Keiko Fukuda_9th dan
Keiko Fukuda, Kodokan 9th dan, New York Times

She was tiny – 150 cm in height and 45 kg in weight – but Keiko Fukuda stood tall amidst the Pantheon of Judo greats. When she passed away in San Francisco at the age of 99, she was the last remaining connection to the roots of Judo, the founder, Jigoro Kano.

Fukuda was born of samurai stock in 1913, her father being Hachinosuke Fukuda, who was a master of jujutsu and Kano’s sensei. When Kano branched off and developed a new set of techniques and rules, he founded the discipline of Judo.

Judo in Japan has been a very male bastion since its inception. Judo associations in Japan have consistently been male dominated despite the rise of Japanese women judoka. But interestingly, Kano was a pioneer in gender equality, creating a women’s section of the Kodokan, the dojo Kano created in Tokyo. It was in 1926 when Kano started teaching judo to women, and in 1935, Fukuda was one of 24 women who trained at the Kodokan.

Fukuda was not only pioneering judo in Japan, she was doing so in America. She first traveled to America at the invitation of a judo club in Oakland, California in 1953, after she had achieved the highest rank a women could get – 5th dan. She taught judo for two years, and then came back to California 11 years later, eventually becoming the full-time judo instructor at Mills College, where she taught until 1978.

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Keiko Fukuda, wearing the black belt with the white stripe

In the 1960s, the glass ceiling for female judo was the 5th dan. But Fukuda’s friend and former student, Dr. Shelley Fernandez, was the president of the National Organization for Women in San Francisco, she petitioned the Kodokan to promote Fukuda to 6th dan. It worked, and Fukuda, as well as another woman named Masako Noritomi, were the first women ever granted a 6th dan.

So advances in women judo was taking place. And yet, one lingering symbol of stubborn male dominance persisted – the white stripe that ran the length of the “obi” for women black belts. You can see that belt around the waist of Fukuda in this picture below. While the International Judo Federation abandoned the black belt with white stripe to differentiate women from men, the All Japan Judo Federation has stuck to its traditional guns.

That is, until March 13. Finally, in 2017, 91 years after the pioneering founder of judo, Jigoro Kano, opened the doors to women, the All Japan Judo Federation decided to abolish the use of white stripes in women’s black belts.

Her amazing story has been told in a documentary released in 2012, called “Mrs. Judo – Be Strong Be Gentle Be Beautiful”.

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L to R: Kim Ui-Tae, James Bregman, Isao Okano, Wolfgang Hofmann

Isao Okano had all the pressure in the world on him, as did all Japanese representatives of the judo team. They simply could not lose on their home turf, in the Budokan. But Okano, competing in the 80kg weightclass, made it all look easy. The 3rd dan form Chuo University swept through the competition. And in his semi-final bout against Frenchman Lionel Grossain, Okano wasn’t feeling the pressure – he was applying it.

Watch the above video. The chilling action starts from the 35 second mark and ends very quickly after that. Okano sends Grossain down with a right leg kick. As they hit the mat, Okano spins around and gets on top of Grossain, who is kneeling, with his head facing the mat. Grossain pushes upwards, sending Okano off, his body twisting so that his body is awkwardly facing upwards, and it appears the Frenchman has an advantage, his right arm pushing down on Okano’s chest.

But while Okano’s body is spinning, his right hand has solidly gripped the back collar of Grossain’s judogi. As the two middleweight judoka twist and turn on the mat, Okano has turned Grossain’s collar into a vise. As Okano twists away from Grossain to lift himself off the mat, Grossain’s collar puts tremendous pressure on the left side of his neck. In an instant, the pressure to Grossain’s cartoid artery restricts blood and thus oxygen to his brain, rendering him unconscious.

American Jim Bregman, who won bronze in that middle-weight competition, witnessed this match. “Grossain was very tough,” he told me. “Grossain was on top of Okano trying to hold him down, and Okano reached his hand across grabbed his gi, and put Grossain out. He’s stone cold out. With Okano’s skill and mat work, he choked him out.”

