Service Number: O-009312
Birth and Early Life:
Kenneth was born September 9, 1917, the oldest son of farmer Oscar Campion and his wife, Albena. He was raised in Grant County, Minnesota; though he did attend some college, he was employed before the war as a janitor’s assistant. When he joined up, he gave his home of record as Fountain City, Wisconsin.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Campion enlisted in 1941 and, after completing aptitude tests, elimination training and months of flight school, was awarded a second lieutenant’s commission and his wings as a Marine dive bomber pilot.
Lt. Campion sailed from San Diego aboard the USS J. Franklin Bell; one of his shipmates, bound for a different station was Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson. The ship departed on May 9 and arrived in Hawaii a few days later; Campion reported to the headquarters of Marine Air Group 22 and was soon on his way to join dive bomber squadron VMSB-241 at Midway.
Campion arrived at Midway on May 26, 1942, and was assigned to a Vought SB2U Vindicator with bureau number 2067. He and his gunner, Private Anthony Maday, had only a few days to get acquainted and learn to work the Vindicator – many of the pilots who joined along with Campion had never flown a Vindicator, and some of their gunners had been recruited from the squadron’s maintenance section. (1)
Date Of Loss:
The squadron’s commanders, Majors Lofton Henderson and Benjamin Norris, decided to split their men into two sections. Henderson would lead the more experienced men in the Dauntlesses, while Norris would take the rest – called “the greenest group ever assembled for combat” – in the Vindicators.
On the morning of June 4, Norris’ section pulled out of their revetments, kicking up a shower of coral dust and roaring down the runway into the air. They formed up and followed the Dauntlesses on a heading towards the Japanese fleet. Ninety minutes later, they were within sight of the enemy ships. Norris, seeing Henderson’s flight shot to pieces over the carriers, dodged his men back into a cloud; when they emerged, the battleship Haruna was below them. Norris banked over into a steep dive; Ken Campion was second in line.
The green pilots dodged through antiaircraft bursts and tried to keep on target while the gunners fired wildly at the enemy fighters. They scored no hits and came out of their dives at extremely low altitudes, scattering as they tried to evade the furious Japanese. Fortunately, Norris had radioed the course home to his pilots, and they made their way back singly and in pairs.
Second Lieutenant George Lumpkin, whose place in the squadron was right behind Campion, described the flight back.
While still on a south-westerly course, Lieutenant Campion joined up on me and I started to turn back for Midway. Just before I turned I sighted a Type 95 Japanese Scout seaplane, possibly from the Battleship, coming at us from our starboard side. We both turned into him and fired a burst into him as he turned back toward the battleship and fleet disposition. Lieutenant Campion turned and followed him. My gunner [PFC George Toms] called me and reported more Jap 00 fighters diving on us. I immediately pulled into the overcast and flew on instruments for approximately 5 minutes…. I did not see Lieutenant Campion again after going into the overcast. (2)
Campion and Maday presumably fell victim to the Zeroes spotted by Toms; neither was ever seen again. Campion was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant Kenneth O. Campion (MCSN: 0-9312), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Second Lieutenant Campion, in the face of withering fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to a perilously low altitude before releasing his bomb. Since he failed to return to his base and is missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the defense of his country. His cool courage and conscientious devotion to duty is in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Kenneth Campion
Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
(1) Most notably Private Henry Starks, whose aerial training before the battle of Midway consisted of three flights in a Vindicator and the most basic familiarization with a machine gun on the ground instead of in the air.
(2) Marine Air Group 21: Report of enemy action, MIDWAY ISLAND. Statement of George T. Lumpkin, Second Lieutenant, USMCR. June 7, 1942.