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Nov 4, 2014 5:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Veteran Builds Casket For Soldier Father

Nov 5, 2014 9:44 AM

It was Ron Campsey’s final gift to his dying father: a casket made from white pine, 22 inches wide, 15 inches tall and 77 inches long, decorated with a cross and depictions of Arthur Lee Campsey’s various military honors.More than a son’s present to his father, it was a gift from a veteran of one war to a veteran of another, a recognition of their shared history, and one final reminder of the battles each faced—both abroad and upon returning home.

“He was a cowboy, a soldier and a great provider for our family,” the East Quogue resident said of his late father. “I just wanted people to know what kind of a person he was.”

Arthur Campsey, 94, died at his home in Devine, Texas, on October 22. Three days later, he was laid to rest on top of one of his favorite blankets and buried in the casket that his son built by hand.

Sharing His Father’s Story

It was 1998, and Ron Campsey’s high school friend Janice Dubrel was dying of cancer.

Mr. Campsey, who owns and operates the New Moon Cafe in East Quogue with his wife, Shana, had dabbled in woodwork since he was a boy when he, at the age of 7 or 8, helped rebuild his family home after it was destroyed in a fire. He offered to build his friend her casket.

“She was the salt of the earth,” Mr. Campsey said of his friend. “I said, ‘Janice, would you mind if built your casket?’ and she said, ‘Ronnie, I would love for you to build my casket.’”

After seeing the finished product, which Mr. Campsey branded using his father’s cattle brand, Arthur Campsey asked his son if he’d build his casket, too, when the time came.

With his father’s health deteriorating, the younger Mr. Campsey began constructing the casket in June, working on it bit by bit for four months until word came last month that he needed to finish up as soon as possible and head down to west Texas.

Mr. Campsey arrived in time to spend a few days with his 10 siblings and their father before he died. Families from throughout the small town brought food to the family in the days following Arthur Campsey’s death and attended his funeral, which featured an honor guard from the nearby Fort Hood Military Base.

But despite living in the same small town of about 4,000 people—situated 30 miles from San Antonio and approximately 100 miles from the Mexican border—for 75 years, many were unaware of Arthur Campsey’s military service, which included fighting in the deadly and decisive Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Mr. Campsey, who was drafted into the U.S. Army, did not talk much about his time at war, according to his son.

For those who did not know, one side of the casket told the story of the older Mr. Campsey’s military accomplishments during World War II, with decals depicting a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and Silver Star beneath a Combat Infantryman Badge.

Ron Campsey handcrafted a branding iron into the shape of his father’s initials and singed them into the wood between two sets of horseshoe markings. The box also included the badge from the 1st Infantry Division, also known as The Big Red One, the unit that both Campsey men served in during their respective stints in the Army.

“There were many parallels between Daddy and me,” the younger Mr. Campsey said.

A Shared History,
A Common Enemy

Ron Campsey also was awarded a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for his service during the Vietnam War. He was drafted at age 24—the same age his father was when he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Both Campseys were point men for their respective units.

Both also lost more than their fair share of friends—11 from Arthur Campsey’s unit and five from his son’s—and nearly had to face their own mortality when they were injured in combat.

Though they fought in very different wars, both Campsey men came home to the same enemy. While that enemy did not have an official name until many years after he had completed his tour of duty, Ron Campsey said both he and his father suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as a result of their military service.

“When I came back from Vietnam, we were able to talk more because of the camaraderie between us, we’d both been through the same thing,” Ron Campsey said, referring to his relationship with his father. “One time, Dad says to me, ‘Son, you can’t dwell on it, you just have to learn how to live with it, because it’s with you every day.’”

Arthur Campsey was a man of few words, his son recalled. He also struggled to hug his 12 children. Ron Campsey said his father liked to keep a distance from people—even family members—out of fear that he’d get too close, lose them and have to deal with the same emotional anguish he felt when he lost his friends in World War II. These concerns were galvanized when his daughter Rebecca Ann Favor died in 1988.

“When my sister died in ‘88, it crushed him, because he had gotten close to someone in his family. He would always keep an arm’s length so he wouldn’t get too close,” Ron Campsey said of his father. “He never said he was sorry. It was hard for him to give hugs, and it was hard for him to say, ‘I love you,’ because 11 of 12 of the guys in his patrol were killed.”

He also recalls the time his father broke down in tears after sharing one particular difficult story with his children. This past summer, in one of his final few truly lucid moments, the older Mr. Campsey told a vivid, three-hour-long story about a battle in which he fought, according to Ron Campsey.

The younger Mr. Campsey still has vivid memories of his own tour of duty, things he experiences on a daily basis. He can recount his exact location and actions on any given day during his two-year tour, using his words to paint detailed scenes of marching though trenches and exchanging gunfire under the cover of darkness with an unseen enemy.

While the pain of PTSD caused his father to become stoic and detached, Ron Campsey said he would frequently fall into depression, or lash out in anger. His yelling fits would get so bad that, at times, his own children were afraid to hug him.

“You’re always defensive, you’re always aggressive,” he said. “It’s so sad to think someone is scared of you, it hurt me so deeply inside.”

Finally Seeking Help

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, five out of 10 women, as well as six out of 10 men, experience some sort of trauma during their lives and, in any given year, roughly 5.2 million adults suffer from PTSD.

While roughly 8 percent of women and 4 percent of men in the general population will suffer PTSD, the percentage of veterans experiencing the disorder is much higher because of the high frequency of near-death experiences and other horrors witnessed by those in military service. Between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 12 percent of Gulf War veterans and as many as 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD, according to Veterans Affairs.

Ron Campsey said he’s been able to control his anger, find greater clarity and mend damaged relationships after years of attending therapy at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital and taking medication. Seeking assistance is something that he encourages young veterans, as well as his peers, to take advantage of as early as possible, insisting that many who do not believe they suffer from PTSD actually do.

“Make sure you aren’t afraid to talk to others and that also there’s many places now you can receive help from [Veterans Affairs] and private,” Mr. Campsey said.

“Do it now so maybe you can save your family and your marriage,” he continued, “because the longer you wait, the more pain you spread without even knowing it. The words you use are coming from anger, and once you say them, it’s hard to say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

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Beautiful act Ron!!
By SagHarborBob (91), Life is Good on Nov 8, 14 11:02 AM
1 member liked this comment
Ron is a great man with a heart of gold. I love reading stories abut him and am so glad he's a member of our community
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Nov 8, 14 11:13 AM
2 members liked this comment
What a wonderful tribute to his dad. I agree Ron (and Shana) are great people.
By Infoseeker (278), Hampton Bays on Nov 8, 14 2:20 PM
1 member liked this comment
I march in East Qupgues Memorial day parade to honor the families and veterans who have given so much. To make America so great. I carry a poster to remind the people of our Land we should protect fro all foreign and Domestic enemies I ""WHY I LOVE AMERICA'' I march for those who are with me who voices can no longer be heard. FOR THE FAMILIES who lost so much to war EVERY DAY IS MEMORIAL DAY FOR THEM. I hope the young men and women will stand up and ask "WHY?" when the sabers of war come RATTLING ...more
By RonnieCampsey (3), East quogue on Dec 19, 17 3:25 PM
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