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Yuman and original Marine Raider marks legendary unit's 70th
Yuman Jim Campbell is among a handful of surviving members of the First Marine Raider Battalion, the legendary World War II fighting force that recently celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Campbell was only 18 when he joined the Marine Raiders. After boot camp, he was at Quantico in Virginia training to be a radio operator when some members of the battalion came to their school asking for volunteers to join the elite unit established by the Marines to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare.
He would go on to fight in six battles, including Guadalcanal, before his war was finally over.
Campbell recently attended an annual reunion that marked the 70th anniversary of First Marine Raider Battalion.
“It was a really big event for the Marine Corps. They sent a lot of brass down there. I have never seen so many Marines in dress uniforms in my life.
“It was a really nice ceremony. It was a full-dress deal, with everyone in tuxedos except a couple of us. It was pretty impressive.”
While it is the bond between these brothers in arms — all now in their late 80s and early 90s — that brings these men together every year, the reunion is about more than reminiscing and sharing the stories and experiences they tell one another year after year.
“All of us Raiders who are still living attended,” said the 88-year-old Campbell. “It's something I will never forget.”
The reunions, held this year in Tampa, Fla., are not only for the Raiders but also for their family members so they can learn about the heroic acts of their husbands, fathers or grandfathers who played a crucial role in the battle against Japan during WWII.
“The Marine Raider Association, which is made up of the sons and daughters of Raiders, were the ones having this thing,” Campbell explained. “Every year they have a get-together, usually alternating from one coast to the other. The Marine Corps made a big thing out of it this year because it's the 70th anniversary.”
The 800-man battalion formed in 1942 was among the first Marine units to take offensive action in the Pacific, at a island named Tulagi, in what was part of the opening phase of the Guadalcanal campaign.
An elite unit established to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare, particularly landing in rubber boats and operating behind enemy lines, the outfit fought in several battles and campaigns before disbanding after its final battle on the island of Bougainville in 1943.
According to the U.S. Marine Raider Association and Foundation's website, the Marine Raiders and Navy Corpsmen of WWII earned seven Medals of Honor, 136 Navy Crosses, 21 Distinguished Service Crosses, 330 Silver Stars, 18 Legions of Merit, six Navy and Marine Corps medals, three soldier medals, 223 Bronze Stars, and 37 Letters of Commendation.
Campbell said the highlight of the reunion, at least for him, came when retire Marine Maj. Gen. Mary Krussa-Dossin, whose father was an original Raider, presented him and the other original living members with a special limited edition of the U.S. Marine Raider stiletto MKII combat knife.
“It's actually not a good fighting knife, so the Marine Corps designed a new knife. They gave the first ones they made to us,” Campbell said. “Mine is on the way back here in the mail somewhere. I couldn't bring on the plane because I didn't take any luggage. I just went carry-on.”
Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, was also supposed to be at the reunion, Campbell said, but due to recent unrest in the Middle East was unable to attend.
Campbell was also recently invited to be guest of honor at VMA-513's Warrior Night in Yuma. The squadron used Warrior Night as a way to celebrate Corps traditions and share in the camaraderie with their fellow Marines.
While at the banquet, Campbell regaled the Flying Nightmares with stories from his time as a Marine.
“After it was over, I guess I spent about an hour shaking hands and posing for pictures.”
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.