Friendship forged in medals

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Shawn Hennessy, right, shows off his grandfather’s medals from the Second World War, items James MacNeil, left, helped him obtain from the government. MacNeil is shown holding a picture of Hennessy’s grandfather, William Frederick Campbell.

The passing of a loved one created a friendship for two local men, as one helped the other obtain the Second World War medals of his late grandfather.

Shawn Hennessy first met James MacNeil when a relative passed away, and MacNeil, owner of Life Transitions Burial and Cremation Services, took care of the cremation process.

It was during a visit to MacNeil’s office to retrieve the ashes that Hennessy noticed a military display.

“I saw a bunch of war medals,” he said, as MacNeil said he has a number on display at the business.

Hennessy had been trying to get copies of the medals his late grandfather, William Frederick Campbell, had earned while in the cold fuselage of a Lancaster bomber thousands of feet above Europe on many a night during the Second World War.

Hennessy’s grandfather died when the Lancaster bomber he was in was shot down on a mission to bomb the Gremberg marshalling yards in Cologne, Germany on Dec. 23, 1944.

During that same mission, the man leading the raid, Sqn. Ldr. Robert Palmer, was shot down and killed, receiving the Victoria Cross posthumously for his efforts.

The raid itself is the topic of a book, Heroic Endeavour: The Remarkable Story of One Pathfinder Force Attack, a Victoria Cross and 206 Brave Men.

Campbell, a tail gunner with the 582nd Squadron, was actually just filling in on the mission, operating as a turret gunner.

“He was asked to go out on an extra mission and went up to the upper turret gunner’s position,” Hennessy said of Campbell. “He was badly wounded and his parachute was shredded.”

As a result, he was unable to get out of the plane as it headed toward the ground. Hennessy said five crewmembers were able to bail out, but the remains of his grandfather and those of the pilot were found in the wreckage in a field.

Campbell’s medals were lost years ago and Hennessy had sought – unsuccessfully at that point – to have replicas delivered by the government. There was a serious hiccup.

“I couldn’t get my grandfather’s medals as I was the grandson and not his child,” Hennessy said. “James offered to help.”

MacNeil said he just worked the problem as he normally does – find an actual person to talk to.

“We’re constantly trying to find back doors to get information for families,” he said. “Once I got to a live person and told them the story, I just pleaded Shawn’s case.”

The government reconsidered, Hennessy said, and while he had to pay for them, he got his grandfather’s medals.

“I had to pay a fee to remint the medals,” Hennessy explained.

Those medals include the Memorial Cross and the Air Crew Europe Star. Hennessy said the Memorial Cross had to be reminted in England and sent over.

MacNeil was happy to help.

“When I knew I could help make this happen, I thought, ‘Wow, this is great,’” MacNeil said. “There’s a book attached to it. This was a big deal – that kind of sacrifice.”

Hennessy is very appreciative of MacNeil’s efforts, which opened doors where in the past Hennessy only encountered walls.

“This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for James,” he said.

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