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An Aggie Hero's Final Journey

Susan "Sue" Owen '94 March 20, 2017 4:30 PM updated: October 17, 2017 9:01 AM

Photo by Clay Taylor for The Association of Former Students. Click to enlarge.
Photo by Clay Taylor for The Association of Former Students. Click to enlarge.

Media contact: Kathryn Greenwade, Vice President, The Association of Former Students, 979-845-7514 or

Previous story: Remains for Aggie killed in Vietnam identified.

UPDATE, MAY 17: The remains of Col. William Campbell '52, a U.S. Air Force pilot killed in Vietnam, have returned to the mainland U.S. in preparation for his burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Campbell’s remains in a flag-draped casket are covered with a full dress uniform bearing all his medals, which include the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He will be buried Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery along with the remains of his late wife. 

When the plane carrying the remains of Col. Campbell and another fallen American warrior stopped at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Wednesday, en route from Honolulu, it was greeted with a "Shower of Affection" water cannon salute, pictured above. A second such tribute was performed as the plane departed the DFW airport.

The military escort assigned to accompany Col. Campbell's' casketed remains is USAF Lt. Col. Brian Gilpatrick, the son-in-law of Cathy Campbell, Col. Campbell's daughter. Gilpatrick, who is stationed at Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa, flew with his family to Honolulu to escort Col. Campbell to his final rest.

From left: military escorts Lt. Col. Brian Gilpatrick and Sgt. 1st Class Quedo Stockling, and Brenda Jung of the American Airlines Honor Guard. At rear are Gilpatrick's wife and daughter, and additional members of the honor guard. Photo by Clay Taylor for The Association of Former Students.

Cathy Campbell, the eldest of the colonel's four children, said it is a privilege to have her father's remains returned after almost half a century and to experience the tributes given in his honor.

"Not a lot of families are getting that opportunity, so it is a sacred honor that we are being given," she said. "I do believe that my parents are in heaven together, and what a huge blessing for their remains to be placed in physical proximity to each other. It’s one of those comforting rituals surrounding death in our society that we just didn’t get, and now we are being given it."

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the plane was met with another Shower of Affection water jet tribute. As a POW/MIA flag and a U.S. Air Force flag flew from poles erected nearby, 34 of Campbell’s family and friends assembled at Gate 25 and were escorted down to the tarmac. A nine-member USAF honor guard from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling carried the casket to the waiting hearse, then saluted Col. Campbell in silence.


Among those attending the arrival were Col. Campbell's lifelong best friend, Col. Ralph Dresser ’52; Campbell's cousin, Tom Campbell '55; and the children of Col. Campbell and his wife, Claretta, who was known as Boo. She passed away in 1995, and her remains will be interred with her husband's Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dresser and Campbell were lifelong friends; they met in junior high school in San Antonio and went through Texas A&M and pilot training together, and Campbell was the best man at Dresser’s wedding. Both flew missions along the Ho Chi Minh trail, where Campbell was shot down.

Tuesday, May 16, would have been Col. Campbell’s 86th birthday. At a gathering of friends and family that evening at a Washington hotel, Dresser (standing at left in the photo below) offered a toast to his friend:

"I’ve been asked to provide a little toast this evening. You know, it’s a rare honor in one’s life when they are asked to memorialize great people. And I use the term great in the specific sense.

"Now, Bill, William, Billy Ed Campbell, Texas Aggie 1952, was a great man. He was a great husband. He was a great father. He was a great officer. He was a great pilot. He was a great Aggie. And he lived the creed of A&M: Duty. Honor. Country. He espoused that everywhere he went.

"As far as I’m concerned, he was a truly great friend for over 70 years. Over 70 years he has been my best friend.

"You know, today with this event, we’re able to remember him on what would have been his 86th birthday. And I think that’s more than just a coincidence, as far as I’m concerned.

"And so if you will permit me, I will find my glass here, and I will say: I raise my glass in a toast to Col. William Edward ‘Billy Ed’ Campbell. Hear, hear."

The Association of Former Students will have staff present to represent the worldwide Aggie Network at Col. Campbell's funeral. We are also documenting his final journey in photos and on film. Watch for updates here and on the Aggie Network social media. 

In 2010, the remains of another Aggie lost during the Vietnam War, Capt. Clyde Campbell ’66, were identified; he was interred at Arlington in 2012 in a private burial. Five more Aggies killed in Vietnam and Laos have been identified and returned since 2000. 

Based on reports, 11 Aggies from the Vietnam War have not yet been found: Lt. Col. Walter S. Van Cleave ’48; Maj. William O. Fuller ’57; Lt. Cmdr. Robert D. Johnson ’58; Capt. Dennis L. Graham ’63; Lt. Henry G. Mundt II ’64; Capt. Murray L. Wortham ’65; Col. Robert F. Wilke ’65; Lt. Neal C. Ward ’67; Lt. John R. Baldridge Jr. ’68; Capt. Ronald W. Forrester ’69.

PREVIOUS STORY BELOW (from March 20, 2017):

Remains Of Aggie Killed In Vietnam Identified After 48 Years

The remains of an Aggie Air Force pilot have been recovered and positively identified, 48 years after he was shot down during the Vietnam War.

Col. William “Bill” Campbell ’52 will be interred in May at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife.

His family learned just before Christmas that the military had identified remains found in 2014 through the use of mitochondrial DNA testing.

Christmas 1968 was their last together as a family with him. A month later, Campbell’s plane was shot down over Laos. It would be a decade before he was classified “killed in action - body not recovered.”

In 1991, anonymous Thai citizens turned his Aggie Ring over to a Department of Defense POW/MIA team in Bangkok.

His widow, Claretta “Boo” Campbell, wore it until her death in 1995.

She had expressed her wish that the Ring be donated to Texas A&M, and during a special ceremony at the Clayton W. Williams, Jr., Alumni Center in 2002, the Campbells’ four children and eight grandchildren did just that. The Ring remains displayed by The Association of Former Students.

Daughter Cathy Campbell said, “It’s been 15 years since we brought the Ring to Texas A&M, and I had always hoped that eventually we would get some remains… I knew that there was a really good chance that would never happen for our family in my lifetime.”

She said many families are still seeking closure, and her father’s bombardier/navigator is still unaccounted for.

“My hope is eventually they will get some positively identified remains as well, but for them it hasn’t happened yet.”

Left: Campbell in Ubon, Thailand in October 1968. Right: Claretta Campbell turns her husband's Aggie Ring at Ring Dance 1952.

“Texas Aggies Go To War,” published in 2006, listed 20 Aggies including Campbell as missing in action in Laos or Vietnam.

Campbell’s casket will be escorted from Honolulu to Dallas and on to Washington, D.C., by his daughter's son-in-law who is also an Air Force pilot and has long worn an MIA bracelet with Campbell’s name on it. On the tarmac for the arrival in D.C. will be friends and family including high school and A&M Classmate Col. Ralph Dresser ’52.

Campbell’s remains in the casket are to be covered with a full dress uniform bearing all his medals, which include the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He will be buried, and Claretta Campbell’s urn reburied with him, May 18 at Arlington.


Below: Texas A&M former students* listed as missing in action in Laos and Vietnam in "Texas Aggies Go To War" (2006), by Henry C. Dethloff with John A. Adams, Jr., '73:


* Update: Lt. Donald J. Matocha's Class year is 1967 (though he graduated early).

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