ENID, Okla. —
Campbell calls himself a “custodian of this collection,” a collection that always has been his pride and joy. A retired Tinker civilian worker, the 65-year-old began gathering photos when he was just a boy of 6. He went to his first air show at Vance when he was 9 with his father, a member of the Army Air Corps.
Campbell receives copies of photos from veterans, veterans’ spouses or significant others, and everyday plane enthusiasts, spanning across the globe. Since Saturday, he’s been emailed 73 more, he said.
“It started as a hobby, devolved into madness, turned into a career, now, it’s a legacy,” he said, pronouncing that with a soft g. “If it’s got wings on it, I’m pretty much interested.”
An author, Campbell also has published 18 books of the photos, which, because they are military planes, are in the public domain, he says.
His first book, “War Paint,” was published in 1991, after his late wife, Donna Campbell, encouraged him to pursue the passion as a career. They shared the byline on several of his books.
“She said, ‘Anyone with a collection this large needs to write a book about it,’ so I said, ‘I’ll go out and get a book contract tomorrow,’” he said.
Four of those books still are available on Amazon.com.
From there, it’s been a whirlwind of public speaking tours, visits to foreign nations such as Russia and thousands of photos, negatives and slides being sent his way.
“It gets … ,” he paused, his squinted eyes stealing a glance down at the pavement of his driveway for a split second, “… overwhelming sometimes.”
Since his wife passed in 1994, Campbell hasn’t had much time for a personal life aside from spending time with his granddaughter, Karma, and his son, who live with him.
“It’s been 10 years I haven’t dated anybody. I’m afraid to, actually — no woman wants to deal with this stuff,” he said, with another hearty laugh.
Indeed, that “stuff” is a legacy, preserved in Campbell’s seemingly endless fountain of stories, photographs, books, talks and autographs. He just doesn’t know where all of his work will end up, but would prefer a museum.
He has seen the care museums put into their collections through his travels to aviation museums like the U.S Air Force Historical Research Agency in Montgomery, Ala., and the National Museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. So far, Oklahoma State University has approached him about acquiring the archives.
“This custodianship needs to be kept alive,” he said. “You can tell the love and time that has gone into some of them more than others.”
Anyone with photos of military planes can email them to Campbell for him to copy at email@example.com.