200 men and women from across Illinois have been named to the state’s “Bicentennial Honor 200” list. They’re being recognized as military veterans who continue to serve their communities. Veterans from 50 counties across Illinois will be honored next month at the state’s 200th birthday celebration at Navy Pier in Chicago. Two of them are from Rockford.
John Borling and Stanley Campbell both served in Vietnam – but their time in the service took them in very different directions when they returned home. Major General John Borling, USAF, retired, is career military. His 37 years in the Air Force, many as a fighter pilot, included 6 ½ years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. Stanley Campbell enlisted in 1969, was sent to Germany, then volunteered for Vietnam so he could leave the service four months early. Campbell handled paperwork for the doctors and nurses of the Army’s 67th medical group. He returned to Rockford a changed man – but we’ll get to his story.
General John Borling is a Chicago native who moved to Rockford 17 years ago for family reasons. Making the state’s Bicentennial Honor 200 list is a nice intersection of his military and community service.
“I’m very pleased to have been nominated and chosen, and feel honored by the inclusion, humbled, that I might be joining such a distinguished group,” Borling said. He has run for U.S. Senate, published a book of poems he had tapped out to fellow prisoners in Vietnam, and currently is a trustee and regent for the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, which awards the state’s highest honor, the Order of Lincoln. “Over the years I’ve tried to commit myself to worthy enterprises that advance the American spirit as well as be active in the business community,” he added.
Borling’s biggest investment, currently, is as founder and chairman of an organization called Service Over Self. One year of nation-building service would be required of every male between the ages of 18 and 26: women could volunteer. It’s Borling’s response to areas he sees the nation falling short because of an all-volunteer military.
“The problem with an all-volunteer force is that a very small percentage of Americans, male and female, can qualify for the all-volunteer force. It’s quite strenuous, physically and mentally, Borling said. “But the notion is, wouldn’t it be good to have an option for just a year of service to augment the all-volunteer force? But to do it in a small unit. No larger than 100. Mixed geography from across the country, so the north and south, east and west meet. Mixed ages – boy, the 18 year old is much different than the 20, much different than the 22 or the 26 year old.”
And mixed education and socio-economic levels, too. Borling sees these forces performing support tasks for the military, like cleaning up and rebuilding after storms or even serving as a presence at the nation’s borders. Borling says it’s an uphill battle and will take legislation, but he thinks it’s worth it to bring a military bonding experience to more people: A brotherhood.
Stanley Campbell is being honored by the state of Illinois for his service in the army – and, in a sense, for his anti-war activities following his return from Vietnam. He says he was surprised by the award because “there are at least 2,000 other vets out there doing good stuff for their communities. I was one of the lucky ones who was actually nominated.” That was by a good friend who did all of the paperwork.
Campbell went to Vietnam as a supporter of America’s mission there – and returned home to Rockford with a very different mindset. He says he marched against the war, was angry, felt betrayed by his government – then discovered peace through helping others while attending Rock Valley College. There he founded the Rock River Valley Pantry and went on to become executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries, and, as he likes to put it, became “the only paid peace activist in Rockford.” He credits his experiences in the military with helping make him who he is today.
“I went in with preconceived notions about war and justice and the enemy, and had it flip-flopped,” Campbell said. “So I’ve always been careful about considering what is the enemy, what is wrong, how do we approach problems in the world. I’m not such a firm believer that the government has all the answers. Individuals can make a difference if we band together. I like to say that if I hadn’t gone to Vietnam, I’d probably be working for Ollie North. I am happy I served, I’m proud of my time there, but I know the mission soldiers were called to do was so incorrect and so horrifyingly wrong that even today, vets return to Vietnam to be healed. And they’re welcomed by the Vietnamese. I’m proud that I found other vets to march against the war, then work to make our community a better place.”
Sunday is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of WWI. Over time in America, that observance evolved into Veterans Day. For Campbell, it’s “a good time to remember what a person who goes through war brings home. And how we treat that person and try to bind up their wounds. We could ignore them, pat them on the back, tell them to be a man. Or we can search and find a way to heal and find a way to prevent this in the future.”
Stanley Campbell, John Borling, and 198 other Illinois veterans will be honored December 3rd when the state throws its Bicentennial Birthday party in Chicago. The celebration was originally scheduled to be held at the United Center, but organizers announced a venue change Monday, Nov. 12. It will now be held at Navy Pier.
Illinois Honor 200 is a joint project by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Illinois Bicentennial Office.