Marine Harry Campbell fought in the South Pacific at the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. The young man made it home from that bloody conflict, but his identification bracelet didn’t.
Nearly 75 years later, a family in New Zealand found Campbell’s bracelet buried underneath six inches of sand on an Auckland beach.
The bracelet was returned to Campbell’s children at a Camp Pendleton ceremony last week, and the experience has reopened a chapter of their father’s life that was rarely glorified.
“He was never boastful about it,” his son, Jim Campbell, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We learned more last Friday than I’ve know before. It filled in some of the gaps.”
The Turner family of New Zealand found the bracelet while combing a beach there with a metal detector.
They decided to find its rightful owner and return it.
Welcome to The Intel, a blog examining the hot military news of the day
The bracelet was typical of what some troops wore as a secondary ID. It bore Campbell’s name and his military serial number. On the back, someone inscribed the word Guadalcanal and the dates of the battle.
The Battle of Guadalcanal is considered a pivotal campaign of the Pacific war.
The Japanese held that portion of the Solomon Islands until the U.S. Marines launched a surprise attack in August 1942.
In the ensuing battles, both sides took big losses to their ship fleets. But the Japanese suffered greater casualties on the ground, forcing them to withdrawal from Guadalcanal in early 1943.
Campbell served with Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division during that battle. Afterwards, before returning to the United States, the division was sent to Australia for rest and rehabilitation.
That’s likely when Campbell lost his bracelet.
From New Zealand, the Turners first reached out to the U.S. Marine sources in Hawaii. Someone there researched Guadalcanal and found Campbell’s name.
Then they researched his whereabouts and discovered the plot at Riverside National Cemetery where the elder Campbell was interred in 2014.
Next, the Campbells got a call from the Marines.
Jim Campbell said were surprised when that phone call led to a honors ceremony Friday at Camp Pendleton, where leaders of the 1st Marine Division made Jim Campbell and his sister, Patti, honorary members.
The band played “Waltzing Mathilda,” the division’s official song. The song is a nod to the post-Guadalcanal era when the division was taking time off in Australia.
Jim Campbell said his father always held his wartime service close to his heart. After discharge, Harry Campbell went on to serve on the police force in his native Kansas City, Missouri, and then moved to California to work in the oil industry.
The elder Campbell joined the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a master sergeant. But he always remembered his service.
“He was very, very proud of it. Whenever he would meet another Marine, and they’d say, ‘Where were you at?’ and he’d say, ‘1st Marine Division’ and then he’d say ‘Guadalcanal.’ And just the admiration of the other people,” Jim Campbell remembers.
Campbell said he only wishes the bracelet had been found sooner, so that his father could have seen accepted it in person.
“It would have been wonderful to see the look on his face, and he could have filled in all the gaps that we are trying to do now,” Campbell said.
But, he added, “He’s probably looking down with a great, big smile on his face.”
(c)2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune — www.sandiegouniontribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.