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Gold Star Spouse honors her husband’s legacy through Team TAPS program

Jessica Manfre Avatar

Sergeant Millard Dee “Soup” Campbell had a smile that could light up the room and make your heart melt, all at the same time. The Texas native was an extraordinary baseball player and was drafted professionally but chose college – and serving his country – instead. 

His father was a World War II Navy veteran and his oldest brother served in the Army, fighting in the Vietnam War. Dee’s wife, Marie Campbell, shared that he’d always been inspired by their service and wasn’t surprised that he cut college short to enlist in the Air Force.

“I remember the first night I met him. I was walking around campus with my roommate and we walked in front of his dorm. He and a friend I recognized were sitting outside together and we stopped to say hi to the friend I knew. Later that night, we were all at this dance hall and he came over to ask me to dance. I said no because I thought he was shorter than I was,” Marie laughed. “Later that evening, I eventually danced with him. He continued to pursue me and wouldn’t give up. I just wasn’t having it. A couple of months later, I gave in, and fell head over heels for him—and the rest is history!”

Dee Campbell smiles in uniform
Photo courtesy Marie Campbell

Dee was a passionate leader and Marie remembers fondly how he’d always make sure his single airman had somewhere to go for the holidays.

“There were three things that mattered to him the most. His family, his faith in the Lord, and his service to his country,” Marie added. “Dee started his Air Force career as a Security Policeman. He was inspired by law enforcement because some of his family were serving as police officers. However, a couple of years later, he changed his Air Force career to Flight Scheduling and Operations—a job he truly loved.”

As the United States entered into Operation Desert Storm, Dee purposefully switched squadrons so he could deploy. 

“Dee died on June 25, 1996, at the young age of 30, when terrorists detonated a tanker truck filled with explosives outside the Khobar Towers housing complex he was residing while in Saudi Arabia, killing him and 18 of his Air Force brothers,” Marie shared. “They were there supporting Operation Southern Watch helping protect the no-fly zone over Iraq. He was slated to come home in two days—and was packing his bags to come home when the bomb went off.”

The Khobar Towers bombing was a terrorist attack on part of a housing complex in the city of Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The official statement by the United States named members of Hezbollah Al-Hejaz as responsible but in 2006, a U.S. court found Iran and Hezbollah guilty of orchestrating the attack.

“My future had changed in an instant,” Marie explained. “I had just turned 30 years old 12 days beforehand. I was now hearing the word ‘widow’. I only knew grandmothers who were widows. How could this be me? I also had a hard time believing my husband was never coming home. He had deployed many other times throughout our marriage. It was easy to pretend he was ‘just away’ for a long time. I also had to contend with not only that he was gone, but the tragic and horrific way he died. To be honest, I was just numb for almost two years.”

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors was barely two years old when Dee was killed but Marie remembers them being there for the families immediately in the aftermath of the bombing. A couple of years later, Marie received an invitation to attend the 1998 TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar in Washington, D.C. She threw it in the trash but took it back out later that day. 

“I really didn’t talk much at the seminar, but I did a lot of listening to my peers who had also lost a military loved one. Finally, I heard things I had been thinking in my head for so long. I realized that I wasn’t alone in my thinking,” she said. “That we were all in this ‘new normal’ together. I wasn’t alone.”

Marie quickly joined an online support group and became a peer mentor. Then she developed and created something new. 

“They let me build the Team TAPS program—where we run, walk, bike, etc. in memory of our loved ones while also raising funds to support the amazing programs and services TAPS provides,” she said. “It was a way for me to give back to TAPS while honoring the life and legacy of Dee. I am forever grateful.”

Two women at the start of the Marine Corps Marathon

For Marie, Memorial Day was always somber. Both of her grandfathers served in World War II but after losing Dee, it became even more important. 

“First and foremost, freedom isn’t free. One of my favorite quotes comes from President Ronald Reagan,” she shared. “He said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’ That’s why it is important to continue to educate our fellow Americans on the beautiful and meaningful values of service and sacrifice.”

Jessica Manfre is an author and freelance writer for multiple publications. She is a licensed social worker, earning her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Central Florida in 2020. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northwestern State University. Jessica is the co-founder and CFO of Inspire Up, a 501c3 nonprofit promoting global generosity and kindness through education, empowerment and community building. She is the spouse of an active duty Coast Guardsman and mother of two. When she isn't working, you can find her reading a good book and drinking too much coffee.