Okano had just advanced to the gold medal round, but the more immediate need was to get Grossain conscious again. Fortunately, Grossain was quickly revived by Okano, likely relieving every in the Budokan.

Okano executed a judo technique called okuri eri jime, which is the employment of the judogi in placing pressure on the neck. You can see Okano in this training video, showing very clearly how to execute this powerful technique.

Okano would go on to win the World Judo Championships in his division in 1965. More amazingly, he won the All-Japan Judo Championships in 1967 and 1969, while coming in second in 1968, a tournament that does differentiate by weight. In other words, he had to beat much larger judoka. At 80 kg, Okano (and Shinobu Sekine) is the lightest ever to win the All-Japan Judo Championships.

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From the “United States Olympic Book”

The pictures are the first two pages of photo profiles of Americans on the US Olympic squad, from the summary report of American performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. As you can see and likely understand, America at the time demographically was generally perceived to be white. But it was changing, as minority groups, be they black, latino or Asian for example, were growing in size. Consequently, their representation in American Olympic squads were also growing.

But this was 1964, and race relations were beginning to brew, and get attention. In fact, it was October 14, 1964, the fifth day of the Tokyo Olympics, when the powers that be in Norway awarded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Note James Bregman’s head shot in the upper right-hand corner

In 1964, diversity and inclusion were not buzzwords in corporate America. They were in some ways an alien concept, something that you might only visualize if you happen to be passing through the United Nations when it was in session. But there was one shining example of that on Team USA in 1964 – the Judo team – represented by a Caucasian Jew (James Bregman), a person of Native American Indian descent (Ben Nighthorse Campbell), a Japanese-American (Paul Maruyama) and an African American (George Harris).

Judo is not a team sport. It is very much mano-a-mano, and while you learn from others, training can be done independently. In other words, in the case of the 1964 Team USA judo squad, their diverse make up did not necessarily contribute to their actual performance beyond the fact that they were all good friends, four of the few foreigners who ventured to the mecca of judo in Tokyo to live and train.

 

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L to R: George Harris, James  Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama, Ben Nighthorse Campbell

 

But for James Bregman, who won a bronze medal in the middleweight class at the 1964 Games, the “rainbow team” was an inspiration to him.

“I grew up in a black ghetto,” Bregman told me. “I was a Jewish kid with white skin who was picked on by black kids who were brutes. I actually experienced segregation. My father had a grocery store in Green Valley, Virginia, and we lived above it on the second floor. Behind our store was Drew Elementary School, only two blocks away. I could play basketball with the other kids there, but in the 1950s I couldn’t go to that school. Instead, they bussed me out to Fairlington Elementary School in a white neighborhood 30 minutes away.”

Bregman didn’t object to being bussed out – he said he really wasn’t conscious of the socio-economic context of race relations at that time. But he did know that he was beat up in his neighborhood. Very often the bullies would be black, but Bregman told me that he was brought up not to judge, that he should be respectful to everybody and that a few bad guys did not represent an entire group.

And yet, he was getting beat up nonetheless.

Bregman was a small boy, often sick, dealing with bronchitis and asthma as a child. His parents thought that keeping him active indoors would help, so he got lessons in baton twirling, tap dancing, gymnastics, acrobatics as a kid. But one day, his parents learned of a judo club in the officers’ athletic club at the Pentagon in Washington D. C. that also was open to the public. Bregman’s parents took him to the club and suddenly, he was hooked on judo. And the officer’s club was also eye opening, the closest he would come to being inside the United Nations.

Although the Officer’s Athletic Club was located in Virginia, it was not segregated since the Pentagon was the Federal Government’s military headquarters. You had black, whites, hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, people from embassies all over the world. The club membership was multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious. From the time I was 13 years old, those were the people I hung out with. Maybe it was subliminal, but it gave me an understanding that hatred based on these externalities was ridiculous.

In fact, what Bregman understood, as did his teammates on the US judo team, what brought them together was far more substantial than what set them apart. Harris, Campbell, Maruyama and Bregman had all trained together in Japan for 3 or 4 years, their tight friendship forged in the common experience of two-a-day training – relentless, punishing and exhausting training. According to Bregman, they were more interested in becoming waza-shi, or highly proficient in judo technique, than winning competitions.

