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Interview with Andrew "Sonny" Campbell [10/27/2004]

Perry Finkelstein:

Today is Wednesday, October 27. The year is 2004. My name is Perry Finkelstein of World Harmony, Unlimited. And this interview with veteran Sonny Campbell is being conducted in Nesconset, New York in association with the Northport Veteran's Administration for archive in the Library of Congress. Welcome, Sonny.

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Thank you very much.

Perry Finkelstein:

If you would please just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your cultural background.

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Surely. My name is Sonny Campbell. I'm known as Sonny Three Mountains Campbell, mostly because of the association between my native heritage, which are the Three Mountain people, Sonomaha (ph), so I have been given the name Three Mountains as sort of an identity thing. I have been Sonny since I was a little bitty boy. I'll be 75 next month, so it's been a long time with Sonny. My father is Caucasian. My father was Czechoslovakian background. His parents were born in Czechoslovakia. He was born here. My mother is Mohave, of course born here. Mixed cultures. I think that it adds something to my life to have -- reach into both cultures, and I have found interest in both.

Perry Finkelstein:

Okay. Which war and what rank did you serve in?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I received a rank of -- a temporary rank of master sergeant field commission. I was actually a staff sergeant but battlefield master in the Korean War. I was there from '50 through '51, into '51 in combat.

Perry Finkelstein:

Did you enlist in the war?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I enlisted. I wanted to go into the Air Force but had a heart murmur. They detecteda heart murmur, and they said no. At that time -- there was no war at that time, and it was a matter of being choosy, so I took the Army as the next choice, and they took me gladly. You know what they say about kind and fodder.

Perry Finkelstein:

Where were you living at the time?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I was living in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, New York. I had come east to do an educational thing. I had gone to school, Industrial Arts of New York City and became disenchanted with the whole scene and went into the service.

Perry Finkelstein:

Where was it that you did serve?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Well, I served both in country, and went to Fort Dix for my basic training, and then went to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. At first I was in the Army security agency. Went from that to Korea into combat unit, and after the stint in Korea I came back and went to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and then was discharged from there.

Perry Finkelstein:

And what was your impetus for joining? What was your thinking?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I just needed something to do. I needed some direction. I was not happy with my schooling at the time. Interesting little thing. I had competed in a contest at the schools. It was an art school. I had sculpted a piece and won the prize as the best piece in the school at that time, and I failed the class because it was a modeling class. I didn't model it. I sculpted it. I took the clay and hardened it off and sculpted it from that, so I failed the class because I didn't follow procedure, and of course they were right. Being young and being, I don't know, just foolish, I said that's enough of that. I don't need people telling me how to do things like that, and I went off on my own and paid for it ever since. I have a total of a year and a half of high school is my formal education. That's it, because of my foolishness. I would advise other people to pursue their education. It comes in very, very handy.

Perry Finkelstein:

I think art is more of a --

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Impulse.

Perry Finkelstein:

Some might say objective. Others obviously might say subjective. Did you find your artistic expression helped you at all?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

In life?

Perry Finkelstein:

Either in life or during your service.

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

During my service, no. It had nothing whatsoever to do. They didn't know anything about my abilities as far as drawing or sculpting. I'm a silversmith. I make all the pieces I wear. But they had no conception of my ability and could care less. It wasn't what I was there for. I was there to -- as a combat participant, and that's what I did.

Perry Finkelstein:

What did it feel like for you at the time to be in the service, do you recall?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

At what point are you referring to?

Perry Finkelstein:

Even from the time that you enlisted if you have any early memories of what it was like to actually --

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

In the beginning I kind of rebelled against the structure. It's very structured, of course, and I was once again a free spirit, and because of -- maybe because of my heritage and the knowledge of my heritage, knowing about my heritage and some of the negativity that happens when you are cross cultured like that, might have added to my rebellious spirit. I don't know. But I was a rebellious recruit. I was. I paid the penalties for it. I was a very strong young man. I had that heart murmur that they found, but physically I was very powerful. My drill instructor wanted me to go airborne, because he had been airborne. He would fall me out, fall everybody out and he'd say take your M1s -- we used M1 rifles -- and hold it out in front of you like this (indicating) with one arm. I would take mine and take the guy next to me and grab them by the muzzle and hold them straight out this way (indicating). He would get mad, but at the same time he was you are going in the Air Force. I didn't. But I was physically very strong and very rebellious and got myself in trouble now and then, yeah.

