Sen. Jeanne Shaheen chats with Congressional Gold Medalist Roger G. Campbell following the medal presentation ceremony at the Wright Museum last Friday morning, Sept. 21. (Photo by Thomas Beeler) (click for larger version)
September 26, 2018WOLFEBORO — Last Friday morning, a Melvin Village resident was officially recognized for his service helping to organize guerillas in Burma during World War II.
In a special ceremony at the Wright Museum, Roger G. Campbell was presented with a Congressional Gold Medal by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. The Gold Medal is the highest honor Congress can award to recognize individual achievement.
A native of Central Falls, R.I., Campbell had joined the U.S. Army but, in part due to his ability to work with carrier pigeons (learned on the rooftop of the tenement he grew up in), he was asked to become part of an operation in Burma organized and directed by the newly-created Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.). Technician 4th Grade Campbell volunteered and became part of the most effective combat units fighting against the Japanese during the war. Fewer than 100 members of the O.S.S. are still alive today, and by recognizing the 97-year-old Roger Campbell, the nation honors all who served.
Participating in the presentation ceremony were Wolfeboro's Anne Blodgett, president of the Wright Museum Board of Directors, Brigadier General Bill Conway of the New Hampshire National Guard, Deputy National Guard adjutant Gen. Warren Perry, Commander Wayne Marshall of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8270 of Ossipee, and Senator Shaheen.
Also present was the Kingswood Regional High School Current Affairs class, which met with Campbell afterward, and Campbell's extended family.
Campbell was moved to tears when Shaheen presented him with the gold medal. He thanked the senator, her staff, his son Scott and his wife, his grandchildren and nephews and his physician, Dr. Stephen Fleet of Wolfeboro Internal Medicine, who was present.
The O.S.S. was created in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to overcome a lack of American coordinated military intelligence that left us vulnerable to attacks like Pearl Harbor. It was modeled on the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), put under the direct command of the Joint Chief of Staff and headed by William J. Donovan, who had spent 1940 and 1941 in Europe studying intelligence operations. "Wild Bill" Donovan wrote a "Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information" and was appointed "coordinator of information" on July 11, 1941, heading the new organization known as the office of the Coordinator of Information (C.O.I.). The 600 members of C.O.I. formed the core of the O.S.S. in 1942.
The O.S.S. was disbanded at the end of the war, but a continuing need to protect the nation through superior intelligence operations led to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) in 1947.
On Dec. 14, 2016, the O.S.S. was collectively honored with a Congressional Gold Medal. Congress voted to award the gold medal to select individuals, including Campbell, on March 21 of this year.
While the O.S.S. was active in both theatres of the war, its secret efforts in Burma were the most successful, and Roger Campbell was a key member of that select group. The O.S.S. in Burma was charged with organizing, training and arming local resistance units, rescuing downed pilots and harassing the Imperial Japanese Army is all ways possible.
Wayne Marshall, commander of VFW Post 8270 in Ossipee, one of the speakers at last Friday's event, said that the actions of Campbell and others like him saved hundreds of thousands America lives.
A major focus of the Burma unit's efforts was building up a local resistance force among the Kachin natives. According to Wikipedia, "The Kachin people are an ethnic affinity of several tribal groups, known for their fierce independence, disciplined fighting skills, complex clan inter-relations, craftsmanship, herbal healing and jungle survival skills." From 101 Kachins trained and armed, this guerilla army grew to 10,200 rangers. As part of the O.S.S. effort, the Kachins killed 5,428 Japanese soldiers and rescued more than 500 pilots.
Like all O.S.S. operatives in Burma, Campbell wore no uniform and thus was not protected from execution if captured. He also had to survive the rigors of the jungle, catching malaria three times. His carrier pigeons, who could not be detected by the Japanese, kept the flow of information on Japanese troop movements flowing.
According to his daughter-in-law Marie Campbell, his favorite book on the war is "Behind the Burma Road." She cited some statistics from the book. In addition to the 5,428 Imperial solders killed, more than 10,000 were wounded, 51 bridges were destroyed, nine railroad trains derailed, and more than 3,000 tons of supplies were destroyed. Of the pilots rescued, 232 were Americans and 342 were from other armed forces. The losses on the allied side were 22 Americans and 184 natives killed.
Campbell spent two years in Burma in a unit consisting of 131 officers and 558 enlisted men. He is one of a few surviving members of what Senator Shaheen called "the greatest of the Greatest Generation."