Bregman felt that his team was the representation of an ideal America, a team built on merit and performance, not race or religion. “Being on the rainbow team had a tremendous impact on me personally. This team represented America, not the one I grew up in, but one I wanted to live in.”

Judoka James Bregman Part 1: To Be a Waza-shi

Judoka James Bregman Part 2: The Stoic Professionalism of Judo

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Anton Geesink staving off fans at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics_ from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”.

It was shocking. When Or Sasson of Israel extended his hand to Islam El Shehaby of Egypt to express a match well fought at the Rio Olympics, the Egyptian turned and walked away.

There were no words in anger, no fists raised in threat. But in the world of sportsmanship, and more specifically in the gruff quietude of judo, the action of El Shehaby was akin to a slap in the face.

In Judo, there is an expectation of restraint and calmness, regardless of whether one makes the perfect throw or is body slammed in twisting agony, whether one wins or loses. When Anton Geesink shocked all of Japan by handily defeating Akio Kaminaga to win the gold medal in the open division of the 1964 Olympics, Geesink did not revel in his victory. In fact, right after the referee tapped his shoulder to indicate his victory, Geesink had to deal with an unexpected breach of etiquette by Dutch fans who sought to storm the judo mat in victory. He jumped to his feet and walked towards them, his right hand extended in a halt sign, and a hard stare stopped them in their tracks.

The two competitors then kneeled facing each other, getting their judo-gi in order in a matter-of-fact manner. They stood and bowed. Geesink walked up to Kaminaga impassively, but when he reached over to offer a small hug to his competitor, Kaminaga offered a smile of resignation and happiness for the other, which in turn gave Geesink permission to smile back in relief.

James Bregman and his brotherhood of judoka understood this interaction to be proper.

Bregman won the bronze medal in the middleweight class in judo’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Summer Games of 1964. Some say, he should have had a shot at gold if not for a quick judgment call that went the other way.

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Bregman (#5) throwing an opponent at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics_ from James Bregman’s personal collection.

Bregman had defeated Argentinian Rodolfo Perez to get to the medal round. He faced off against Wolfgang Hofmann of Germany for a chance at gold. Towards the middle of the match, Hofmann got Bregman in an arm bar, “an effective one” as Bregman put it. “He nearly broke my arm.” Bregman told me that he approached Hofmann with an uchimata, but Hofmann blocked it. Then Bregman performed a left ip-pon seoi-nage over the shoulder and threw Hofmann to the mat, but not for a full point. They rolled and Hofmann then got Bregman in an arm lock. Bregman was able to stand up and also got Hofmann off the mat.

According to Bregman, the rules of judo at the time stated that if a person is in an arm lock but is standing, and the person who is giving the arm lock is off the ground, then the referee is supposed to say “matte”, stopping the match briefly so that the judoka can re-set. And in fact, the referee did indeed say “matte“, which means “wait”. Hofmann either didn’t hear that, or ignored it, and continued with the arm lock. Bregman thinking his arm was about to break, tapped out and gave up. In that instant, the referee simply ignored the fact that he had said “matte“, and awarded the match to Hofmann.

“I’m like, ‘what'”, said Bregman. “I’m in a lot of pain holding my elbow walking off the mat. But in judo, you don’t say a word, you show no emotion, and you honor your opponent as a victor, in a gentlemanly fashion. And you accept the referee’s judgment.”

What was more important was how he was greeted by his colleagues at Meiji University, home of the toughest judoka in the world in the 1960s. “When I won the bronze, the Japanese judoka came over and congratulated me and hugged me. It was like Meiji had won a gold medal. They were ecstatic for me.”

Judoka James Bregman Part 1: To Be a Waza-shi

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Bregman and his bronze medal_from James Bregman’s personal collection.

It was October, 1964, the Olympics were in Tokyo, and the Japanese were expected to sweep their home-grown martial art. And in fact, Japanese took gold in three of the four weight-classes at the Tokyo Olympics.

