcare System at the VA Medical Center in San Diego, California. I am a volunteer at this facility. I am the producer, and I will be the cameraman and your host conducting today's interview. Today's date is January the 18th, 2005, and today's guest is a veteran of the Post World War II era, and of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Please welcome Mr. Robert Campbell.

Carl Cox:

Please state your full name.

Robert Campbell:

Robert Martin Campbell, Jr.

Carl Cox:

Please state your date of birth.

Robert Campbell:

May 24th, 1930.

Carl Cox:

Please state your current address.

Robert Campbell:

[address redacted].

Carl Cox:

Which war did you serve in?

Robert Campbell:

I served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Carl Cox:

Which branch of the service did you serve in?

Robert Campbell:

U. S. Navy.

Carl Cox:

What was the highest rank that you achieved?

Robert Campbell:

HM1, E6.

Carl Cox:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Robert Campbell:

No, I enlisted.

Carl Cox:

Why did you decide to join?

Robert Campbell:

I was going to high school and formal education was not one of my first choices. I did go to school because it was a necessity. My parents, at the time, were also contemplating going to college. My dad had just retired from the Navy as a, also a Pharmacist Mate, 22 years in the service, and because of the financial situation at the time, I felt that it would be more advantageous and I might get a more broadened and more education by joining the service rather than spending my twelfth year in high school. So I opted at the age of eighteen in my eleventh year of high school to join the Navy, which I've never really regretted because I did go through the program, the GED, and get my, get my formal education completed through the GED program. And, also was, did acquire some college credits through the same program.

Carl Cox:

Tell my about your boot-camp training experience?

Robert Campbell:

I went to boot-camp at the U. S. Naval Training Center in San Diego, California. Of course, our first week in boot-camp was in total isolation from all the other population, both military and civilian. Went through the normal beginning indoctrination of boot-camp, and then the routine, daily routine, which I was very familiar with because of living with a father that who had been in the service for 22 years. I, it was nothing foreign to me. I was fortunate because I had ROTC training in high school. I was honored with being the Right Guide, so they gave me a few extra privileges while being in boot-camp. With the liberty was one of the main privileges. This is a photograph of myself and my cousin, Cloe. This is one of the first days that I was allowed to leave the primary boot training area and go up to the reception and visiting area before we were allowed any liberty while in boot-camp. That was my first taste of a fresh banana since I had been in boot-camp. This was in August of 1948. This is a photograph of myself standing in front of my father's 1941 Chevrolet on Adlai Street in San Diego, California. This photograph was taken in 1948, while on one of my boot liberty at home. We went through the normal boot-camp training of small firearms and fire control, seamanship, military, basic military indoctrination. And it was, it was all those items that you needed to basically be a seaman at, on a ship, at sea.

Carl Cox:

Did you find boot-camp difficult to get through?

Robert Campbell:

No, on the contrary it was very easy because I was military orientated because of my father's, my exposure to my father's, some of his duty stations, and also the exposure through the ROTC program. So, it was a, it was really not difficult to myself as it was some of the people that had just come directly out of civilian life and never had any exposure to the military or our ROTC programs. This is a photograph of the rifle team while I was still in high school at Herbert Hoover High School, San Diego, California, and I was a member of the ROTC there at that high school in the year of 1948 prior to going in to the Navy.

Carl Cox:

What was your first duty assignment after boot-camp?

Robert Campbell:

It was Hospital Corps School at the U. S. Navy Hospital, Balboa. That was fourteen weeks. Our training there was mostly class room, either by nurses, doctors, or Senior Chief Hospital Corpsmen. At the time our training included anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, hygiene, sanitation, minor surgery. The basic things that the nurses learn when they're going through Nurses Training.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after that?

Robert Campbell:

Next duty assignment was the U. S. Navy Hospital, San Diego, California.

Carl Cox:

And what was your job assignment there?

Robert Campbell:

I had various jobs there. My first assignment was on a surgical ward and we were in charge of taking care of the patients at the time. We had patients who had survived World War II. This was in 1948. So, there was still a lot of World War II patients still being cared for on the wards. I was then assigned to the orthopedic ward for a period of time. All of this was in preparation and a requirement before you went to another duty station, so that you would have general knowledge of different type patients and different type situations. I was also assigned to the EENT Clinic for a short period of time. Then I went on to be the C.O.'s driver just before I departed. The hospital was my last assignment which was to work with Public Works and to drive the Captain wherever he wished to go, and, or his immediate family. Also, to be on duty and drive ambulances whenever called to do so. This is a photograph of myself while I was stationed at the U. S. Navy Hospital after graduating from Hospital Corps School, year of 1949, San Diego, California.

