Joseph Campbell Jr., the son of Joseph and Winifred, was born in Newark on June 30, 1923. The St. Francis de Sales high school graduate was working at Owens Corning when he received his draft notice on Feb. 9, 1943.
He was inducted into the army on Feb. 22 and began his training at Camp Swift, Texas. Sometime later he transferred to the Army Specialized Training Program where he attended Wittenberg University. However, the Army discontinued the program, and Campbell was reassigned to the infantry at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. On May 19, 1944, while on furlough in Newark, he married Ruth Ann Toothman. That October, the 21-year-old newlywed was sent overseas to Wales with the 290th Infantry Regiment in the 75th Infantry Division. When he sailed across the Atlantic he was carrying a gift from his father who was a police officer, a .32 caliber Colt revolver.
In mid-December, the division sailed across the English Channel and landed at Le Havre, France. They then traveled by train cars to Hasselt, Belgium arriving there on Dec. 20 with the assignment to set up a command post. However, the Germans launched a counter-offensive we now refer to as the Battle of the Bulge. According to the 290th 75th Infantry Combat Diary this offensive, “Brought about an abrupt change of mission and sector in which the 290th Infantry was to enter the fray. The 290th infantry streamed out of Hasselt by motor convoy shortly after midnight of the 22nd and raced for the ruptured lines of the First United States Army.” They were attached to the 3rd Armored Division and were ordered to occupy the town of Hotton and “hold it at all costs.”
Campbell was with Company K when according to the Combat Diary they were ordered to attack the German-held high ground between the towns of Soy and Hotton on Christmas Day. “The attack was launched with aggressiveness and vigor against a thoroughly entrenched foe who availed himself of heavy and accurate artillery fire to disrupt attacking forces; casualties were heavy and progress negligible. Additional ammunition was sent forward to alleviate a threatened shortage and more litter bearers came up to evacuate the wounded. The battalion was unable to advance against the wall of steel being hurled at it by the enemy and in the early afternoon received instructions to cease aggressive action and await a coordinated attack.”
A little later in the afternoon four companies including K Company again attacked the German lines. “Resistance to the attack was intense but although many men fell during the crucial stages of the advance the attackers were not to be denied. Company K, though suffering severe losses, fought on to capture its objective and gain the eternal respect of the regiment and division. Casualties had been numerous and those men who found time to allow their thoughts to stray from warfare found it disheartening to know that comrades had fallen on Christmas Day, a day that under happier circumstances might have been devoted to worship and peace.”
Campbell was wounded in the attack being hit three different times during the attack. In a letter he sent to his father from Paris while recovering from his wounds, he detailed exactly how his Christmas Day had been.
Doug Stout is the Veterans Project Coordinator for the Licking County Library. You may contact him at 740-349-5571 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His book "Never Forgotten: The Stories of Licking County Veterans" is available for purchase at the library or online at bookbaby.com.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Vet column: Newark's Campbell injured in bloody Christmas Day attack