American James Bregman won the bronze medal in the middle-weight class at the inaugural judo competition at the Olympic Games. His accomplishment was the result of years of training, as well as a dedication to mastering technique or “waza“, and being the best judoka he could possibly be. But it was never about winning a medal.

Bregman, like a handful of other determined foreign judoka in Japan, trained with members of Meiji University, the dominant judo power in the 1960s. Training at Meiji was what you might find in a judo dictionary as meaning “glutton for punishment”. But Bregman trained, learned, and was proud to become proficient enough to earn the respect of his Meiji comrades. “My sempai was the captain of the Meiji University team. And when he put his hand on my shoulder and called me a “waza-shi” (a technician), that meant more to me than a medal.”

Bregman remembers judo in Japan as being a meritocracy, where attitude, grace and technique were the measures of a person. He said that twice a year, there would be public and open competitions called “koh-haku shiai“, where any judoka could come and compete. They would line you up in terms of your level, from the beginners’ level of “sho-dan“, then to “ni-dan“, “san-dan“, and upwards. You could have a line of hundreds of judoka, and the process is the first person in line gets on the mat with the next judoka and has a go. Whoever wins, stays on the mat to take on the next guy, and the next guy. Sometimes, a person from a lower rank takes on a person from the next rank up and wins a match or two. But very often, judoka are in the right rank, getting that feedback real time in front of all to see.

Bregman told me that when he first started attending koh-haku shiai as a ni-dan, “you’re basically a flying machine” getting tossed all over the place. But as you train, you get better, and over time, you’re throwing people, and eventually beating people above you in rank. “It’s a real learning experience,” Bregman told me, “putting to test all the things you learned from your training.”

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From the autobiography of Syd Hoare, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama”

One of his most impactful teachers was Bregman’s sempai, a judoka named Seki who was a year ahead of Bregman. He said he trained every day with Seki, who was third or fourth best in the middleweight class in Japan, learning the right way to stand, mat work, choke techniques, and mat presence, lessons that served him well in the Olympics. Bregman explained that Seki would train Bregman about mat presence by practicing near the “joh-seki“, a wooden floor where shrines were placed for special occasions. Since the joh-seki was hard, falling on it was something Bregman wanted to avoid.

It was hard enough thrown on the tatami, which are not exactly cushions. Even though we know how to fall, it hurts. What he was teaching me is that you have to be conscious of where the edges are, to have total mat awareness. You need to know where your opponent is going, and where you want to go. Most of us were taught to fight in the middle of the mat. This was due to the early rules of judo. If you go to the mat, and you stepped out, they brought you back after stopping the match, so throwing a person outside the mat was, in a way, wasted effort. So Seki taught me how to anticipate the other person’s move and maneuver him to where you want to go.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Bregman faced off against a judoka from Argentina named Rodolfo Perez. In the video, you can see Bregman pick up Perez’s right leg, putting him off balance. But Bregman notices that he is just about to push Perez off the mat, which would have stopped the match and resulted in no points. Noting where he wanted to go, Bregman planted his right foot at the edge of the mat, and while still holding Perez’s leg suspended, he turned the two of them nearly 180 degrees so that Bregman was facing the middle of the mat. Then with his left leg sweeping from behind, he tripped up Perez in a kosotogake. Perez fell safely in bounds and Bregman moved on to the semi-finals.

 

Judoka James Bregman Part 2: The Stoic Professionalism of Judo

 

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President Bush and Senator Campbell

 

Ben Nighthorse Campbell was a member of the first American team to compete in the fledgling judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In order to prepare for the Olympics, he moved to Japan to train, where he said he was the outsider, the newcomer. “You learn by watching and doing whatever the newbies did. I scrubbed uniforms, toilets. And they’re watching you. If you’re willing to do it, they treat you with respect.”

That’s not an easy thing to do – to subsume your ego for the greater good of your ultimate goals and earn the respect and assistance of others. Campbell told me most other Americans could or would not do so, and did not continue with their training in Japan, excepting two other Americans at Meiji on his Olympic squad: Paul Maruyama and Jim Bregman.

