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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Campo Jr., slain soldier, remembered fondly

  •    At Madelia High School there is a glass case that features black, orange, and white uniforms from bygone eras. There are jerseys from volleyball, cheerleading, band, and football. What sticks out now, though, is a basketball jersey, prominently black, with a “22” under the blocked “MADELIA.”


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  •     At Madelia High School there is a glass case that features black, orange, and white uniforms from bygone eras. There are jerseys from volleyball, cheerleading, band, and football. What sticks out now, though, is a basketball jersey, prominently black, with a “22” under the blocked “MADELIA.”
        “That was Emilio’s number,” said close friend of the fallen hero, Jared Bridges last week. “It wasn’t something they set up for him. They had that up for a couple years. It was weird but also kind of cool.”
        Jared and four close friends of the late Emilio Campo Jr. visited their old school last Tuesday, just as word of Emilio’s death in Iraq reached all corners of Watonwan County. The visit made sense. Go to where so many of your memories of Emilio are. Seek refuge from the cold reality of a friend killed in his prime. Take comfort with mentors who saw Emilio grow up, who understand the friendship and the example he so freely  and unconditionally offered.
        A homemade tribute -- this one unmistakably for Emilio -- had by Tuesday, June 7th, been arranged at Memorial Park on the edge of Madelia’s main street. There inside a small gazebo was a photo of Emilio in his Army fatigues, forever young and handsome. Beside it was a small basketball with a personal message. Up and down the adjoining residential streets yellow ribbons were tied around trees. American flags drooped at half-mast. All symbols of grief and of support.
        Was this real? 
        “Monday night, one of my buddies called me. I couldn’t believe it for the longest time,” explains Bridges on hearing of Emilio’s death.
        To understand the pain Bridges and others who knew Emilio felt, you need to understand the person Emilio was and the man he became.
        Friends offer the following characteristics:
    Outgoing. Athletic. Suave. A great friend. A quiet leader. Laid back. Social. Someone who brought people together. Mature. Determined. Driven to his goals. Responsible. Proud (the good kind). Considerate. Loving. Funny (with an infectious laugh).
        “He bridged gaps,” says former teacher and coach at Madelia, Paul Carpenter. “(On conflict with kids’ different backgrounds) He just naturally was able to diffuse potential issues. The younger kids really looked up to that and saw that. He was a good role model all the way around.”
        
    The list of activities Emilio Campo Jr. was involved in at MHS is long. He played soccer, basketball, football, and ran in track. He was a leader in FFA, BPA, and M-Club. He was in Math & Science Club, he was a Student Against Negative Decisions (STAND), a Student Against Tobacco Smoke. He was part of the Multi-Culture Club.
        Campo had risen quickly in the Army, displaying the kinds of attributes that made him so well-respected even in his teen years. He was an Army Specialist, a medic, on his way to becoming, he dreamed, a doctor.
    Page 2 of 2 -     “And not to be in it for a huge salary and a fancy car but to work with the people who were underrepresented,” says MHS?teacher Donna Roesch. “I definitely would see him doing that.”
        Roesch was Emilio’s homeroom teacher for four years, had him in her science class, and in STAND. She is quick to point out that what people are saying about Emilio -- what a tremendous person he was -- that it’s not some empty eulogizing.
        “This was who he was. This was that outstanding of a young man,” she says.
        When on leave, says Roesch, Emilio would come back to chat with her and other faculty, staff, and students at the high school. He’d ask about his younger brother Hugo. Friends say Hugo is just like Emilio, who was just like Hector, the oldest son of Emilio Sr. and Mirna Campo. In those visits Emilio was more interested in the events of Mrs. Roesch than talking about his own flourishing career. 
        “‘Well how are you Mrs. Roesch?’ he’d say. What’s going on with your kids,” explains Roesch.
        But in those visits, says Roesch, Emilio could not hide the way he felt about being a soldier. It’s a point the five students who came to MHS that Tuesday wanted to make clear.
        “He came in his uniform once, I thought those buttons were going to pop right off of there,” says Roesch. “He was so proud. He was proud of what it stood for and he was proud to be doing something for his country that he loved so much.”
        “He would absolutely have no regrets for being there serving his country.”
        There are those who were lucky enough to have known the 20-year-old Army medic, the Madelian who died in Iraq on June 6th, 2011; and, it appears, there are those who are now lucky enough to learn from his example.
        Says Roesch: “He was one of those rare kids who touched you because of how he touched others.”
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