Remains of Navy Seaman return to Elizabethton

Published 8:23 am Friday, October 12, 2018

When someone comes home that hasn’t been home for many years, there is usually a large celebration with a large gathering to celebrate that person’s arrival.

However, when Navy Seaman 2nd Class William V. Campbell arrives back home to his native Carter County on Friday, Oct. 12, there will be no large tables filled with food or colorful balloons to celebrate his arrival.

Even without great fanfare, Campbell will be coming home a hero who gave his life at far too young an age — a 20-year-old Elizabethton native who died on December 7, 1941.

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Campbell was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor that fateful day when the Japanese attacked the ship by aircraft.

The USS Oklahoma was doomed as multiple torpedoes caused massive damage which caused the ship to quickly capsize with Campbell and his crewmates.

When the death toll was counted, there were 429 crewmen including Campbell.

In a span covering three years from December 1941 to June 1944 Navy personnel worked to recover the remains of the deceased crew with the bodies being interred in cemeteries at Halawa and Nu’uanu.

In September 1947, members of the American Graves Registration Service were challenged to disinter the remains of the U.S. casualties from the cemeteries and transfer them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks.

Unfortunately, only 35 men from the USS Oklahoma were able to be identified.

The remaining unidentified remains were buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific known as the Punchbowl in Honolulu while a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including the young Campbell.

Fast forward to June 15, 2015, when the remains were once again unearthed after being directed to by the Deputy Director of Defense and new technology led to Campbell being identified.

Three years later, Campbell now will come home and be laid to rest in the soil where he spent his life as a young boy.

He no longer is one of the 72,810 still unaccounted for from World War II even though his name remains on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl where a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate that he has been accounted for.

No, Seaman Campbell is finally coming home — a hero arriving back in his hometown of Elizabethton to be laid to rest which he left over 77 years ago to defend his country.

Welcome home Seaman Campbell — welcome home!