Carl Cox:

And what was your next duty assignment after that?'

Robert Campbell:

After the Navy Hospital I then went to U. S. Navy Radiological Defense Laboratory at the U. S. Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, California, which was a very unusual situation. We had to, we had to have top clearance, which was 'Queen Clearance' was the top, and that was the same clearance as the President of the United States had at that time. We were really not indoctrinated in any special fashion or given any extra special training. Because of my past experience in growing up around farm animals and doing house maintenance and repair, I believe that is reason I was probably chosen because we did a lot of construction work, and did a lot of animal husbandry. One of our first project was to take the swine that we were going to use in the nuclear atomic testing. We had to ear-mark all the swines to identify them and prepare logs. With the dogs we had, the dogs were all debarked before transportation overseas from the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory. We then went overseas with our animals. This is a photograph of civilian and Navy hospital corpsmen assigned to the U. S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory. Most of the military personnel in this picture were also assigned to BuMed Unit One, which made three atomic tests operations. The one out in the ^ Marshall Islands and Eniwetok Atoll, and two tests out at Camp Mercury, Nevada Test Site in Nevada.

Carl Cox:

Which ship were you aboard when you went overseas?

Robert Campbell:

The ship was the U.S.S. Warwick, AKA-89, and we were just aboard that ship to transport the swine and the canine over to our next duty station which was the Island of Japtan in Eniwetok Atoll of the Marshall Islands, which we were there for eleven months almost twelve months. During that period of time we raised, my duties, part of our unit raised mice and identified the mice and marked them, a part of our group took care of the canines and bred the canines and raised pups, and as likewise I was with the swine. Because I'd had grown up with raising farm animals and knew about the gestation of the swine, so I was chosen to be, go with the swine unit and we then bred the swine and raised the youngsters so we would have all the animals were raised over there, they were used in the testing. And then we would deliver the, the animals to the test island just prior to the nuclear detonation and leave them on the island and then come back to our main island of Japtan, and then go back immediately after the test period after the atomic bomb had detonated and then retrieve our animals and bring them back to the island of Japtan, where our laboratory technicians would then remove their thymus, their spleen, their liver, take blood samples, and remove part of their bone marrow for laying the ground work, so to speak, for history of atomic testing.

Carl Cox:

During your time, during the atomic bomb testing, did you witness any radiation accidents?

Robert Campbell:

Radiation in those days was an unknown factor. It was all experimental. Everything we did was experimental. This was all the forefront starting at July the 16th, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated at White Sands, New Mexico. From then on everything was experimental and it was experimental for the next seven-eight years. Everything we did we were experimenting. Everything was experimenting. We had no rad-safe equipment other than our Geiger counters, our film badges and normally we only wore our film badges when we were in the rear areas. We never wore any film badges. I 6 remember one time we did wear a photo dosimeter, but they were an accumulative. The only protection we had when we went out in to the field to recover our animals after the atomic bomb detonations was our uniform, standard uniforms, cotton gloves and masking tape around our ankles and around the shirt sleeves down to on our gloves. The use of, the reason we had Geiger counters was to, to steer us around hot spots on the ground so that we could get in to our swine and our mice and our canine to retrieve them to take them back. But this was all, all experimental. We had no, no training, we had no decontamination stations, no decontamination equipment. If we, if they put the Geiger counter on us and we were a little hot then we would launder our clothes, and then we would take showers until we had cooled off. But that was the extent of our protection.

Carl Cox:

Did anyone in your unit suffer any radiation contamination?

Robert Campbell:

We all were contaminated by radiation, both externally and internally. But, at that time, it was not known to what extent nor to what damage it was going to do to the human tissue because that's what we were there for was to find out what damage would be done by the nuclear atomic testing to the different animals that we were experimenting with. So, we did not know the extent until later years. That has only been through, through years of, of the veterans, the atomic veterans, of reporting to their doctors and/or to the VA. You have to realize that we were, signed a secret oath, many of us did and we were not allowed to talk about the operations, what we did, what was involved to our spouses, our families, or anybody else. Therefore we couldn't even go to the VA and tell the VA, hey, we were in a certain operation. We were exposed to, to different types of radiation and we think we're sick because of it. We couldn't even do that. That's why the atomic veteran today has been kept in the, not in the forefront along with other disabled veterans. They've been, not pushed back, but held back because they were not allowed to talk of their service to their country.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after that?

