Staff Sergeant William T. Campbell


Insignia of VMSB-141
Insignia of VMSB-141
William T. Campbell

McKeesport, PA
Mother, Mrs. Elvira Campbell
May 7, 1942
October 8, 1942
Guadalcanal VMSB-141 Dive Bomber Gunner Staff Sergeant MIA
While gunner for SBD-3 03257, shot down while attacking shipping off Guadalcanal
Purple Heart
Staff Sergeant
Missing with aircraft
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Birth and Early Life:
William was the son of George and Elvira Campbell; he was born around the year 1919 and raised in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Little else is known about his life before the war.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Campbell joined the Marines on May 7, 1942. Although he went through boot camp at Parris Island like any other recruit, upon graduation his trajectory abruptly changed. He was promoted up to sergeant, which was almost unheard of – the top 10% of any given platoon earned promotions after boot camp, but those were almost always to Private First Class – and whisked off to radio school at Quantico. (1)

Wartime Service:
Campbell had been at radio school only eight days when, on July 27, he was sent to Aircraft Engineering Squadron 13, and from there joined Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 141. Sergeant Campbell flew as the radioman/gunner in a Douglas Dauntless dive-bomber with Technical Sergeant Joseph D. Cook.

Campbell and Cook arrived at Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field on September 30, 1942. Over the next few days, the replacement pilots and gunners were gradually introduced to combat, Solomon Islands style. The Cactus Air Force was desperately short of planes and parts; every action had to be carefully undertaken, as aircraft were often more valuable than the lives of the men who flew them. Just two days after arriving, Second Lieutenant E. Walton Ayres and PFC Sven E. R. Nelson were shot down on a routine patrol; another replacement pilot, Lt. Hanna, had a close call. The green Bulldog aviators passed a somber night reflecting on the hard lessons learned on October 2.

Campbell and Cook first hit back at the Japanese on October 5, 1942 when they took part in an attack on a group of six enemy destroyers; the group claimed one ship destroyed. Two days later, the crew spotted four enemy ships while flying the dawn patrol, but no planes were available to mount an attack.

Date Of Loss:
(Note: There are conflicting dates of loss for William Campbell. Most sources, including the squadron’s muster roll, have the following events happening on October 8, 1942; this is generally accepted to be correct. However, the war diary for MAG-23, overseeing the Guadalcanal operation, is very specific in claiming October 9.)

Sergeant Campbell was awake well before dawn on October 8, 1942. For once, the early rising and prospect of action didn’t seem so odious – Campbell had just been informed that his promotion to Staff Sergeant had gone through. Admittedly, there weren’t any ladies to impress with the extra stripe and the pay increase, but the promotion did put Campbell into the top echelon of radio/gunners in the squadron. As Joe Cook fired up SBD-3 #03257 and taxied to the runway, Campbell probably envisioned his day centering around celebrating with his friends.

Instead, he found himself fighting for his life. Not long after sunrise, the Cactus attack force spotted their target – a Japanese cruiser, surrounded by a screen of destroyers. A handful of enemy floatplanes were buzzing around, and Campbell tried to get a bead on one as Cook put the bomber into a dive. He felt the jolt as the bomb released, and then a second, much stronger jolt as an antiaircraft round struck their airplane. The SBD lost power and dropped out of formation.

No trace of William Campbell, Joe Cook, or their plane was ever seen again. The Marines were declared dead on February 15, 1945.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Elvira Campbell

Status Of Remains:

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines
(1) This astonishing rate of promotion might be due to a number of factors. The most likely is that Campbell had served a hitch in the Army before enlisting in the Marines, and received his promotion based on previous experience. If not, he may have had an excellent education, or simply been extraordinarily gifted with radios.

Another possibility that arises is that Campbell had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force before the United States entered the war. This was an unusual, but not unheard of, way for Americans wanting to fight Hitler to get into the Allied armed forces. This would explain Campbell’s rating, why he was compelled to attend boot camp anyway, and also the fact that some casualty sources, including his memorial in Manila, list him as Canadian.

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