Doug Campbell, a retired Santa Rosa educator and newsman who earned a Silver Star for battlefield valor in Europe and possessed, quite often, the sharpest mind and wit in the room, died Friday at age 90.
Campbell had lived in Sonoma County for nearly 65 years when he moved a year ago to Frankfort, Michigan, to be closer to his son, Crispin Campbell. Just days ago he'd enjoyed dinner out with his son's family and with visiting daughter Caitlin Woodbury and her husband, who split their time between Santa Rosa and France.
"He was frail but OK," Crispin Campbell said Friday from Michigan. "Then, this morning, in about one minute he checked out."
Right to the end, he said, his father exhibited his "extremely generous heart," love of family, passion for knowledge and a sardonic sense of humor that regularly caught people off guard.
He said his dad was especially fond of an employee at his care home named Heather, and not long ago a second staffer who'd assisted him for about a year asked him if even he knew her name.
"You're not Heather," he answered.
Douglas Carroll Campbell grew up in Vallejo and was 19 and a student at the University of California at Berkeley when the United States entered World War II. Having received initial military training in the ROTC program at Cal, he enlisted in the Army and was admitted to officer training school.
He volunteered to join the elite Rangers, and made the cut. He was a 1st lieutenant when he took part, shortly after D-Day, in the invasion of Nazi-occupied France in mid-1944.
He'd advanced with Gen. George Patton's army into Germany when he was shot and severely wounded in February of 1945. Longtime friend and colleague Gaye LeBaron recounted in a 1987 column in The Press Democrat that during his 14 months in hospitals, generals Patton and Omar Bradley came in to award medals of valor.
Campbell told LeBaron that wounded men were "lying at attention" as the generals made their way down the row of cots.
"When it came his turn," LeBaron wrote, "an accompanying aide read a description of the deeds that had earned Campbell a Silver Star." Campbell earned the medal not for what he was doing at the time he was shot but for bravery displayed earlier on the Brittany Coast of France.
LeBaron wrote: "Hearing of Campbell's exploits, Patton got all excited and said something like, &‘Did you do all that?' Campbell acknowledged that it was based on truth, to which Patton exclaimed, &‘Why, you are a goddam fightin' son of a bitch.'"
Campbell returned to California after the war and resumed his studies at Cal. He rented a room in a Berkeley boarding house and soon fell in love with the landlady's daughter, Elizabeth.
She would recall, "I saw him out the window when he came to the door. I thought he was cute."
They married in April of 1947. Newlywed Doug Campbell was 27 when he and Elizabeth moved to Sonoma County the following year and he took a job teaching English at Santa Rosa High School.
Former student Ron Caselli, 79, said he cared little about school until he enrolled in Campbell's class.
"The only guy that clicked for me was Doug. He kind of took me under his wing," Caselli said. He followed Campbell's lead and worked more than 30 years as a teacher and county schools work-experience administrator.