Robert Campbell:

Well, we then returned to the Radiological Defense Laboratory in San Francisco where we were assigned to certain labs 6 in the Radiological Defense Laboratory, which was called the Rad Lab. And we did experiments in the labs and also some of us then helped construct and build the test units which were then going to be taken to our next test site. I, it was kind of a rejuvenation and kind of take a little bit of leave and relax and, and get ready for the next test.

Carl Cox:

How long were you there?

Robert Campbell:

At the Radiological Defense Laboratory, I was really not there for a long extended period of time. It was over a three-year period, but after, after we built the equipment then we would go out to the Nevada Test Site for three to four months, and to another test and do the same thing as we did on the island of Japtan. We would take the animals with us, of course. We used the primary animals, we didn't do any breeding out at the test site this time. And we took the animals out there and went through the tests, all the tests that were available for us to utilize and then we'd go back to Hunter's Point again and then go through building more equipment and designing it and then go out to Nevada. I did two, two tours out in Nevada Test Site, one in '52 and another in '53. And then in the meantime then back to Hunter's Point.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after Hunter's Point?

Robert Campbell:

After Hunter's Point I went to Camp Pendleton for field med school and cold weather training in preparation to be sent to Korea.

Carl Cox:

What year was that?

Robert Campbell:

That was in 1953.

Carl Cox:

In what year did you go to Korea?

Robert Campbell:

Ah, January of 1954.

Carl Cox:

What assignment were you, what Battalion were you assigned to? 1

Robert Campbell:

I was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Easy Company was my Battalion when I went over to Korea. We were up on the front lines looking over, over the DMZ area, and our main duty was to stop any infiltration of any North Koreans coming across the DMZ area. And our Post overlooked Panmunjon at the time and it was not really, it was, had just only been set up as for the cease fire had taken place. We were still under war conditions, there was not an armistice had not been signed at that time. So, we were still on daily and nightly war conditions, but yet we weren't shooting at anybody except on vary random and very isolated situations. After doing that duty we moved back into the rear and reserves and then we went over on to East Coast of Korea for a maneuvers to land on the Eastern Shore of Korea. That time I was assigned to the, to the First Korean Marine Battalion Advisory Group to the First Korean Marine Corps Medical Battalion. And our duties then were to assist and help the South Korean Marines and Medical Battalion to set up a Medical Unit such as we did in the U. S. Military, and it was there, there Unit was built and constructed around our guidelines and then what, how we set up and operated with the Navy Corpsmen being attached to the, to the Marines. They took their Navy Corpsmen and they attached them to their Korean Marine Corps. And that was, we assisted them. I not only worked with the doctor and taking care of the few patients we had with our Marines, but, also, I became his, his driver so if he ever had any, any trips to be made, any social activities, I was fortunate enough to be able to go along and attend those social activities with him, which was a very unusual situation.

Carl Cox:

Was this like a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital?

Robert Campbell:

The, yes, the same, the same concept.

Carl Cox:

Did your Unit suffer any casualties?

Robert Campbell:

No, my Unit never suffered any casualties even though we were on 24-hour alert. We never, we would go out in to the DMZ and lay out for four hours to try to catch what we called TLOs, technical line crossers. Of course, we were sending them across to North Korea and they were sending them across to us, but our, what we tried to do in the daytime we could visually see. Normally, they sent them over at night. But at nighttime we would have to go out and lay ? on the rice paddy dikes for four hours at a time. And in January and February it was just a little bit uncomfortable. During the daytime you were walking in mud up to your, above your ankles, and at night you were slipping and sliding on the ice that would form at night. Things were pretty well frozen over to the point that all of the rice paddies were frozen at night, if not, a lot of them all day long would never thaw out. So, it was pretty uncomfortable laying out there four hours at a time without being, no smoking, no talking, and no moving. It was a little uncomfortable, but as far as any casualties, we never, never received any, thank, thank God.

Carl Cox:

Mr. Campbell, did you see combat while you were in Korea?

Robert Campbell:

No direct combat. They worse thing I saw in Korea was when a couple of, actually three South Korean boys found a undetonated North Korean hand grenade and it detonated while they were in the proximity of it and it did some very extreme damage, and that's really the only, that's one of the worse thing I was, that I saw and was exposed to while in Korea. I was very fortunate that I was not involved in any of the direct combat that took place to my arriving therein 1954.

Carl Cox:

Were you involved in treating these youngsters?

