A bond strengthened between soldier and son

Madison man born after father died in Korean War
A bond strengthened between soldier and son
Lt. Daniel F. Kamps

In June 2006, in Sun Center City, Florida, retired United States Army Col. John T. Stanfield went on the Korean War Project website to a page he had visited before.

“I am still searching,” Stanfield wrote on the page’s message board, “for anyone in Danny’s family. I served with him on Okinawa in 1950 in the 29th Infantry Regiment and delivered a Red Cross message to him as he was boarding a ship in Naha to go to Korea.”

Years passed, and Stanfield heard nothing.

Meanwhile, in Madison, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate named Ralph Kamps was continuing a successful business career as a partner in a real estate investment firm.

Kamps was born in Appleton on June 11, 1950, exactly two weeks before the official start of the Korean War.

His father, Daniel F. Kamps, wasn’t there for Ralph’s birth. On June 11, 1950, Daniel Kamps was a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Daniel and his wife, Dorothy, Ralph’s mother, met at Appleton High School, married and eventually had three children, of which Ralph was the youngest. Dorothy and the children lived with her parents in Appleton once Daniel went overseas.

He was transported from Camp Stoneman, in California, to Okinawa in January 1950, part of the 3rd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment. On the Japanese island, Kamps shared a Quonset hut with three other officers, who became friends. He wrote home to Appleton often, sending chatty letters filled with his daily routines and hopes for the future; enough letters to fill two large shoeboxes.

Back in Appleton, on June 11, Ralph was born.

A few days later, halfway around the world, Daniel Kamps and others in the 29th Infantry stationed on Okinawa boarded a ship for Korea. The war was about to begin.

On July 27, in southern South Korea, Daniel F. Kamps was killed in an ambush that resulted in heavy American casualties, decimating the 29th Infantry Regiment. Daniel Kamps, was 24. His son Ralph, in Appleton, was six weeks old when his father died.

“I was told my dad never knew I was born,” Ralph recalled recently.

Ralph wouldn’t realize it for more than 60 years, but what he was told wasn’t true.

On the day they were to leave Okinawa for Korea, Daniel Kamps and his unit boarded a bus to the port at Naha. One of Kamps’ best pals, an officer named John Stanfield — they shared the Quonset hut — remained behind. Stanfield had just been selected to be aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Harry B. Sherman and didn’t get to Korea until December.

The bus going to the port hadn’t been gone long when a Red Cross message arrived for Kamps.

“I volunteered to take it to the port,” Stanfield recalled later. At the port in Naha, the ship was still dockside. “With much difficulty,” Stanfield recalled, “I made my way through security to ship side and called to soldiers I recognized to find Lieutenant Kamps.”

They found him. Kamps appeared on deck. Stanfield yelled up the news: “You have a new son!”

“He acknowledged,” Stanfield recalled, “with the proud happy yell and fist pumping of a new father.”

On a day in March 2011, Ralph Kamps’ daughter, Danielle — named for her late grandfather — went on the Korean War Project website. She is an Edgewood High School and UW-Madison graduate, interested in history and genealogy. She found the page dedicated to her grandfather and read the note left by Stanfield in 2006 saying he hoped to find a member of Daniel Kamps’ family.

Danielle thought, “There’s no way this guy’s still around.” But there was an opportunity to “send an email to this contributor,” so she did: “I’m his granddaughter,” she wrote.

Within a few hours, Stanfield was in touch, sharing how he had stood dockside and delivered the message of Ralph’s birth. Danielle went to her dad’s house in Madison to tell him in person. Once they wiped all the tears, Ralph sent Stanfield a note in Florida.

“You will never know the relief in my heart that he knew I was born,” Ralph wrote. “I sincerely thank you for all your efforts.”

Stanfield wrote back: “Thank you a million times over. You don’t know how heavy a burden this has been to have not been able to tell Danny’s son that I delivered a message after he was on board. … You’ll never know the relief I feel tonight as I type this through the tears in my eyes.”

At this time of year — around Veteran’s Day — Ralph always thinks about his dad, but it’s different now, since John Stanfield found him.

“It changed my life,” Ralph says. “He knew about me. All of a sudden, we had more of a bond.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.