Perry Finkelstein:

Do you recall other Native American Indians being in the service with you?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Not in the same -- well, when I went to Carlisle Barracks there were quite a few Indian people. It was a matter of using the language for code and things of that nature, but the big problem was they had people of all different groups, and the languages were all different, and many of us didn't know that much of the language ourselves, so that was a failed experiment, and it was different with the code talkers. They spoke a common language. They were all related and could do it. We couldn't. We couldn't. It was a failed experiment.

Perry Finkelstein:

So other than being a code talker do you think being of Indian background do you think that helped or hindered or had any effect at all on your time in the service?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

The only way I could see it hindering was my mind or any other native's perception of themselves and their surroundings and the people around them and the people's attitude. You have a tendency to become defensive, isolationist kind of thing, which does nothing but breed negativity, and it snowballs, so any problems I had I contribute a lot to my own conception of things.

Perry Finkelstein:

Do you have any memories about your time in boot camp training you would like to share?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

It was pretty mundane. As I said, I did rebel a little. I peeled a lot of potatoes. I did a lot of jogging. A lot of push ups, a lot of push ups, but otherwise it was pretty mundane.

Perry Finkelstein:

Anything about any of the instructors that you recall?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Nothing outstanding except that one corporal, and I don't remember his name, that wanted me to be airborne, and that was it. Nothing at this stage of my life I can remember anyway.

Perry Finkelstein:

So as far as getting through it would you say your rebellious attitude helped you get through it, or what would you say helped you get through the whole experience?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Rebellious attitude caused a problem, because I went AWOL for a while, and that cost me dearly. It cost me respect even with myself. Young people go out and they drink and they get themselves in trouble, and I did. I paid up in lost time. That's what it cost me. It didn't cost me anything on my discharge or anything else. It is just a matter of personal loss and attitude loss, you know. That's it.

Perry Finkelstein:

Lessons or maybe regrets?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I regret that I did it. Every regret is a lesson. The fact that I quit school so early is a regret, and it's also a lesson. I have learned a lot, but I had to learn it the hard way. I didn't have the advantage of having somebody else's experiences to fall back on and to be taught. I had to experience it myself. As such, you experience things two or three times before you get it right, you know, and sometimes you really stub your toe or bark your shin doing it, so this is where I have come through.

Perry Finkelstein:

Do you recall when you actually were -- when you arrived and you were doing your service do you remember any of those early days of your job assignments or what that might have been like?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

You mean in boot camp? There is no job assignments except for, you know, you probably --

Perry Finkelstein:

Actually when you were serving. When you were actually serving, what your duties were and your assignments would be.

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

When I first went over to Korea when I got to my assignment company they were looking for machine gunners, and I volunteered as a machine gunner, which got me the rank of corporal almost immediately. Then I went through various stages. I did flame thrower. I volunteered for that. Platoon sergeant, acting company sergeant, things of this nature. Just pretty much there is a job to do, and you do it, and somebody has to do it, you know. The more you have to do I find in combat, the more involved and the more decisions are laid on your shoulders the better you can function. To be there and not know what to do, not being able to make a decision because of what the ramification might be seems to be harder to me than to make the decision and live with it. So that helped me to be in one of the areas of command.

Perry Finkelstein:

Did you see combat at all?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Oh, yeah. The whole time I was in Korea I was in the combat unit, second division, yeah.

Perry Finkelstein:

Can you speak about any casualties you may have been witness to?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

So many. So many among us. So many among the enemy it becomes almost everyday. You see your friends, and of course seeing your friends dead changes things dramatically. They don't look the same. A dead body does not look like that person preceding it in life. It takes you a while to realize that this is that person. This person is gone. You have lost this person, and the time -- by the time grief sets in, truly sets in you are involved in something else and you haven't got time to grieve. That's one of the hard things I find about combat issues. Not only the strain on yourself from the combat itself, but the strain of the aftermath when you see the destruction and you live with that and wonder why not me.

Perry Finkelstein:

Yourself, did you suffer any injuries?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Yeah. I was badly wounded both legs, machine gun, and then I wondered why me, not him. No. No. Not really.

Perry Finkelstein:

Were you a prisoner of war?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No. No. I run too fast for that.

Perry Finkelstein:

Are there any particular experiences that you would like to share?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I thought -- just remarking once again in a combat situation, I thought that our troops acted quite well. Once they became somewhat seasoned I found them to be good combat people. When you first go into combat you don't know what to do. You really don't, and you are not a good soldier. Once you have been in combat for a while you learn the ropes, and you are a pretty good soldier. You take care of yourself. If you don't get hurt in that period of time, become rather lackadaisical and careless, you think nothing can happen to you, and you are not a good soldier then. That's when you get hurt, and your getting hurt on line takes four more people to get you out of there, so you are depleting the whole force, you know, so it's a learning process.