Robert Campbell:

Merely first aid and get them stabilized to transport them to our, our Medical Battalion.'

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after Korea?

Robert Campbell:

After Korea, I was then transferred back to the United States and I went to U. S. Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, and I was assigned to the Dispensary for a short period of time and then later on I was transferred to the Overhaul and Repair Department Medical Dispensary where we took care of the civilians that worked at the Overhaul and Repair Department. Our primary job was to, to save time and save government expense, so it was to be able to take care of. of primary medical conditions such as runny nose, cold, headache. These type things that might save the government four hours medical leave and keep the person on, on the 7 job because in the State of Texas in Corpus Christi, some people drove all day Sunday to live in Corpus during the week to hold down the job and then they would depart on Friday afternoon and drive home for the weekend. And if we sent them home to see their own doctor that meant at least one if not two days that they would be off of work. So, the government in that area figured that it was better to go ahead and treat them, the little cost that it would be in medication. So, my primary job was to filter out and take care of those patients which I felt competent enough to take care and any extreme conditions that I felt that the doctor should see or follow up, then I would have the patient wait and see the doctor when he arrived later on in the morning after the main sick call was over.

Carl Cox:

What year was this that you were stationed in Corpus Christi and how long were you there?

Robert Campbell:

1955 through 1958.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after Corpus Christi?

Robert Campbell:

After Corpus Christi, I was transferred to the U. S. Navy Hospital in San Diego, again. And there I went through X-Ray School, which I had to learn all basics of electronics to deal with all the x-ray equipment. To learn how to maintain film, how to develop film, how to cure film, how to store film, how to position patients for the different x-rays that required by the Radiologist. And, also, while at the school, part of my extra duties was working with, with internal security at the Navy Hospital.

Carl Cox:

How long did that schooling last?

Robert Campbell:

That school was about six months as I remember now.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after schooling?

Robert Campbell:

Next assignment was aboard a ship, the USS Norton Sound, AVM-1, which was a converted seaplane tender from WWII. She was converted with missile racks on the fantail of the ship to launch missiles. Primary job was to test all the prototype missiles JO that which were being built at that time before any of them were introduced into any of the services. Also, she took a trip down around South America and was the only ship to fire nuclear armed missiles up into the air for testing. She fired three missiles while down there on that, on that cruise. It was a very unusual ship, the fact that she was a, one of a kind, the only one, and she had a very important definite mission in the, not only in the nuclear atomic age but also in the missilery age that was coming, coming alive at that time.

Carl Cox:

What year was this?

Robert Campbell:

That was in 1959.

Carl Cox:

And how long were you aboard this ship?

Robert Campbell:

I was aboard three years, I was aboard this ship.

Carl Cox:

And was your job assignment?

Robert Campbell:

I was the leading, leading Petty Officer of the Medical Department. I was responsible for assignment of duties, cleanliness of the, of the department, sick bay. Also, I was responsible to make sanitation inspection once a week of berthing, and the galley, and the heads aboard the ship and make reports to medical officer, who in turn made reports to the commanding officer. This is a photograph of the Commanding Officer presenting me with a quarterly a month award while aboard the USS Norton Sound, AVM-I.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after that?

Robert Campbell:

Ah, U. S. Naval Construction Battalion Center, Port Hueneme, California, at the U. S. Navy Hospital.

Carl Cox:

And what year was that?

Robert Campbell:

That was in 19...1961-62, I believe.

Carl Cox:

And what was your job assignment?

Robert Campbell:

Being general service and having, having non-combat but field medical experience in training, cold weather training, I had varied, varied jobs as one of the Senior Petty Officers in the Dispensary and with senior time in the, in the Navy, I worked in the Pharmacy when, when necessary to fill in there. I worked in the Lab and did lab tests while, whenever necessary, because of my x-ray training I worked in x-ray some of the time. I, also, stood Chief of the Day watch on night duties, when called upon. We had four, four section liberty and every fourth day we had, every fourth day we had, had the duty so I stood Chief of the Day watch on those. I also worked in medical supply. So, I was being general service basically but with an FMFMF and also x-ray, they could utilize me in many departments because of my past experience.

Carl Cox:

And how long were you stationed there?

Robert Campbell:

I was stationed there, again, for three years.

Carl Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after that?

