Veteran who secured first military headstone for same-sex spouse dies at 71
By EDER CAMPUZANO | The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 6, 2018
It's been five years since retired Air Force Lt. Col. Linda Campbell buried the ashes of her wife, Nancy Lynchild, at Willamette National Cemetery just southeast of Portland.
It was just after the military dropped the "don't ask, don't tell" policy" that prohibited its gay, lesbian and bisexual members from serving openly but before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right.
And it was the first time a U.S. veteran had secured a burial plot for her same-sex spouse at a military cemetery.
Soon, Linda will join Lynchild in the plot she lobbied the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to grant her partner of 22 years. The Air Force veteran has died at 71, according to a Campbell family release.
Linda Campbell was born in Fargo, North Dakota in 1946 to Joyce and Gordon Campbell and grew up in Portland, where she attended Kellogg Grade School and, later, Marshall High School.
It was during high school that Linda knew she was gay, she told historian Pat Young in a 2013 interview. Linda felt it was something she couldn't share with her best friend, a female Marshall classmate named Loen she'd known since first grade.
"I couldn't talk to her. I couldn't tell her who I was. I couldn't share," Linda told Young.
The two set off for the University of Oregon upon graduating from their Portland high school in 1964. Linda said she never caught sight of Loen during her undergraduate years. But the two caught up when, at the age of 60, Linda called up her old best friend to catch up.
It was then, more than four decades after their high school graduation, that Linda came out to Loen. The two bonded over their shared isolation. Loen was Japanese-American, so boys wouldn't ask her out, she said. Linda was gay and held it close to the chest.
"She was excluded. And I was excluded. And here we are walking to school together, neither one of us telling the other things that really mattered," Linda said, recalling their school days in Portland together.
That sense of exclusion lasted through Linda's years at the University of Oregon, where she graduated in 1968 with a degree in sociology. She immediately enlisted in the Air Force on the advice of a "really good recruiter," she told Young.
"I'd never seen a woman in uniform and I thought that would be very interesting," she said.
Linda enlisted in the military, in part, to "get over it."
"I wanted to get a master's degree. I thought that would help me find good work. I thought, okay, I'd get the GI Bill," she said. "And I wanted to, you know, at this point in life it's kind of . . . you want to be straight. It's really hard to be straight. If a boy asks you out it's really hard to say yes, you know, when you could be with your friends. So, I thought, I'm never going to go out with a boy if I'm around my friends, so I need to force myself to be away from them."
She never got over it.
In 1972, Linda visited her parents to tell them she was dating a woman. Her father verbally disowned her. Her mother, Linda told The Oregonian's Mike Francis, said, "I just wish you hadn't told us."
It was around then, after four years with the Air Force, that Linda returned to Portland and joined the Oregon Air National Guard, from which she would retire as a lieutenant colonel in 1994. She met Col. Fred Rosenbaum, one of the first people to whom she'd come out. The two would become close friends.
He was the chairman of the Housing Authority of Portland, then the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, both agencies where Linda would also work.
It was during her time at HUD that Linda met Nancy Jean Lynchild, who was the director of housing programs for the Lane County Housing Authority. Linda travelled to Eugene for audits and the two would get together during those visits.
Both were partnered at the time. Linda had a 12-year-old son named Brady.
One day over lunch, Lynchild told Linda she and her partner had separated. Soon after, Linda told The Oregonian in 2013, "I ran away from home." She lived alone for some time before feeling "just compelled to be with Nancy."
Linda Campbell and Nancy Lynchild were domestically partnered twice in Oregon before they were legally wed in Vancouver, B.C. in 2010. But the women had considered themselves married since 1995, when they packed up the car and moved to Washington, D.C. so Linda could work at HUD headquarters.
"We had the kind of marriage that people dream of -- young people, old people, gay people and straight people," Linda had told her family. "We shared hopes and dreams and health care struggles -- until death did us part."
In 2000, Linda and Lynchild returned to Oregon to be closer to her parents. By then, Gordon and Joyce Campbell had accepted their daughter and embraced her sexual orientation, even professing their own love for Lynchild and Linda's previous partner.
Joyce Campbell's death in 2004 shook the family. Linda described her father as devastated when she and Gordon Campbell visited a funeral home to discuss cremation.
"The light was gone from his eyes," she said.
But it was then that the Campbells learned Linda's mother was eligible to have her ashes buried in Willamette National Cemetery.
"It changed Dad so much," Linda told The Oregonian.
Gordon Campbell's ashes would join his wife's when he died in 2009. And although her parents were now resting together, Linda was pained in knowing she and Lynchild couldn't have the same honor.
On Dec. 22, 2012, Nancy Lynchild died of breast cancer.
In the years leading up to her wife's death, Linda worked with Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Sen. Jeff Merkley to ensure Lynchild's ashes would be buried in the Campbell family plot.
"Linda was a subtle yet giant force that moved our world forward," Avakian said in a release. "But more, I have never known a person with greater capacity to love others, and be loved in return. Among all the gems we collect in life, our friends and experience, she was a diamond."
They wrote letters to the VA, arguing the agency should follow the spirit of the Department of Defense's recent dismissal of its "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The response was tepid at the time, the three would tell The Oregonian.
But things changed soon after Lynchild passed away. First came the waiver for the burial plot. Then, the VA afforded Campbell's relationship further recognition: The headstone she and her partner will now share included the word "spouse" to describe Lynchild.
"Our nation will know and everyone who passes by here will know, that we lovingly, proudly and legally were wed, and that we have earned the right to be here in this hallowed space," Linda had said of the headstone.
Linda Campbell and Nancy Lynchild will rest two markers away from Gordon and Joyce Campbell at Willamette National Cemetery.
Linda is survived by two brothers, Bob and Jim Campbell; sisters-in-law Monte and Carolyn Campbell; and Brady Evan Campbell and Oliver Mena-Rengel, "family raised as sons."
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