Perry Finkelstein:

You mentioned your physical abilities and strength. How do you mentally prepare yourself to go into combat knowing that you may and quite possibly have to take another's life?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

When you are young -- I remember I was on board. We went over by boat, and we just couldn't wait to get there. We were going to kick some butt, and then you experience the real thing, and it's a rude awakening. It's a frightening, rude awakening. I found that I was more afraid of being considered a coward than of dying; therefore, you did what you had to do rather than be looked at negatively. This is in the beginning. As you go along you understand combat a little better, and you understand how you can protect yourself, how you can get the job done, what needs to be done, but in the beginning you have to psych yourself for it. It's a psychological psych -- self psych.

Perry Finkelstein:

Would you say that you disassociate yourself from the humanity of it?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Oh, yeah, definitely. You can't look at it as if it's an every day mundane occurrence. It's unique. It's almost game like. Your enemy have to become monsters in your mind to be destroyed, which takes away the human quotient. They have to be either monsters or something less than you. Psychologically you have to make them something less than you like a bug or a snail or something, you know. This then equates to something that you can destroy without destroying humanity. It's true.

Perry Finkelstein:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No. I got the purple heart, and that was it. The combat badge is in the ribbons for the unit, citations of that nature. Nothing maritus (ph) for bravery or anything. I was not an exceptional soldier. Just got the job done.

Perry Finkelstein:

And your family back home, how did you stay in touch with them?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Sporadically by mail. Not a great deal. I was, once again, a free spirit.

Perry Finkelstein:

Did you feel you had support from your family, though?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I don't know. I can't answer that. Not that I don't want to. I just can't. I don't think they disliked me. I just think they said go do what you got to do.

Perry Finkelstein:

What about on a larger scale, do you feel like you had support from the people you were fighting for at home from your country?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Didn't think about that either. I was saving my tail and my buddies, whoever they may be, around me. I wasn't looking at a grand picture of right and wrong, good and evil. That wasn't part of the quotient. After it's over and you march and carry the flags and all, yeah, but during the time, no.

Perry Finkelstein:

On a lighter note, what was the food like?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Surprisingly good. We used to have the Korean civilians who would backpack hot meals in these big thermos units up to the line. Of course all of the lines were in the mountains. They would have to come up the mountain trails with these backpacks and serve us hot food. They would do it wherever they could get to us whenever they could, which was great. At least two or three times a week you would have a hot meal, and you would have sea rations from World War II when we first went over. When we first went over the supplies were terrible. We weren't prepared for a winter like that. It was a record cold winter, 22 below zero, and we had summer gear. The foods that we had in the beginning were sea rations from World War II, and they used to give you little packets of cigarettes, and there was three in a packet, three or four. Three I think, and you would light them, and they were so dried out you would light them and go (indicating), and they were gone. Over there we all smoked. Everybody smoked. I can remember wondering how corn beef hash in a can could freeze so hard. I never realized how much liquid is in corn beef hash. You pull it out of the can it seems to be dry. There was enough liquid in there to really freeze, and you would stand there with your knife and break off pieces and suck on it to defrost it because you couldn't build fires. You are on the firing line. You couldn't build fires up on the front line, so a lot of those kind of memories you have.

Perry Finkelstein:

So not having the right gear with that kind of cold how did you get through it?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I know myself and a couple of the other fellas sometime during the night we would take off our boots and walk barefooted in the snow and wipe that dry and put our boots back on again. We had summer socks and boots, and for gloves we had the leather outer liners without the insert, which was woolen, and things to that nature. It was summer gear. They weren't prepared for it. Supplies weren't there. That was the first winter. The second winter that I went into I went over in November and had that first winter. The second winter we were much better prepared. We had the sleeping bags, the winter gear, the snow packs. It was a whole different ballgame then. The first one was really rough. We lost a lot of frost bite people, a lot of them.

Perry Finkelstein:

I may have asked you this. What was your total time serving? How long were you --

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Three years. Three years and 20 -- not quite -- I think 18 days I had to make up, something like that.

Perry Finkelstein:

How about the pressures of stress during this time? Were you cognizant of stress?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I didn't know what it probably was, and thinking back about it in retrospect yes, it was. It was stress. Every day there was stress. Being native there are support groups for a lot of native people. People like the Navajo had various ceremonies to get you back on the right road again, shall we say. You look for healing ceremonies. I had -- the Army doesn't allow for this. Has no allowances for it. As far as the Army is concerned when you are under stress, when you are under duress, whether it be from battle fatigue or whatever, is to cure you enough to go back into combat. Not to cure you enough to bring you back into a stable relationship with humanity or with yourself. It's just a matter of get them well enough to go back. Physically or mentally.