Robert Campbell:

I was then transferred to the U. S. Navy Hospital in San Diego, California, for Independent Duty School. And that lasted, it lasted for about six weeks, I believe, six to eight weeks. This is a photograph of the graduating class of Advanced Hospital Course, Corpsmen. And we departed there in December of 1965, and went to Honolulu, Hawaii, and where I picked up a USS Wilhoit, DER-397. And I was on independent duty on board the Wilhoit. I was the medical department directly responsible to the Executive Officer for the health and welfare of the ship's crew.

Carl Cox:

And where did you go while aboard that ship?

Robert Campbell:

Our first, our first tour was up on the Alaska to make a cruise up there, one of the last northern barrier cruises, which took place frequently before they had the big dishes put in for radar of watching the northern areas of our country against any infiltration by foreign countries. That was our first cruise, and our second cruise 12, was to go down on to the Equator and pick up sea-water samples from the Russian missiles that had been fired from Russia down on to the Equator and we followed Russian ships around to observe and to make record, make photographic records of their operation and to pick up sea-water samples. And then we went back to Pearl for overhaul and repair. The ships were actually suppose to have gone out of commission and reported to the Bremerton, Washington, but because of the Vietnam era coming along and building up they decided to maintain the DERs and send them over to, over to Vietnam. So, we went into the yards and went through overhaul and repair and then we left in May of 1965 we departed Hawaii and headed for Vietnam. Our main bases in Vietnam, our main in base in Vietnam was Subic Bay, Philippines. We would go over out and, and do patrol, boat patrol, for anywhere from 35 to 40 days off the coast of Vietnam and try to stop the trafficking of contraband coming down from North Vietnam into the Southern part. We worked in, in a conjunction with the Swift Boats. They were working the rivers and we were working the, the shores of the beaches along the coast of Vietnam. And our job was to board the sampans that were coming from the northern part. Board them and go through them and be sure that they were all true fishermen from that area and not any Viet Cong or having any loads of material that would be support, supportive of the Viet Cong. Ah, it was an unusual duty assignment being the only Corpsmen aboard the ship. They had me on the boarding party and I brought it to the Executive Officer's attention one day that I didn't think that it was a wise thing to be doing, but he said 'well, it's Des Flop Five,' said that it was the order, so 'yes sir' and I carried on until a few days later one of the boarding parties took a grenade from one of the, one of the sampan's and injured quite a few of the boarding party and killed one of the boarding party, and immediately, thereafter that day a message came down that the Corpsmen would no longer be on the boarding party. We would pull back into, normally, Subic Bay, to get our supplies. I would resupply my medical supplies and make appointments for the ship's company to take their physicals or get dental works or lab work, whatever was necessary to keep them well. We did on two occasions go into Hong Kong in lieu of going to Subic Bay. But for the most part Subic Bay if we didn't get supplied at sea from the Supply Ships and then we would go into, to Subic Bay and, and/or any minor repairs that had to be done to the ship's maintenance.

Carl Cox:

Did you see combat while you were in Vietnam?

Robert Campbell:

We never saw any combat, per se, oh, we did get in close enough to, to the beach one time where we took small-arm fire onto our ship, but as far as any hand-to-hand or meeting any of the enemy, we were fortunate enough that we never did, even though we were in a combat zone. The ship I was aboard, no we we never really saw any actual combat. During, during the cruise I got notice on the 21st of December 1965 that my father had passed away and my that I was needed at home. Being the only child of the family it was a necessity that I return, so I requested permission to contact the Des Flop Five Medical Officer, so he could come and ride the ship while I went home on emergency leave. I was denied that privilege. The Commanding Officer denied me contacting the Medical Officer, so, I had to stay on the ship until the ship returned to Pearl Harbor on February of 1966, at which time I contacted the Squadron Medical Officer and he immediately had me relieved, and was placed at the barracks at the Naval Station at Pearl Harbor. Two things that I omitted was that during the time I was on the, on the USS Wilhoit one of the recoveries of our, of our boat was not quite kosher. We came along side instead of having the boarding party depart the boat and go up the Jacob's ladder on the fantail, someone make the decision to leave the boarding party in the ship, in the boat, while we were taken aboard the ship. And on the way up one of the cables on the davits broke and the stern of the, the boat went into the water, of course, dumping all of us into the, into the South China Sea. And, of course, we all had flack jackets, we had our, our web belts on with the canteen on it, and a forty-five on it, and so we were, a little desperate to get rid of some weight. I hit my ankle on the way going down on the gunnel of the boat as it went into the, the fantail of the boat went into the water, I hit my ankle on the gunnel. Didn't pay too much attention of it. I immediately disposed of my flack jacket. It went to the bottom. My forty-five and web belt I was able to throw it back into the, into the, the boat while hanging on to the boat. And as, as we went floating by, one of the officers who didn't know how to swim, I went out and grabbed him and brought him back to the boat. And by that time the ship had stopped movement in the water and there was some sampans around and they were fortunate enough for us that they took mercy on us and those sampans started picking up the part of the crew that hadn't, weren't able to hang on to the boat I If. while the ship was underway before she stopped. So they picked up the other part of the crew. I was, I hung on to the boat and then swam around to the Jacob's ladder and climbed aboard. And later on in the day while I was treating two or three of the other fellows for cable burns, I realized that I had a sore ankle and my ankle started swelling up and I submerged it in a bucket of ice and the next day they took me over to an Army unit and x-ray and I had a fractured ankle. And they put a cast on the ankle, on my whole lower leg and I was put back to duty on board the ship with a cast. Then when I came back, when we, we came back to Pearl one of the reasons that the doctor put me in the barracks at Pearl Harbor was because I came running out the back door of our house one evening and broke my other ankle and I was, had a cast on that ankle, and he didn't want me going back aboard the ship because the Commanding Officer wanted me to ride the ship to Guam and then fly back from Guam before I was released. And the Medical Officer didn't think that that was quite kosher, so he just had me relieved and put me over at the barracks until my orders came through to fly back to the States.

