Students, history buffs and veterans saw history through the eyes of 93-year-old Joseph Campagna on Monday evening.
Campagna, of Parma Heights, was the featured speaker in Medina County District Library’s World War II speaker series, a monthly lecture series featuring veterans of the last world war.
The former sergeant’s story began in August 1942.
“I got a letter and it said someone wanted to see me. Guess who that was?” he said. “It was Uncle Sam.”
Campagna was an only child and he knew his parents could have requested that he not be drafted. He decided not to share that information with them.
“All my friends were going in, so I went, too,” he said.
Campagna served through the end of the war, and most of that time was with the 134th Ordnance, an artillery and vehicle repair unit.
But instead of turning a wrench, Campagna wielded a knife and spatula in the kitchen as a cook.
All through the war in Europe, Campagna’s unit followed the front lines in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, retrieving and repairing broken equipment and trucks in battle.
The 134th saw action in three battles, including the Battle of the Bulge in late December 1944 and most of January 1945.
Campagna said he remembers men dying in battle but also from folly. Two members of his company saw two German soldiers lying on the ground. Assuming they were dead, the Americans approached to retrieve their coveted German Luger pistols.
“But when they walked up to them, they weren’t dead,” he said, and the two Americans were killed.
Campagna returned stateside when the war in Europe ended in May 1945.
He was on furlough for several months, but before he could be sent to the Pacific Theater, the war was over.
After finishing his service, he returned home and worked in a machine shop and then as a cook.
He said that while he was reluctant to join at first, it’s a decision he’s glad he made.
“I learned a lot, though. I’m glad I went,” he said. “I saw a lot of Europe that way and that’s something I’d never have gotten to do.”
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.