By Heather Graham-Ashley, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsApril 11, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas (April 11, 2012) -- III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr. keeps a memento of a special Vietnam veteran close to his heart.
Along with his own Army-issued ID tags, an ID tag his wife was issued as a spouse in Europe, and a St. Christopher medallion, the general wears a ID from his father, retired Col. Donald M. Campbell Sr.
"I wear them proudly," Campbell said about the plethora of silver tags hanging from his neck.
The aluminum tag notched with his father's information is a tribute to his father's service and a constant reminder of why the general continues to serve. He serves for the Soldiers.
Campbell cares deeply for Soldiers. It obviously pains him to think that Vietnam veterans, like his father and father-in-law, came home to an unfriendly nation.
Banners and cheering crowds that today's veterans return home to following deployment ceremonies are in stark contrast to what those coming home from Vietnam experienced nearly 50 years ago.
"In a way, it really, and this is my opinion, could be described as a national tragedy that we didn't recognize those young men and women who served in the jungles of Vietnam, who did what their country asked them to do, and then were frowned upon, in some cases, spat upon (when they returned home)," Campbell said.
The general is working to undo what was done nearly 50 years ago.
Fort Hood and the surrounding communities will gather on the installation May 21, to give area Vietnam veterans the recognition and welcome home they deserve. As of April 11, nearly 300 veterans had already registered to participate. Campbell said the ceremony is long overdue.
"I want to properly recognize our Vietnam veterans who served throughout the years in really a tough environment, and in my opinion, never were properly recognized when they returned home to their camps, posts and stations," Campbell said. "It's not good that they didn't get the recognition, so I think it's important that we take an opportunity and do it now."
Welcome home ceremonies such as this have been hosted other places and Campbell wanted to make sure Fort Hood-area veterans and the community had the opportunity to have their own.
"I have seen and been at other Army posts where this has been done, on probably a smaller scale, and I just thought it would be appropriate now that I'm the commanding general at Fort Hood, with such a large veteran population and I know many Vietnam veterans, to do something to recognize their service, albeit almost 50 years too late," he said.
Fort Hood's event is for all Vietnam veterans, as well as veterans from other conflicts.
As the son of a Vietnam veteran, the event, in a small way, is personal to the general.
"It's personal from the standpoint I've tried to recognize his service over the years," Campbell said.
The elder Campbell spent a year with the 1st Cavalry Division as a young captain and junior major in On Ke, Vietnam. Campbell Sr. served 25 years in the Army as an armor officer and retired as a colonel.
The general said his father has not talked much about his service in Vietnam, even though he has two sons who have served and Campbell continues to serve.
"I think to some degree, like other Vietnam veterans, because it wasn't the best of experiences maybe even over there or coming back, some of those memories have been buried and put in other places," the general said. "We need to recognize their service and make sure they know we appreciate what they do."
The general spoke about stories of Vietnam veterans who came home and had to immediately change from their uniforms to civilian clothes because they were ostracized or even humiliated.
Those troops, who returned home to a nation that in large part turned its backs on them at the time, are doing their part to ensure today's veterans do not face the same fate.
Many of the same men and women who came home from Vietnam to a mostly unwelcoming nation are the same men and women who are on post and in the community, ensuring today's veterans are recognized and appreciated.
"They're at the USO, at the Red Cross, in our gyms, at Fort Hood facilities on post," Campbell said. "And they do it without any recognition or fanfare."
Men and women, such as those, continue to motivate Campbell to serve, but it was his father's service and example that led the general to the Army.
Campbell said he had an opportunity to watch his father and father-in-law over the years in command positions, in staff positions and just enjoying the Army life. The two men were battalion commanders together.
He joined the Army in part because of the examples set by his father and future-father-in-law and because he didn't do well on the LSATs.
"And, I wanted to serve," Campbell said.
He planned to serve for five years, and then re-take the LSATs in hopes of attending law school.
More than 33 years later, the general continues to serve, and his continued service can also be traced to Vietnam.
"The lessons we learned out of Vietnam really worked for some great leaders and really influenced me to continue to serve," he said.
The sense of camaraderie and teamwork he found in the Army continue to motivate Campbell, who said he has enjoyed every minute of serving in the Army.
In the same way Vietnam veterans inspired Campbell to serve, today's veterans cause him to continue to serve.
Like the Vietnam veterans before them, Soldiers of today came in to the Army during a time the nation was facing some tough fights.
"This point in time, I think, is particularly honorable and noble," Campbell said. "These young men and women are coming in for all the right reasons -- love of country, for service, to learn a trade."
The general genuinely loves the Army and the Soldiers who serve.
"The Army of today, I'm proud to say, it's a great Army," he said. "I love Soldiers. I love the opportunity to be with them."
Last week, Campbell was on a flight from Louisville and seated next to a young private in uniform. The general was wearing civilian clothing. The two struck up a conversation.
"He seemed like such a great young troop," the general said. "I had a great time talking to him."
Campbell was impressed with the young Soldier and presented him with a coin, telling the private, "I think you have the makings to be a really great Soldier."
During their conversation, both discussed their jobs and Campbell asked the Soldier why he serves.
The private told the general he joined the Army to get a skill and because service runs in his Family.
"There wasn't an expectation, but in the Soldier's mind there was," Campbell said. "He told me, 'My dad served, his dad had served and I wanted to be a part of something like the Army.'"
The general said talking to Soldiers like the young private continues to motivate him to serve every day.
"I try to keep guys and gals, Soldiers, like that at the forefront when I'm making a decision about something," Campbell said. "They're the ones it's going to have an impact on."
The general talks to his father every week, and he said Col. Campbell will be here for the Cav. Reunion this year.
Although he has not yet discussed the May welcome home ceremony with his father, Campbell said he is pretty confident that he knows what his father would say.
"He'd say it's long overdue, it's not something they needed, but I think, deep down, something they would have wanted because of the way they were received," the general said.