Richard F. Campos (1966/12/06)

A gray metal coffin containing the remains of an unclaimed GI drew national attention to the plight of a Pajaro Valley orphan.

Richard Frederick Campos was born at the Amador County railroad siding of Carbondale, California, on September 15, 1940, to Neva Campos, an unwed seventeen year old. His father, Albert Salazar, had deserted her and never reappeared. In 1942, while she lay dying of tuberculosis in a public hospital, Neva made arrangements for Richard to live with her sister Maria in San Francisco. He never saw his mother again. His aunt cared for him until 1947 when she also died, leaving the eight-year-old a ward of the court. In 1948 a foster home was found for Campos in San Leandro, California; however, after four years of failing health, his foster mother had to give him up.

Catholic Social Service heard of the orphan's plight and found a home for Richard in their Salesian Order St. Francis School in Watsonville. In a newspaper article appearing in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian on December 22, 1966, Father Pratte recalled Campos, who lived at the school for five years. The priest described him as a good-looking boy with wavy hair and a pleasing smile who adapted well to the school and made many friends. Although he was scholastically described as an average student, he excelled in competition and played on the school's championship eighth grade basketball team. Richard also had the distinction of winning the Watsonville city marble championship.

When he reached his seventeenth birthday, Campos and his best friend, Paul Rivera, left the school for San Francisco. Lacking the necessary funds for housing, they voluntarily housed themselves in a detention center where they were given three meals and a cot each day. He only remained in San Francisco a brief period before entering the armed forces.

In 1958 Richard Campos enlisted in the US Army and after completing basic and advanced training, was assigned to an infantry regiment in Korea. Campos apparently found a home in the army and by 1965 was serving as a sergeant in Company C, 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.

In September 1966 Campos' division was sent to Vietnam and assigned to the central highland area in the province of Pleiku. While on a search and destroy patrol on December 6, 1966, a Viet Cong sniper's bullet snuffed out his life. His body was recovered and returned to Oakland to be claimed by a relative and released for burial. No relative could be found to claim the body of Richard Campos and it sat unclaimed in an Army warehouse.

Newspapers began publishing stories of the army's search for a relative to sign the necessary approval to bury Campos. St. Francis School immediately requested permission to bring his body to Watsonville for burial in the Valley Catholic Cemetery, but their request was withheld. When the National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars heard of the situation, his organization began applying pressure on the army to have Campos buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

James Campos, an uncle who Richard had not seen for fifteen years, was finally located. He claimed Richard's remains and made arrangements for his burial.

On December 31, 1966, people began arriving early at the Army's Chapel of Our Lady at the San Francisco Presidio for Richard Campos' funeral. The 200 available seats were quickly occupied, standing room only areas were filled, and the remaining attendees congregated outside to listen to the funeral mass. After the funeral, the cortege containing the remains of Richard Campos made its way along the ten-mile route to Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, where he was laid to rest.

After hearing the story of Richard Campos, Barbara Dane, a folksinger and peace activist, wrote the "Ballad of Richard Campos," an ironic ending for this professional soldier.

(VVVW; VVMW; USDVA; WRP December 22, 1966 1:1, December 30, 1966 1:7; SCSn January 1, 1967 31:4; Philadelphia Inquirer December 23, 1966 Barbara Dane, Songs of Protest, The Vietnam Songbook,, [16 September 2008])

Creator: Nelson, Robert L.
Source: Remembering our own: the Santa Cruz County military roll of honor 1861-2010. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2010.
Date: Undated
Type: OBIT
Coverage: 1960s
Rights: Reproduced by permission of Robert L. Nelson and The Museum of Art & History.
Identifier: RO-CAMPOS


Nelson, Robert L. “Richard F. Campos (1966/12/06).” Remembering our own: the Santa Cruz County military roll of honor 1861-2010. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2010. SCPL Local History. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.