Perry Finkelstein:

Do you feel like luck played any part in this? Did you have any kind of good luck charm?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Oh, I had my medicine bag. I always carried a medicine bag. Wouldn't be without it. Won't even drive a car without it. Whether if be superstition or what, I don't care. It works for me. It's a good luck charm.

Perry Finkelstein:

And for those who may not know what a medicine bag is, can you elaborate about what it would be?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Sure. There it is (indicating). It contains various things. If you went way back in time to the time before the arrival of the Caucasian race the medicine bag many times would contain things like your umbilical cord. When you were born it would be placed in a pouch, and you would carry it, and various things that were important to you during your life. Things that signified something. Just recently I consecrated a medicine wheel at the VA, and some of the pebbles that were present I told everybody to take a pebble and keep it and be part of this ceremony and reminder of the ceremony, and one of those pebbles is in my medicine bag now along with many other things from different occasions. It's a memento keeper.

Perry Finkelstein:

Great. Do you recall how folks entertained themselves?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Well, it was ironic. We drank a lot. Used to buy booze from black market that would bring it over there and cost you $75 for a bottle of Canadian Club. Cost you a dollar for the Korean stuff, but that could make you crazy, and it did make me crazy one time. You do little things like make yourself some dessert from your sea rations. You had a can of crackers, and you had another can that contained like coffee and looked almost like an oreo, but it's all vanilla, a couple of those crackers, and you would have your can of fruit. I like the pineapple. You take one of those cream filled crackers and put it in the bottom of the can. It fits nice. Put it in the can. Put a little pineapple on, a regular cracker on, another cracker, and you layer it with pineapple and so forth and top it off with one of the other cookies and you put it on the fire and let it get hot, and you would eat that, and that was your pie and that was your dessert, and boy that was good. These are the things you would look forward to. We were in Operation Killer, which was a pincer movement, and the chow had not caught up with us for a couple of days. We hadn't gotten our rations, and we took a position. It was alongside a road with a little rising bluff. Just the right height for a deuce-and-a-half-ton truck to pass over him. The top would be right there, and they were starting to bring in rations up ahead of us, so we sent one guy down to stop the driver and talk to him, and one of us jumped in the truck and we threw a box of rations off. Oh, boy. You know, and we got them over to where we had our bunker and cut it open and they were five and one cans of peanut butter. That's what it was, just peanut butter, the big five and one cans, and we pried them open and took our mess spoons and we were just eating peanut butter out of the can until we were full. Well, you might think that would have a tendency to bind your system up. No. No. No. It was pretty ugly there for a while. That was the way we -- we just kind of entertained ourselves.

Perry Finkelstein:

That is entertaining.

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

That's entertaining.

Perry Finkelstein:

How about when you were on leave, any stories that you would like to relate?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No. We won't go there.

Perry Finkelstein:

Okay. Say no more. I think you may have touched upon this already. Any place that you traveled while you were in the service?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

The only foreign ports were the orient and the states. That's it.

Perry Finkelstein:

This may get back to when you were on leave. Are there any pranks that you would do to each other?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

There was always little pranks, little things, especially not so much on line, but when you would pull back into a reserve area, you know, where you could get a shower once a month or something like that, then you would pull little pranks on people, but I couldn't stop and think of any offhand, but it was constantly going on. It was a morale booster.

Perry Finkelstein:

Did you keep any kind of personal diary or a journal?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No, not of my life or anything, which is odd because in later life I had a lot of things that would involve scrap books and so forth. I didn't keep any. A lot of my friends did. My wife has some forms of scrap books of my past, but I kept nothing myself. It hadn't been for them she would have nothing in that regard. I just never kept that kind of thing.

Perry Finkelstein:

So I guess it's all in your head. If you -- when you think back about your time in the service what kind of memories would you say?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I liked the service once I became acclimated to it. I probably would have stayed if I had not been so badly wounded. I'm 60 percent disabled. I might have stayed in and made a career of it. I might not. I don't know. I liked it enough to do that.

Perry Finkelstein:

Do you recall when you were discharged where you were, how you felt?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

It's sort of like being fired from a job. You are at a loss for a while. It's a whole different thing. You feel good in one respect you are free. You don't have that obligation, but you don't have the security either, so it's -- for a while it's a lost cause. They had the 52-50 I think it was called then. You got $50 a month for 52 weeks, $50 a week. I don't remember, which was unemployment money, you know, which I don't know if it was good or bad. It let you be idle for a long period of time. It didn't force your hand. I didn't live with it for long. I went out and did things, but I don't think it's good to be too idle.

