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30 Seconds with a World War II Pilot

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We sat down with Jason Campbell as his family prepared to celebrate his 100th birthday on June 20. With great detail, Campbell rattled off stories about growing up during the Great Depression and his life in the Army. After the war, he opened a tomato cannery before he became a physician. He retired in 1988.

 

Where are you from?

Dallas, Texas.

 

Are you a Cowboys fan?

No. I’m an Eagles fan.

 

Is it OK to come from Dallas and root for the Eagles?

(He smirks.) I don’t give a damn.

 

What was it like growing up during the Great Depression?

We didn’t have too many million-dollar bills when I went to high school. I was a caddie at Dallas Country Club. I was also a paperboy for the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Dispatch. When I finished high school, colleges were issuing scholarships. I chose mechanical engineering at Texas A&M.

 

What did you do after college?

I graduated in 1939. Then I went to West Texas to work for a power company. Then the war started. The Army decided to call us to active duty. I was called to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. In officer candidate school, they put me in charge of military administration. Then I was made a prosecutor of court-martial. I applied for flight training in August 1943. In January 1944, I finally got my wings. We flew the Flying Fortress, the B17.

 

Did you see battle?

I flew 27 missions. After six missions, they made me lead pilot for the group. We were sending 1,000 planes to Hamburg. Most of the German Air Corps was firing at us. Our second-in-command was shot and headed back toward England. I got the Distinguished Flying Cross because I flew the group back.

 

That’s awesome.

Is it a big deal? Actually, not at all. Think of the people who did the same thing who never lived. Early on, people were getting killed and I wasn’t. After 20, 22 missions, I had nothing to say about the fact that I’m still alive. I brought back a bottle of Scotch and a canteen of water and kept them under my cot. Every day I would take a sip of each and thank God I was still alive. I do that every morning now (with sherry, notes his daughter, Peggy Alderson).

 

What did you do after the war?

My wife was a schoolteacher in Bel Air, Md. One day she bet all of her money on a horse named Just the Teacher—and he came in. So we bought the canning house on a property at Port Penn. There were no canned tomatoes after the war. We made a $25,000 profit in 1947-48.

 

Then you decided to go to medical school?

I graduated from Temple in 1956. I needed a place to practice, so we built a house on Wilmington Road. Then we built an office. (He was a family doctor, says Alderson. He made house calls and delivered babies until he retired in 1988.)

 

Was it your goal to turn 100?

No. Just, I want to live.

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