The oldest of six children, Francis came of age in the early '60s and embodied that innocent era. He shared an attic with his three brothers and guarded his record albums from their prying hands. When not pulling B's at Bergenfield High -- history was his favorite subject -- the clean-cut kid with sun-lightened hair was swimming or teaching others to swim at the Police Athletic League and the Hackensack Y.
His family couldn't afford college, so two years after his 1963 graduation,
Francis joined the Navy. On July 29, 1967 -- exactly 40 years ago -- Aviation
Electronics Mate 3rd Class Francis Campeau died in an inferno aboard the
aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, the Navy's worst accident since World War
II. He was 22.
In those days, New York's legal drinking age was 18, and New Jersey teens would cross the state line to drink. Gill said he recalls Francis going with the guys on a drinking trip only once, "and he probably didn't even have a drink."
"He was straitlaced," Gill said. "But he fit in with everybody."
Francis Campeau was born in Manhattan on May 28, 1945, while his father Frank was with the Navy overseas. In 1955, the growing family moved from Hell's Kitchen to a two-bedroom Cape Cod on North Queen Street in Bergenfield. Frank Campeau worked as a service writer for car dealerships, and Mary Campeau worked as an EKG technician at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck.
John A. Hodurski lived a block away and was in Boy Scouts with Francis.
"When we were about 13, the troop had a Halloween costume party," said Hodurski, a church mechanic in South Dennis, Mass. "Frank showed up in a blue Navy uniform, and I was in a white Navy uniform.
"We kind of chuckled about the fact we were the only sailors at the party, and if I recall, he mentioned that, like me, he wanted to go into the Navy."
Francis's Navy aspirations were an open secret. After all, his father and two uncles were sailors in World War II. The lack of money for college sealed the matter.
He enlisted as the United States was escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War, but the family felt reasonably secure with his choice.
"Everyone said the same thing: It's very rare that sailors get killed," said Mary Campeau, who now lives in Dumont.
"But who would dream that the ship would blow up?"
The morning of July 30, 1967, Don Campeau, then 16, was putting together the Sunday papers at a local deli when he saw a headline saying the Forrestal was burning. He went home to tell the family. By then, the radio was blaring reports from the Gulf of Tonkin.
Mary's brother, who served on aircraft carriers in World War II, called to prepare the family for bad news. Later that day, the bad news arrived.
"All I remember were the white sailor suits coming up the block," said Francis's sister, Barbara Redmond.
The Campeaus were told that Francis was missing and probably dead.
"We all were hoping he landed in the water, because we knew he could swim," said Redmond, an X-ray technician who lives in Teaneck.
Onboard the crippled Forrestal, Gunner's Mate Lou Torres -- Bergenfield High School Class of 1964 -- was searching for Francis. Acquaintances back home, they had become friends on the giant carrier.
"The thing happened so fast," said Torres, a communications systems engineer from North Miami Beach, Fla. "I was standing on top of a gun mount, a rocket took off, hit a man named John McCain's plane, which started a chain reaction. I was standing maybe 30, 40 feet from there. And then the world exploded. As to what happened in detail after that, I can't tell you. I have no clue. I know I was on the ship and spent the next three days looking for a few people I knew. Frank was one of them."
Francis' memorial service was at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Bergenfield. "There wasn't one empty seat," his mother said. "That's when we figured out people liked him."
After returning home from the service, the Campeaus were notified that Francis's body had been found. Their son was buried in Long Island National Cemetery. In 1968, Bergenfield honored the sailor by naming a street for him: Campeau Place.
If Francis were alive today, he probably would be a history teacher, his mother said. "Maybe he would've gotten married. He liked a bridesmaid at my brother's wedding, but she was seeing someone else. But he wasn't going to give up. Then they sent him off to the ship."
This weekend, Mary Campeau, her two daughters and a granddaughter are attending ceremonies in Washington commemorating the Forrestal tragedy. Asked what she wanted the world to know about Francis, who died 40 years ago today, Mary Campeau said:
"What I tried to do was teach him to be a good American. To praise your country. And he did."
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