Lewis “Lew” Campbell of Mesa, Ariz., former Youngstown labor leader and World War II Normandy Invasion veteran, honored the 70th anniversary of D-Day by singing the national anthem at an Arizona Diamondbacks game June 6.
Campbell, who celebrated his 95th birthday Wednesday, did a lot of singing in bars in Youngstown, Hubbard and Masury before he was drafted into the Army.
“But then we began having children and my wife said, ‘Stay home,’” he said, laughing.
Campbell, who auditioned for the honor of singing at the Diamondbacks’ game in Phoenix, said it was a thrill. “I’d never sung in front of 20,000 people before.”
The first day of the Allied invasion at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, began the liberation of France and Western Europe from German occupation.
Campbell, born and reared on Youngstown’s East Side, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day plus 3 (days) as a member of the Army’s 2nd Armored Division, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion, led by Gen. George S. Patton.
“My vehicle was an M3 armored scout car, which was held off from the beach. There were at least five days of a lot of activity on the beach,” he said.
Before the Normandy Invasion, Campbell and the 2nd participated in the invasion of North Africa in 1942, landing near Casablanca, and the liberation of Sicily in 1943, landing at Gela on the country’s southern coast.
After the Battle of Normandy, he fought through France and helped to liberate Holland and Belgium.
“We were within 40 miles of Berlin when we were stopped and let the Russians go in first,” he said with disgust during a telephone interview from his home in Arizona.
Campbell attempted to enlist in the Navy in January 1941.
It was discovered, however, that, unbeknownst to him, Campbell was an assumed name his grandfather had adopted. Because Campbell was not his real surname, he was rejected.
He said he was told if he wanted to enlist in the Navy, he needed to return to Youngstown and change his name to Masi (the real Italian name is Mascio).
But while here starting the name-change process, he received a draft notice in February 1941 and found himself in the Army.
“By the time I received a letter from my attorney notifying me my name change was legal, I had been in Africa six months,” he said.
At that point, he decided to keep Campbell as his last name.
“I saw a lot of combat, but the only wound I got was some shrapnel during a German artillery bombardment at the Battle of the Bulge. I figured it was too small to report,” he said.
At the Battle of the Bulge, the biggest problem was the extremely cold weather, he said.
“When the Germans broke through, they came very close to getting our fuel and ammunition stored in Belgium,” he recalled. “But we were able to stop them, and that same day pushed them back 10 miles.”
It was after the battle and holding the line when Campbell experienced a little touch of home: He ran into his brother, Frank, who was a medic in another Army unit.
“There he was. It really floored me. We sat around and had coffee at 3 a.m. It was his first experience in combat. He wanted to talk about how to stay alive,” Campbell said.
His other brothers, Howard and James, served in the Army’s 8th Air Force and the 79th Infantry Division, respectively. James, of Austintown, also served in the Korean War.
Lew Campbell was a sergeant when he was discharged June 30, 1945.
Campbell, nearly 22 when he was drafted, had worked at Carnegie Steel in Youngstown before the war and went back to the mill after his discharge “until I decided what I wanted to do.”
He wound up working for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for some 33 years.
“I organized city employees in Youngstown and represented employees in Warren and Niles and from Ashtabula to Martins Ferry,” Campbell said.
He became director of Northeast Ohio AFSCME Council and was recognized in Youngstown, and in the Ohio House and Senate for his union activities.
After his retirement Dec. 15, 1984, he moved to Arizona, where his children live.
“We intended to visit our son and cool off from the union business. We were snowbirds for about three years, and then bought a mobile home in Mesa,” he said.
He and his wife of 64 years, Rose Marie Perry, who died in May 2010, have four children: Robert, Larry and Paul and Barbara Lynn Smith, all of Arizona; five grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Campbell said his memories of Youngstown are good.
“We played a lot of softball and baseball, and I managed a street department softball team,” he said.
But, he said he was saddened a couple of years ago when he returned to the Valley and drove through Youngstown. “It’s just terrible,” he said.
A Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HonoringLewCampbell, was created to honor him and also to invite friends and family to send him a birthday greeting.
Also, there are video interviews by FOX 10 Phoenix from when Campbell auditioned and performed, the Official Major League Baseball video of his national anthem performance, and a video discussion of his work in Youngstown, all at http://atmlb.com/1pxXNrD.