Perry Finkelstein:

So what did you do when you got back for work? What kind of life did you step back into?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

So many things. In my life I have dug graves by hand. I drove tractor trailer. These were only intermediate things. I worked in a furniture factory. I was a musician and traveled around various parts of the world playing music. Recorded for some labels. Radio personality. I used to do a lot of morning shows as an announcer. Did a lot of TV work as a voice over. Not so much visuals, but I did a lot of voice overs and commercials, program announcements and promos, things of this nature. Pretty diversified and silversmith in between. Artist, painter, sculpter. I liked that.

Perry Finkelstein:

Wonderful. I don't know if this is part of the 52-50. Were you sported by the GI bill afterwards?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No. There were facets of the GI Bill that I was ineligible for, which would be education, which I did not do. Buying a home, which I did not do. I didn't use any of the military percs at all. Don't ask me why. I haven't got an answer for you.

Perry Finkelstein:

I certainly won't. How about friendships that you may have made during the service. Anyone that you keep in touch with or any reunions or anything?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No. I don't go to any reunions. I didn't make that many fast friends in the service. I found that when you did and you lost it it hurt more, so I didn't. I haven't been in touch with anybody from my outfit in probably 30 years. I don't know who is still alive, who isn't.

Perry Finkelstein:

So no veteran's associations?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I belong to the DAV. I belong to the American Legion, just the state. I don't belong to a local American Legion. I belong to the Iroquois Indian Veteran's Association. The DAV I was active with it for a while, but no longer.

Perry Finkelstein:

Did the military experience that you had influence your thinking about war or about military in general?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Well, I know there is a need for the military. You have to be able to protect yourself. You can't do it without being on a par with whoever your enemy may be. War in itself I think should be a very, very last resort, and even beyond it. I don't know of anybody that gains anything by war. There is so much about war and governments that we'll never know as individuals, as cannon fodder. What do you trust? What are you told? Why are you there? I have yet to see a good, solid, just war.

Perry Finkelstein:

So the whole experience from boot camp to seeing combat how would you say that affected your life?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

I think it made me think more about things. It made me evaluate things more, not take things so much for granted. In the service you do. You must. You are trained to. You are trained to react immediately to whatever situation is according to the rules of the game. Afterwards when you can reflect on it you get a little older and you start realizing that things have to be thought out, things have to be evaluated. You can't just blindly do things. I think the military having made me sort of an automantation (ph) made me think later also, so it's the end result sits before you.

Perry Finkelstein:

It's a beautiful result I must say. Your activity and association with like the Northport Veteran's Association is there anything that you would like to speak to about that?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Yeah. I find the VA hospital to be actually very, very good. I think they do as well as they possibly can do with the volume of people they have and the wherewithal they have to do it with. There is an organization there, a committee that I advise as an elder. I'm not on the committee, but I advise the committee, and it's the American Indian Special Emphasis and Employment Program, which is a program at the hospital through their social services that tries to recruit Indian people for employment. It has a lot of side benefits also aside from the employment building up a rapport between Indians and non-Indians. Through that committee we're able to build a medicine wheel, which is a religious aspect. They had the Catholics and the Protestants and the Jewish chaplains and services there. Now there is a medicine wheel where Indian people can go and contemplate, and we have our little services there, so it's something else the committee was responsible for, so there is a lot of good to be done and a lot more to be done. I'm also involved in the national and native American Indian Health Council, which we're initiating. It's a corporation that will be a non-profit corporation, and it will advocate for Indian people. It's not a Congressional lobbying outfit. We're strictly advocates. We'll see where that goes. We'll hope for it. This is all through various VAs, and it's good.

Perry Finkelstein:

Wonderful. Flashing to present day, US in the war with Iraq right now. If you would like to reflect on anything about that, or maybe what would you say to any young men and women who are either in the service now or possibly going to be going into the service? What wisdom, insight, what can you relate?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

Keep your head down. The war in Iraq I do question its validity. I'm sorry to say I do question it. I can't advise -- I would not advise anybody to disobey orders. I think you must obey your orders. I would request that people who are giving the orders think them over very carefully before you send young lives out in danger, and protect the young lives the best you can. And for the young people, protect yourselves as best you can. Learn every day. Learn. Keep your eyes open and learn, and God bless you.

Perry Finkelstein:

Okay. Is there anything that we didn't touch upon, or anything else you would like to add or speak about?

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

No. I think that's pretty well covered. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Perry Finkelstein:

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Andrew "Sonny" Campbell:

You are welcome.

 
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