Dick Campbell, EAA 101097, doesn’t consider himself a historian, but rather a “student of history.” Dick remembers hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when he was a child in Indiana and from that point forward he began scrapbooking anything he read about World War II. Dick attended Butler University and after graduating joined the U.S. Air Force as a pilot for the Strategic Air Command from 1955 to 1957, flying the KC-97. Following his service, he became a YMCA director for 35 years. Throughout this time, Dick never lost his fascination with history.
Beginning in 1999, Dick started to share his love for history with the public. Developing 13 different historic program presentations, which he calls “Great Moments in History,” Dick has shared these PowerPoint stories with more than 500 group meetings and organizations throughout Wisconsin over the last two decades. Ranging from Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific Ocean to the building of the Erie Canal to the story of the Wright brothers, Dick covers a wide variety of historic moments.
On Thursday, February 15, Dick will be presenting at the EAA Aviation Museum’s Aviation Adventure Speaker Series, covering one of the pivotal moments during World War II — the Battle of Midway.
Occurring June 4-7, 1942, the Battle of Midway turned the tide in favor of the U.S. in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. Only six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway officially put the U.S. on the offensive.
Using cryptographers, the U.S. broke the Japanese navy’s code and learned of the plan to attack Midway Atoll, which was supposed to be a trap to lure in American aircraft carriers. Instead, the Americans launched their own ambush and destroyed all four of Japan’s large aircraft carriers.
“The Japanese were not able to recover from the loss of four of their major aircraft carriers and it’s considered one of the key turning points of World War II,” Dick said. “It just always interested me. I think the story and the people involved in that battle need to be remembered. That’s what I try to share in my presentation.”
While the battle occurred in the middle of the ocean, most of the fighting took place in the skies. With 128 aircraft based at Midway Atoll and another 233 based on aircraft carriers, the U.S. held a significant advantage over the Japanese in that regard, which had 248 carrier-based aircraft. Among the American aircraft involved in the battle were TBD Devastator and SBD Dauntless dive bombers, the F4F Wildcat fighter, and B-17 bomber among others.
“(The air warfare) was the key to that battle,” Dick explained. “It was an aviation victory. The ships never saw each other. Our ships were not in any visible contact with the Japanese ships during that battle. It was strictly an aviation-related success by the American Navy.”
As arguably the most meaningful battle of the war in the Pacific Theater, the Battle of Midway holds an important position in American history and Dick is hoping to keep its significance alive for generations that didn’t live through it.
“I just think it’s a story that needs to be remembered,” he said. “That’s why I titled (the presentation) ‘Remembering the Battle of Midway.’”