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OSS operative, 97, honored with Congressional Gold Medal in Wolfeboro

Union Leader Correspondent

September 22. 2018 9:31PM
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., shakes hands with Roger Campbell, 97, after presenting him with the Congressional Gold Medal. Seated at left is Campbell's son, Scott, and his daughter-in-law, Maria. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

WOLFEBORO - In a ceremony fittingly held at the Wright Museum of World War II, a member of the Greatest Generation was honored Friday with a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his heroic service as part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

At age 97, Technician Fourth Grade Roger G. Campbell was moved to tears when Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., presented him with the baseball-sized medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.

"He took an oath and to this day he wouldn't say anything," Campbell's son, Scott, said of his father's war service in Burma - one of the most challenging locations in the Pacific theater. Scott's missions included collecting intelligence, rescuing downed pilots and harassing the Japanese.

Congress bestowed the medal in March in recognition of the service and contributions made by Americans who comprised the intelligence agency, and recognized for the first time the collective efforts of Campbell and all OSS officers who served during World War II. Campbell is one of what is thought to be less than 100 surviving OSS operatives.

It has only been in recent weeks, Scott said, that his father had finally begun talking about some of his experiences during the war.

Wayne Marshall, commander of VFW Post 8270 of Ossipee said the selfless actions of Campbell and others like him saved hundreds of thousands America lives.

The OSS disbanded at war's end, Marshall said, and it took the country two years to realize it couldn't get along without an intelligence agency.

"Generations of shadow warriors own their inspiration and dedication to Mr. Campbell and his co-workers," Marshall said.

"The courage, skill, and can-do spirit of OSS veterans will always inspire our Agency's men and women who followed in your footsteps," wrote CIA Director Gina C. Haspel in a July 10 letter to Campbell, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law Marie, on Mirror Lake.

Roger Campbell's uniform, campaign ribbons, medals and the Congressional Gold Medal he was awarded on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, were displayed at the Wright Museum of World War II in Wolfeboro. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

Scott Campbell said his father, a native of Central Falls, R.I., grew up in a tenement with a pigeon coop on the roof and took an interest in racing the birds against the clock. When he joined the Army, his experience with homing pigeons sent him directly into training as an OSS operative.

Peter Campbell of Lincoln, R.I. said his paternal uncle is lucky to be alive. While in Burma, he not only had to be on the lookout for the enemy - who once whistled a bullet so close to his head that he felt it pass the top of his ear - but also had to do battle with snakes and mosquitoes. The elder Campbell was stricken with malaria three times and was so thin and sickly when he returned to the states that his future mother-in-law advised her daughter not to marry him because he would surely die.

Brig. Gen. Bill Conway of the N.H. National Guard said specially selected and trained operatives like Campbell who ran covert operations and taught the indigenous people guerrilla warfare tactics were the precursor of today's special forces, SEAL teams and the CIA.

They were so successful in Burma that when he took his own special forces training, Conway said, they taught that campaign as a model.

"Matching your courage and devotion inspires us still," Conway said.

"Everyone was a volunteer, General," Campbell replied.

Campbell asked his daughter-in-law to read the statistics from a dog-eared copy of his favorite book "Behind the Burma Road." Among them were 5,428 Japanese killed, 10,000 wounded or captured, 75 bridges destroyed, 51 trains derailed, 277 military vehicles destroyed along with 3,000 tons of supplies.

"With those statistics alone you are the man," declared Gen. Warren Perry, deputy National Guard adjutant, prompting Campbell to say, "Pow, pow then run away. Come back the next day, right General?" in summing up the harassment campaign he helped wage against the Japanese Imperial Army.

In presenting the medal, Sen. Shaheen said Campbell was a key component of the allies' success by helping to maintain vital supply routes and being able to send coded messages across hundreds of miles of jungle with carrier pigeons.

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