Carl Cox:

Was this the end of your military career?

Robert Campbell:

That was, no, then I came back to the States and went to San Nicolas Island, and I was stationed on San Nicolas Island which is the last down range island off the coast of California for the missile program. It's also used as, when transporting troops over to Vietnam, they would load the troops from Port Hueneme. they would go over to the US Naval Air Station at Point Magu and get on the transport planes and then they would fly out to San Nicolas Island and finish topping off their fuel tanks so they could make it to, to Pearl Harbor before heading on to over to Vietnam. But our main objective out there on the island of, or San Nicolas Island; I was attached to NavFac, which was an experimental unit. The two functions was NavFac, the second function, the main funct..., two main functions, the second function was the missile program whenever they fired missiles from, all the way from Cape Canaveral and/or from Point Magu or from Vandenberg. It was a tracking stations and they had many tracking stations unit out there on the island. One of my other duties while on stationed on San Nicolas Island attached to NavFac was to work on the AC-34 helos. I 16 became an air crew member and authorized and to sit left seat in the cockpit. What we did was is Point Magu would fire drones out over the Pacific and the aircraft would use them for target practice or they would use them for missile practice. When the drone ran out of fuel it would start falling out of the sky and a parachute would open and decrease its descent until it landed in the water and the parachute was then supposed to release from the, from the drone and then we would fly out in the helo and pick it up with a large Shepard's Wand. We'd take the drone back over and put it in a cradle on San Nicolas Island. Then one of the mother ships would fly out and pick up and take it back to Point Magu, and they would refurbish it then for reuse. And that was, that was a weekly job that we did amongst the, all of the Corpsmen that were stationed on the island were either attached to NavFac or to NAS Point Magu. And I was the one from NavFac and there were two from Point Magu. And our jobs was to take care of not only the military population but was to, also to take care of health and comfort as far as the civilian population that lived on the island. This is a photograph of the Commanding Officer on San Nicolas Island presenting me with my Vietnam Service Medal from Vietnam, but after I had left there and I was stationed on San Nicolas Island with NavFac. We would fly out to the island on Monday morning and would stay anywhere from a week, week to half, and then fly back to Point Magu, and would have a few days at home and then back again out to the island. And that lasted at that duty station lasted over, a little over a year until I transferred from, put in my papers, and transferred to the Fleet Reserve in 1970, 1967, is when I was actually piped-over the side and transferred into the Fleet Reserve and that ended my, my Navy career as I knew it.

Carl Cox:

During your service, can you tell me the most profound experience that you endured.

Robert Campbell:

To recall a profounded experience in the Navy, is, is a hard topic to bring up because I was prepared after being a child of a Navy Pharmacist's Mate, a Navy Medical Service Corps Officer, all my growing years I was prepared for just about anything that the JL Navy had to offer me, so, I was not really astounded with any certain tour of duty that I had. Every tour of duty that I had was a new experience and I had prepared myself ahead of time, even before I was in the Navy, for what I was getting into because of my father's experience. So to have any one profounded, each, each duty station was a new challenge and I learned from it so I can't really say that there was anything that was more profound than something else. I enjoyed it, I am glad it's behind me. But I did enjoy it and I learned from it and I'm, I'm more educated because of it.

