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Aggie Hero Buried At Arlington National Cemetery

Scot Walker '90 May 18, 2017 8:43 AM updated: May 26, 2017 3:05 PM

Photo by Randy Reyes '01. Click to enlarge.
Photo by Randy Reyes '01. Click to enlarge.

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

* Remains of Aggie killed in Vietnam identified after 48 years.
Remains of Col. William Campbell '52 returned to mainland U.S. 

By Sue Owen '94

ARLINGTON, VA. (MAY 18) — “You speak of Mother’s and my love for one another. That is something that has really grown over the years, and is the most important thing in the world to me. To have and return someone else’s complete love is the most wonderful thing anyone can ever hope to experience.”

Col. Bill Campbell ’52 wrote those words about his wife, Claretta “Boo” Campbell, in a letter to his daughter Cathy in October 1968, a few months before he was shot down in the Vietnam War.

Cathy read her father’s words Thursday morning at his funeral service in the Old Post Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Then, Bill Campbell was laid to rest. Later today, his wife’s urn will be brought to join him. A single stone will bear both their names. 

For more than 48 years, the Campbell family had no confirmation that their father had been killed. Boo Campbell held out hope as Americans who had been prisoners of war returned in the 1970s. In 1978, Bill was officially declared killed in action. Their son Dale believes she died early, in 1995, of a broken heart: “She had lost her most important person in the world.”

They met in high school in Caney, Kansas, and were married while Bill was still a junior at Texas A&M. Boo turned her husband’s Aggie Ring out to face the world at Ring Dance 1952, and soon after he embarked on his Air Force career. 

Above his funeral on Thursday, F-16 jets performed a missing man formation in his honor. Primarily a heavy-aircraft pilot in the first part of his career, Bill volunteered to go to Vietnam flying the F-4 fighter-bomber, said his lifelong best friend, Col. Ralph Dresser ’52. The two met in junior high in San Antonio, went to Texas A&M and pilot training together, served as instructor pilots together and later both flew missions along the Ho Chi Minh trail. 

“He was an above-average pilot, he was an above-average officer, he was an above-average father, husband, all of those things,” Dresser said. “And he was just a genuinely great guy.” 

When the Air Force notified Boo in January 1969 that Bill’s plane had been shot down, she called Dresser, and he drove all night from Mississippi to Kansas to be with the family. Cathy had just turned 17, her sister Cindy was 16; brothers Dale and Bill were 13 and 11. 

All four of Bill and Boo’s children, with grandchildren, cousins and friends including Dresser, came to Washington, D.C., this week for the arrival of the casket with his remains, which were identified late last year. 

Upon her passing more than two decades ago, Boo had been cremated and inurned at Arlington. Today, her urn will be laid in the grave with Bill’s casket. Later in the day, privately, the family will return to the gravesite and lay flowers: yellow roses for Texas, for Bill, and sunflowers, representing Kansas, for Boo. 

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Photo by Randy Reyes '01

At the chapel service, Cathy Campbell read from letters her father sent her while he was stationed in Thailand, showing his humor, caring and love. Then she read a letter she wrote to him this month, telling him the family was fine, and his children had not been alone; that he was now a grandfather and a great-grandfather; and that he was about to be laid to rest at Arlington: "Your beloved Boo waits for you."

She also spoke of his patriotism, and told those in attendance that his Aggie Ring was on permanent display at Texas A&M: "We were embraced and folded into the Aggie family."

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Campbell’s remains are in a flag-draped casket and covered with a full dress uniform bearing all his medals, which include the Silver Star and Purple Heart. (A full list of his decorations is here.)

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Col. Campbell's casket was secured on a caisson for transportation to the gravesite.

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Photo by Randy Reyes '01

Photo by Sue Owen '94

A band played and F-16s roared overhead in a missing man formation for Col. Campbell as he was carried to the gravesite after the mile-and-a-half journey down to Section 60 from the chapel. Section 60 is currently the most active area of the cemetery, with burials of service members mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

Photo by Sue Owen '94

The firing party fired three times, then a bugler played taps. 

Photo by Randy Reyes '01

Flags were presented to each of the siblings, and a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as the Air Force casket bearers paced away.

The band ensemble and caisson were part of full military honors, for which Campbell qualified partly because of his rank and his status as killed in action.

Among the other Aggies in attendance for today's funeral were Campbell's cousin, Tom Campbell '55; U.S. Rep. Bill Flores '76; and George N. Harris, Jr. '85, a member of The Association of Former Students' Board of Directors.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bobby Sproat '98, who works at the Pentagon, attended because he saw a notification about the funeral on the National Capital A&M Club's Facebook page, and he had a great uncle who is a member of the Class of 1952.

Five Aggies who were at the Pentagon for a Department of Defense showcase saw an Association post about Col. Campbell and were granted permission to miss their scheduled presentation time to attend his funeral. Four of them graduated from Texas A&M just last week and were commissioned as USAF second lieutenants: Jessica Carranza-Knowles ’17Alec Thrower ’16Nicholas P. Warner ’16, and Sean Whitney ’16. With them was Glen Colby ’17, a fifth-year senior and Air Force ROTC cadet at A&M.

"The Aggie Network is a real thing, and it is important that we show up for each other," Colby said. "I saw a lot of Aggie Rings there."

Also present was Ernest Woodzelle of Odenton, Md., who wore a POW/MIA bracelet with Campbell's name on it for almost 50 years.

Staff of The Association of Former Students were present to represent the worldwide Aggie Network and to document Col. Campbell's final journey in photos and on film.

Photo by Sue Owen '94

Col. Campbell's name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as "the Vietnam Wall." Two lines below is the name of his navigator, Robert E. Holton, who was lost in the same crash in 1969 and whose remains have not not been recovered.



William Campbell served in the U.S. Air Force from Aug. 4, 1952, to June 8, 1978. He received the following awards and decorations:

  • Silver Star
  • Air Medal with two Silver Oak Leaf Clusters and one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Air Force Commendation Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor and one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
  • Combat Readiness Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star
  • Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars
  • Air Force Longevity Service Award with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
  • Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
  • Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
  • Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • Purple Heart

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