So many factors result in the seemingly random way successful people and leaders emerge. In addition to his high level of physical skills, Campbell’s emotional intelligence – his ability to show respect and humility in a new cultural milieu, to build relationships that will help him drive toward his and his colleagues’ goals – appears to be a key factor in the success he has had through his life. Campbell would serve in the House of Representatives and the US Senate for nearly 20 years. Broadly speaking, success is due to a mixture of skills, naturally gifted through DNA or developed through experience and effort, as well as circumstance and how one reacts to it.

While Campbell said that training in Japan was tough, in some ways, he had gone through even more challenging experiences as a child. He was the son of Albert Campbell who suffered from alcoholism, and of Mary Vierra, who had to live and work in a sanatorium much of her life due to her contraction of tuberculosis. Since his father struggled to find work, as did many during the Great Depression, and his mother could have only minimal contact with her children due to the contagiousness of her disease, both Ben and his sister Alberta Campbell had a nomadic childhood of foster homes and orphanages.

According to Campbell’s biography, Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, the siblings grew up hungry, feeling abandoned, and had to negotiate the randomly rough relationships of life in the orphanage – situations ranging from disciplinary beatings and haranguing for not washing one’s hands to fear of sexual abuse. And because the orphanages would keep males and females separate, Ben and Alberta could not support each other as brother and sister during these complex emotional times.

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Siblings Ben and Alberta, from the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior

As it turns out, Ben and Alberta had different reactions to these trying times. At the age of 44, Alberta overdosed and died on a potent combination of sleeping pills and alcohol. Ben somehow found lessons of life in his childhood struggles, as noted in his biography.

Sadly Alberta seems to have crumbled under the same pressure that made Ben strong. Although the orphanage experience may have contributed to her destruction, Ben thinks he benefited in some ways, “‘That must have been so terrible,’ people always tell me, but as I look back on it I think it was one of the best things that happened to me. It made me very self-reliant and independent. If you have nobody to rely on, then you have got to do it yourself.”

These were not lessons that were learned over night. An underachiever in school who would have run-ins with the police on occasion, Campbell eventually learned after a 2-week stint in juvenile lock up that he needed greater discipline and direction in his life. Campbell was 17 when he decided to enroll in the United States Air Force, where he served in The Korean War, and sharpened his judo acumen.

But there was always an inner dialogue taking place within Campbell, a key ingredient in honing a potent emotional intelligence. After the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell began to more strongly identify with his native Indian roots. As he explained in his biography, his father was Cheyenne, a native Indian tribe based in the Great Plains of the United States. Native Indians were an oft-discriminated peoples, and so Campbell kept his Cheyenne connection quiet, revealing it to his son only in his love for making jewelry. But it became important for Campbell, the Olympian, to better understand who his ancestors were, and thus who he was.

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Campbell learned of his connection to a family line named Black Horse, and developed a deeply personal relationship with the Cheyenne. As successful people do, he understood the story of his life, how he connected to the past, and his obligations to his people in the present and the future. His love of the outdoors and art was not a random interest but a connection to a culture he was ingrained within to a degree he was not conscious of until late in adult life.

Self awareness in leadership is key. Campbell’s coach on the US men’s judo team of 1964, legendary judoka Yoshihiro Uchida, believed that Campbell was inspired to understand his roots during his time in Japan, according to Campbell’s bio:

I believe the time he spent there was a period where he learned a great deal more about himself as an American and as a Native American, because only when confronted with another culture do you truly begin to question and appreciate your own heritage.

Campbell is retired from politics, but running a successful jewelry business and still in good health and expectant to return to Japan in 2020, as are his teammates from the men’s judo team. For a kid from California, who grew up without a home, he now has three, real and symbolic – one in Colorado, another in Montana where his of Cheyenne family reside, and a third in Tokyo, where years of hard work first began to blossom.

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Members of the US Olympic Judo Team in 1964: George Harris, James Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell

When it was announced in 1960 that judo would make its Olympic debut in 1964 in Tokyo, Ben Nighthorse Campbell knew he had to be there. He had to be there not only to compete in the Olympics, but also to train. Japan was the mecca for judo, a martial art developed by IOC’s first representative from Japan, legendary Jigoro Kano.

