Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting Celebrity Status

I remember back when a 60th anniversary of anything seemed like a really big deal. That was before my calendar ramped up to its current lofty status. However, I now find that it could make me something of a celebrity.

I got a call last week from an airman with the 119th Command & Control Squadron of the Tennessee Air National Guard at McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base in Knoxville. He said he was looking for former Lieutenant Chester Campbell. I admitted that was me. He said the 119th Squadron planned a 60th Anniversary celebration at the base on August 7. They would be delighted if I could come.

I hadn't heard of the 119th in years and wasn't aware that it still existed. I joined the unit in the fall of 1950, shortly after it was organized.  At that time it was known as the 119th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron, a radar outfit. Radar was just coming into its own as an air defense weapon after its development during World War II. I didn't k now much about radar, except that it had a line that swept around a small screen and picked up blips that could be identified as aircraft.

Since I was a newspaper reporter with a monstrous curiosity, they slotted me into the Intelligence Officer position. When I take on a new subject, I always start with plenty of research, and I quickly found the intelligence field fascinating. Being an insider is always fun, and my "secret" security clearance made me privy to a lot of inside information (it was later upgraded to "top secret").

Another event occurred halfway around the world at about the same time. North Korea sent its troops across the DMZ into South Korea, starting a conflict that hasn't been fully resolved yet. By the following year, the U.S. was fully engaged in the war and reserves were being called up. We knew our time was coming. Not wanted to be caught short, I applied for and was admitted to the Air Force Intelligence School at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. I got back to Knoxville just in time to be called to active duty with the 119th. We were promptly dispatched to Otis AFB on Cape Cod. For me, that didn't last long, as they began picking out officers to send overseas as replacements. I wound  up in the Estimates Division of the Directorate of Intelligence at Hq 5th Air Force in Seoul.

But back to the anniversary. The young airman called a few days later with more information and said so far I was the only original member of the unit they had found. I'm sure there must be more, and hopefully they'll be located before August. But at the moment, it looks like I'm the celebrity.

I get a little antsy when people start thanking me for my service. I didn't fire a gun or drop a bomb, and nobody shot at me. True, I got a nice medal for meritorious service in monitoring enemy air activity and lecturing on it to United Nations personnel visiting the headquarters. But I didn't do anything any other concerned American would have done. I served willingly and would do it again, though I doubt they'd be interested in a gray-haired old guy now. The people I admire are the young men and women who are doing their best in Iraq and Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. They're my heroes.

Still, it'll be interesting to reminisce on the fifties when I get to Knoxville in August.

1 comment:

Jean Henry Mead said...

Fascinating history, Chester. Wish I could be on hand to hear your talk.