When I was introduced to my father-in-law, John Acy Campbell III, a special bond was formed.
We had several things in common — a deep love for his daughter, for the Air Force and all things British. Red, his nickname, started flying at the age of 14, swapping sweeping-out hangers at a nearby airport for flying lessons. By the time WWII broke out, this young eager lad had more hours flying then most and he was anxious to get into the fight, using his flying skills to kill the bad guys.
There was a problem when Red showed up at the U.S. Army Air Corps recruitment center. Apparently he lacked the required minimum age of 21 and higher education. His high school diploma and his youth wasn’t going to cut it. They were impressed with his cockpit hours, although his documentation was suspect.
The British Royal Air Force suffered heavy losses during the Battle of Britain. They sent out recruiters around the globe, known as the Clayton Knight Committee, tasked with restocking the pool of R.A.F. fighter pilots. When young Red heard about this, he made his way to their office in Los Angeles.
After jumping through some hoops, Red was offered a commission in the R.A.F. as an Eagle Squadron fighter pilot, given some basic operational training, then assigned a Hawker Hurricane and thrust into the dog fight. He was shot down in the South Pacific and spent the remaining 3 1/2 years of the war as a Japanese P.O.W. on the island of Java.
For most of his post-war years he kept his feelings buried deep inside, that is until this young, handsome Canadian lad (that would be me) married his baby girl (that would be Kerry). Over the years Red ended up battling multiple cancers, detached retinas and the logistics of aging. We moved Kerry’s folks into our home so we could provide 24/7 geriatric care. I retired from my profession and became a full time chef, maid, cook, chauffeur, companion, body guard and, most important, transition buddy.
Red had absolutely no fear of death. His greatest concern would be worrying about Chris, his bride of more than 65 years. “That would be our responsibility,” Kerry and I reassured him.
He no longer had to worry about anything other than taking each day one at a time. As a transition buddy, my job was to be there to provide Red with whatever he needed, right up to the final moment, and beyond.
On Aug. 1, 2012, while trying to fall asleep, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was like a tiny glow hovering over my feet. My instincts kicked in. A need to check on Red overpowered me. As I quietly entered Red’s bedroom, the sound of his labored breathing sent me running to Kerry. She was wide awake instantly, following me, knowing the time was at hand.
Holding Red’s hands, we prayed. As we softly sang “Amazing Grace,” he sat up and with a gentle smile crossed over. It was a beautiful moment. My transition buddy duties were now fulfilled. Kerry’s mom continued to grace us for exactly one year before leaving us to join Red for eternity.
Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.
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