t took over 50 years, but the mystery surrounding the tragic death of a young Pleasant Hill, IL man in the early days of the Vietnam war is finally answered. John Drew Campbell died on November 22, 1965, as a result of drowning, when the land vehicle Amtrac (LVTE-P5) in which he was a passenger, lost power and sank in the Cau De River during a monsoon. For decades facts were sparse and records were limited. Some were told he never made it out of the vehicle. His family, when notified of his death, was told he died helping to save other Marines.
Drew, joined the Marines soon after graduation from Pleasant Hill High School in 1964. After training stateside and on Okinawa, he left for Vietnam, armed with only his military issued duty gear and his scriptures, as part of the first wave of Marines to land in Vietnam on November 18, 1965.
Drew belonged to the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, HQ Battery as a Radio Operator. On Nov. 22, he was attached to 1st Battalion; 3rd Marines; 3rd Marine Division as part of a forward operating team (FOB) tasked during a monsoon to transport 3rd Force Recon via LVT operated by 1st Amtrac Battalion from coordinates 8685 to Namo Bridge, a known hot spot for Vietcong activity.
According to records, now declassified, shortly after transport of the other Marines to Namo Bridge. his LVT B-36 lost power in the Cau De River. Due to torrential rains the B-36 filled with water and was sunk. Radio reports indicated 3 men were in the water.
Six survived and nine perished.
On the day of Drew’s death, Don Wilmot, a decorated war veteran with 38 air combat medals, was a Crew Chief and Door Gunner on HMM-361 UH-34 Helicopter Yankee November, stationed at Marble Mount, Vietnam near Da Nang. Wilmot’s helicopter, was on Medivac standby, because his helicopter was grounded for two days due to tor- rential weather.
That day his unit received a call to rescue 15
Marines stranded in the Cau De River. There was limited visibility with swells 8-12 feet high. Wilmot confirmed Drew as one of the Marines “bobbing in the water.” According to his family and his Marines Corps brothers, Drew was a n incredibly strong swimmer who even helped other Corps members train to pass their swim tests.
According to Wilmot, they saved six Marines by hovering overhead and lowering a sling to hoist the men. When Wilmot returned to rescue Drew, he was three feet from his grasp and Drew was pulled under the current. “He was just out there so long…he could have grabbed that sling anytime for himself but he didn’t,” said Wilmot.
“Every rainy day reminds me of that,” Wilmot continued. “When you join the Marines you are willing to give your life to it. John’s sacrifice is the reason those men survived that day. His effort and ours, we did manage to rescue six of the fifteen that were in the bay. As a result, somewhere in the USA six Marines may still be alive and raising families.”
Drew was many things to countless people. He was a young man of only 19 years old and was the personification of joy and selflessness.
Words cannot begin nor should they be able to encapsulate who Drew was or his actions that day. Was it a heroic decision? It is not believed that Drew made a conscious decision to save the other Marines or himself, or that it ever crossed his mind to grab on to that sling before every other Marine was saved; that was just not who he was.
His survival, if it meant another would perish, would be going against the very fabric of his being.
Now that is a Hero.
This research was conducted for Drew Campbell’s sister Alyce Campbell Crownover and the many family members, friends and Marine Brothers who hold his memory dear. It is my great honor that my Father Col. David Anderson and my Mother Gail Miller Anderson chose to name me in remembrance of him.
Drew David Anderson