Carl Cox:

Mr. Campbell, do you recall the day your service ended?

Robert Campbell:

Ah, it's a, it's a date in memory. I remember that I had to take leave from a job that I already had, had acquired. I was fortunate enough because of my capabilities in my wide experiences, both growing up as a child and in the service, that I had no problem of finding a job prior to, to going in to the Fleet Reserve as many people tried to lead me believe that after 20 years in the Navy, you can't find a job out there. Well, I had to take 15 days leave to take the job that I went to directly. So, I took the 15 days leave, I was employed, and I had to take a day's leave from that employer to go back out to San Nicolas Island to retire, and then fly immediately back to my job the next day in civilian life. So, it was just, again, another experience in the life which I had seen played out many a times with pomp and circumstance and to me it was just another day of life which I had prepared myself for.

Carl Cox:

What was your first job after you got out of the military?

Robert Campbell:

Oxnard Frozen Food Co-op and I was in charge of inventory and ordering and maintaining the packaging material for the Frozen Food Corporation in Oxnard, California. We, the machinery would pick them, pick the product out of the field, bring it into the Corporation , and it would go through the processing, and go into the packaging units, and then be stored and put into flash freezing, and my job was to be sure that the proper packaging material and labels were, were available on the packaging line for that run of product that was coming through the line.

Carl Cox:

Did you go back to school for anything after you had gotten out of the military? Veteran; "No, I had no formal, formal training whatsoever after I retired out of the service. I, all the jobs that I acquired were strictly because of knowledge and background and experience.

Carl Cox:

Was your job at the Processing and Packaging Plant the job that you did until you retired?

Robert Campbell:

No, I, I was not really satisfied that that was the job that I wanted stay with for the rest of my working years, so I watched the newspapers and I saw an ad in the newspaper for an Assistant Manager of a Convalescent Hospital in Thousand Oaks, California, which was not too far from Oxnard. So, I went up to apply for the job and I walked in to be interviewed and the interviewer happened to be an old retired Hospital Corpsman Chief that I had, had duty with at the Naval, at the Navy Hospital at Port Hueneme, California. And I walked in and he asked me, he says, 'Bob, what are you here for?' and I says, 'I'm here for an interview,' and he says, 'for the job?' he says,' you got it.' So, I, it was an increase in pay and so, I worked there for awhile and circumstances came around that the person that hired me, he had a heart attack and he had to quit and the owner of the company wasn't satisfied with the pay raise that my boss had given me just before he quit his job, so he let me go because he couldn't afford the pay raise that my boss had given me. So, I immediately applied for a job as a, as a combination maintenance and bus driver at the the El Rio School District and tried to get unemployment, but my problem was that I was only unemployed for four working days. So, I didn't qualify for unemployment and that's the only four days I've ever been out of work in my whole life that I, that I wanted to work and I couldn't. So, that was a pretty good track record, so, I stayed with the Oxnard Frozen Co...with the El Rio School District driving bus part-time and doing maintenance part-time, until I was, until the six-month moratorium which I had to wait before I could go into Civil Service. That finally ran out and I immediately applied for a job at the U. S. Naval Construction Battalion Center, Supply Department, and I was immediately picked up and offered a position which I took. And during the 16 years that I was there at the Supply Department I had various jobs of, in the H supply. The first job being on the POSSE Program, that was to Progressive On-Slot to Stamp-Out Supply Errors. I was a warehouseman at the time. And then I was promoted from that into a warehouse job to take care of roll-back material from Vietnam, which included reproduction equipment, narcotics, medicines, tools, precious metals, those type things, because of my knowledge of security. They needed a person to take care, so I was offered that job in a permanent position rather than temporary that I was on before. And then I went from there from a Commodity Manager, and I had seven supply clerks. After I had done my probation time I was a Commodity Manager full-fledged had seven supply clerks and we managed items such as clothing, subsistence, GSA items, and lumber. And from there I then went what was up to the Supervisor and Shop's Store's Manager, and I stayed there for awhile and then I was promoted then to a Manager Production in the Supply Department which we had to maintain all the records and physical parts that were torn down from equipment that rolled back from the Seabees, overseas and foreign countries. They came back in there for repairs, so we had to maintain repair, the tear-down boxes and then order new equipment to build these units back up, but when the equip...the repair parts were available then they shops would call out the tear-down boxes we would supply that along with the new parts. And my big job was to finalize and be sure that every part was available for that piece of equipment, whether it be a, a locomotive or be a bull dozer or a, a five-ton truck, that every nut, bolt, and lock washer was available for that piece of equipment to go through the rebuilding process and to get on a certain ship to be transported back overseas for use by the Seabees. And after 16 years, because of health and because of my wife, I finally retired from there.

