Vietnam Spec Ops vet Gen. Campbell dies only 5 years after retirement

Gen. Charles C. Campbell, commander of Forces Command, speaks during Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick's, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, assumption of command ceremony at the Fort Bragg parade field, Nov. 19, 2009. Photo credit: Spc. Armando Limon

 A sad day for the US Army as news spreads about the loss of the last continuously serving general officer to see action in Vietnam.

Vietnam veteran Charles “Hondo” Campbell died Monday, at his home in Shreveport, after a lengthy illness. He was 68 years old.

The retired general served in the Army for 40 years. During the course of his career he commanded at all levels and also served several staff assignments, primarily in Europe.

He was chief of staff for US Army Europe and later US Central Command. As condolences and tributes poured in on social media yesterday, many called Campbell “a great soldier and leader.”

While the origin of his famous nickname is a bit cryptic, it’s believed that it is based on a character in the classic Louis L’amour western novel– according to Army Times.

An LSU graduate, Campbell was a Special Forces adviser in Vietnam. In his last assignment in 2007, he took command of Forces Command, the Army’s largest organization. Campbell was responsible for more than 750,000 soldiers, at the time. He also transformed the Army from a division structure to a brigade combat team-centric structure.

Commander of a Special Operations A-Detachment in Vietnam, then 2nd Lt. Charles C. Campbell sets out on a mission in Vietnam in 1971. Campbell is the last continuously serving officer to have seen action in Vietnam. Photo credit: US Army
Commander of a Special Operations A-Detachment in Vietnam, then 2nd Lt. Charles C. Campbell sets out on a mission in Vietnam in 1971. Campbell is the last continuously serving officer to have seen action in Vietnam. Photo credit: US Army

During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he made sure his soldiers had the best training and equipment. “I think as a nation we are blessed with young men and women in our ranks who made a choice to serve our nation at a seminal point in our history,” he said at the time. “They are doing the dangerous and difficult work of a free society, and we are blessed to have them.”

Just before his retirement in June 2010, Campbell made headlines again, when he overturned three reprimands and made the decision to exonerate three soldiers in command during a deadly 2008 attack in Wanat, Afghanistan — where 9 soldiers were killed.

He based his controversial decision on: “the size of the soldiers’ area of responsibility, the rugged and austere terrain, the limited roads and air assets, and the demands of counterinsurgency doctrine for soldiers to constantly engage with the local population.”

In a memo he wrote to then-Army Secretary John McHugh, Campbell said: “one must understand there is no such thing as a perfect decision in war, where complexity, friction, uncertainty, the interlocking effects of the actions of independent individuals, and the enemy all affect the outcome of events.”

In 2010, before retiring he said, “Its more capable, its more seasoned, it more hardened than at any time in the 40 years I have served” when referring to the status of the Army.

After retiring to Shreveport, Campbell continued to serve as a mentor to Army and coalition leaders in South Korea and Afghanistan.

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  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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