So after years of training in the United States in high school and college, as well as in the US Air Force in South Korea, Campbell resolved to go to Japan and train at the Japanese judo powerhouse, Meiji University. In the 1960s, there was no organized funding system to train and support American athletes in judo, so Campbell sold his car and his house, and even cashed in his life insurance policy to pay for his trip to Japan.

“I’m not sure what I was thinking,,,it’s really hard,” Campbell told me. “You can’t believe the difference (between training in the US and Japan). You have to live with a lot of bruises. I was training 5 hours a day, first at Keishicho (where the police trained) in the morning, and then at Meiji in the afternoon. If you broke your nose, you had to show up. If you broke something else, you had to stand at attention for hours until you healed.”

Campbell, who would go on to serve in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate from 1986 to 2005, representing the state of Colorado, said in his biography, Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, “the training, in fact, was absolutely brutal. My nose was broken a couple of times, I lost two teeth, and I guess I broke or dislocated virtually every finger and toe I’ve got and suffered any number of bruises, contusions, and swollen ears.”

Training with the very best judoka in the world twice a day every day in Japan shaped Campbell into a champion, as he won US national titles from 1961 to 1963, and a gold medal in the open weight division at the Pan American Games in 1963. He also attended the Tokyo International Sports Week, which was held precisely one year prior to the actual start of the 1964 Olympics. This was a dress rehearsal for officials and planners, a way to test out preliminary operational plans, including the opening ceremonies. But it was also a legitimate sports competition for athletes who were invited.

Campbell was already in Japan for Tokyo International Sports Week, and pulled off what was considered an upset at the time. He defeated the captain of the Meiji University team, someone who was considered a strong candidate to make the Japan judo team. So when Campbell went to New York City for the Olympic trials, he was at the top of his game. He went on to win seven out of seven matches, five of them on falls, and won a spot on the US Judo Team.

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With only four months to go before the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell had to stay in shape and stay away from major injury. Unfortunately, he was not in Japan, where the competition was keen. Instead he trained against a large number of inexperienced judoka, which according to Campbell, can be unpredictable, and lead to awkward maneuvers that can lead to injury. As it turned out, Campbell had just such an experience, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. With the Olympics around the corner, Campbell felt he had no choice but to grin and bear the pain.

In his first bout in the Budokan during the last days of the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell faced off against Thomas Ong of the Philippines. The match was over in seconds, as Campbell simply rushed Ong and swept his legs out from under him for an ip-pon. His second-round opponent was a far heavier opponent from Germany, Thomas Glahn. And in the midst of battle, Campbell’s knee gave way, and then so did any chance of winning a medal. Campbell forfeited and hobbled off the mat. “If my knee was OK, I could have beaten him,” Campbell told me.

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Campbell and Geesink, from the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior

Glahn would go on to earn a bronze medal, but could not do better as he lost to Japanese judoka, Akio Kaminaga. As it turns out, Kaminaga was the only Japanese not to win gold when he lost famously to the huge and hugely talented Dutch man, Anton Geesink.

And then the Olympic Games ended. It was time to say farewell. Campbell was hanging out with one of his friends from California, Don Schollander. Having won four gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the swimming golden boy Schollander was pegged to carry out the American flag for the closing ceremonies. But according to Campbell, Schollander had to leave, literally during the closing ceremony. So somehow, during the march in the stadium, Schollander handed Campbell the flag for the rest of the march. Campbell’s knee was aching. Cold winds were whipping through the late October evening. And the flag and its pole, apparently, is not so light. But according to Campbell in his biography, it was a weight he would bear with pride, not just on that day, but throughout his days of service.

Campbell has never forgotten that moment. He remembered it clearly twenty-five years later when, as a member of Congress, he voted for the amendment to make desecrating the American flag a crime. “I got some heat from the liberals for that vote, but it made no difference to me. I told my colleagues on the House floor that I didn’t fight in Korea or carry our flag in the Olympics so some fool could burn it.”