Carl Cox:

During your time in the service is there anything you did for good luck?'

Robert Campbell:

Anything I did for good luck. I believe the only thing I did for good luck was to continually to keep God in the forefront and to pray. And to keep my family abreasted of the fact that they were in my prayers and I knew that I was in their prayers. Good luck to pat a picture of a pin-up girl was not my way thinking of good luck. I figured if the good Lord wanted to keep my around for some future work that He would do it. That was my good luck that I carried through my 20 years in the Navy.

Carl Cox:

Tell me about any veteran's organizations that you may belong to.

Robert Campbell:

I belong to two organizations right now. One I am very active in which pulls away from the other one. I belong to the DAV which I'm not active in at all now, because I am the Vice Commander of National Association of Atomic Veterans, which is a organization...our main function is to give assistance to all those atomic veterans who were exposed to the atomic detonations and exposed to radiation. Our main job is to give those people assistance in getting through all of the hoops that the Defense Department has laid down for us. Before we can get treatment, realize it because of the Rosenberg Act, the secrecy clauses we had to sign. Many of these veterans, even today some of the veterans don't realize that they can talk about their service during that time. So it's up to us to make them aware of this fact, and also to walk them through and to pave the way, unlock the doors. I've wondered many, many times, I wondered, you know, after 20 years in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman and my later years what would I do with that knowledge and now I have learned as a Hospital Corpsman, retired, and with my knowledge that I have been, I had become very useful because of my medical background in assisting and being able to speak the language from both the, having duty with the Marines, I can talk to Marines very easily being with the Marines and on the ground, I can talk to the Army, being a Navy Corpsman at sea and at Navy Hospitals, I can talk to the, I can speak to these different people in their language. Along I can speak to the Medical Staff of any place in their language because of my background. So, I feel very fortunate and feel that I'm doing a great service now to those Atomic Veterans who are a far cry from my physical condition. They are in much worse than I, and I feel fortunate that, that the Lord has allowed me this opportunity to be of assistance to them. And I hope that as long as I live that I can continue assisting them as, as Vice Commander, I'm als...second in command, in case anything happens to the Commander. I'm also the State and Area Commander Coordinator, which means at any one time I have anywhere from 30 to 40 State Commanders. I would like to see the day at one time that Zo when we would have a State Commander in every State, possibly that might happen. I also am the State Commander for the State of California. We have over 340 members in the State of California. So, a lot of my time is communicating either by phone, in a letter or by e-mail, with many many people and with many organizations. So, that's the reason that I don't have too much time for DAV, even though I am member, life-time member of it. But, that, we constantly are trying to pave the road for the Atomic Veteran to make it easier and to communicate with the different agencies that we need to, to bring to their attention, realizing so many of the Staffs of the VA Hospitals were born many years after the Atomic Age that we were exposed to and they don't have any knowledge. You talk to them about past history or are own American and our war time history. And they have no knowledge of it, so it's a foreign subject to them. And we have to do an education program and this is one of the big things that we do is if we find an inefficiency someplace in one of the VA Units, we bring it to the appropriate person's attention so it can be ratified immediately and allow the Atomic Veteran to get the best treatment at all possible with the most ease at possible.

Carl Cox:

Mr. Campbell, is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

Robert Campbell:

Yes, I would like to say that after I retired the second time in Civil Service, my wife and I decided to break up housekeeping and we went on the road for 15 years. We were 20th Century gypsies. And there again, we had a hard time traveling because with her experience and knowledge and office work and then some crafts, we were held down many a times. I remember one place that we stopped we stayed their for two and half years before we got on the road again. She worked as a volunteer and I worked, was actually paid for some, many of my services. So, my, my working days did not really end when I retired out of Civil Service after 16 years. My wife has been with, we've been together for 40...48 years now, going on 48 years, and she's the reason that I'm doing what I'm today, because she has allowed me and supported me in, in what I'm doing with the National Association of Atomic Veterans., and I have to thank her that. But we had a wonderful time on our 15 years, we saw many places and had many experiences that we both will remember.

Carl Cox:

Mr. Campbell, I would like to thank you for participating in the Veterans History Project and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Robert Campbell:

Thank you.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us