Military widow's memories buried under flood debris

BELLEVUE, Neb. (WOWT) - Nearly three decades ago, an Offutt Airman became the first American casualty as the U.S. was building up for the Persian Gulf War.

Now, his widow worries about losing his personal effects after an unusual flash flood.

During the military buildup called Desert Shield, 30-year-old Staff Sgt. John Campisi was killed in an accident when hit by a vehicle on a Saudi base.

"I thought the hard days were behind me and they're not," his widow, Charlene Campisi-Ryan said.

On March 13, emotions came rushing back for the widow.

"The water was flowing so fast and so big, it was like an oversized creek," Campisi-Ryan said.

Flood runoff from a hill blasted through the foundation wall of her rental home in Rising View, also known as base housing.

"It's very sad as I look around because this is 40 years of my life," the widow said.

The structure - shared with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandkids - has been fixed up by engineers the landlord hire, but the basement is a mess of concrete chunks and family belongings mixed together in the mud.

Crushed under a wall were plastic containers that held memories of John, including his military citations, ribbons and even some of his uniforms.

"It's almost like John is buried again," Campisi-Ryan said.

Through a GoFundMe page, she is raising money to hire a professional flood recovery contractor.

"Because items can be cleaned, even photographs sometimes I was reading they're able to restore," Campisi-Ryan said.

Servicemen and women from the 55th Wing have done what they can to help recover many of her belongings and help her move to another rental in the area, but the volunteers have their own cleanup.

The Missouri River flooded many buildings on the base, including the John Campisi Alert Facility.

"Very ironic that our house flooded and his alert facility that was named in memoriam for him flooded at the same time," Campisi-Ryan said.

Friends and neighbors in the Offutt community have encouraged her to continue her mission of recovering a hero's memories resting under the fallen wall.

Rising View is a private company that rents to both civilian and military families. The director said no other homes were damaged by the runoff flooding.

The director said Rising View is helping Campisi-Ryan, but won't elaborate.

FEMA has also provided some assistance.