Walk into the two-story Whittier home of John Campa, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, and you’ll see history adorning the walls – from old family photos to medals of honor.
But as much as Campa wants to hold on to the house that holds his treasures, he’s been teetering on the edge of losing it.
For decades, the home was a hub for gathering, memories, and love for family and friends. Holidays were a huge family draw, and the Campas’ home was center stage.
It’s here where Campa — “Papa” to those who know him best — loves spending time with his family playing music, from Sinatra to Johnny Cash, on his record player and watching games of his favorite baseball team, the Dodgers.
But a lot changed in recent years. His wife’s health declined and eventually he would lose her after 74 years together. He fell and broke his hip – twice. More caregivers meant more costs.
The medical expenses for the couple soared to several thousand dollars a month, resulting in the family flying through their savings as they brainstormed for other ways to afford the care their grandparents needed and deserved.
Meanwhile, the cost of living just kept going up, as skyhigh inflation blanketed the nation.
In 2018, down to their last option, the family decided to take a reverse mortgage on the old house.
But now, Campa has outlived that money as well, said Sarah Komisky – one of Campa’s granddaughters. Which led the family to once again look for other ways to pay the bills.
Once again, selling the home emerged as the option — one the family couldn’t bare to let happen for a man who wants to live his final days there.
For Komisky, the memories of her grandparents and family in this house are special.
“The house reminds us of time with them and they would have music on and it would just be super lively,” Komisky said. “My grandparents would get up and start dancing, they both loved the art of music and they would share it with us.”
The Whittier home was also the place to be for every holiday gathering, such as Christmas and Easter, she added. Being a Hispanic household, she said, filled the house with good food, music and parties that her grandmother would love to host. Oh, the enchiladas, the molé, the tamales … .
Campa and wife Betty watched the house get built, and ultimately moved their family from East Los Angeles to Whittier, where they bought the home in 1968.
John Campa was born on March 17, 1923, in Anaheim. He had eight brothers and sisters. He was the oldest. Campa said he grew up when there were orange groves in Orange County and still remembers smelling the aroma during a bloom. His family ended up moving to East Los Angeles in 1937.
In March 1941, Campa was drafted for World War II at 19 years old. He went to Europe but said he spent most of the time in the Pacific. He recalled watching Doris Day perform for the soldiers on the large ship. Campa is one of 167,284 veterans still living of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, according to the National World War II Museum.
“To this day I still don’t know how to swim,” Campa said with a chuckle.
Campa married his wife, Betty, in 1948, after being neighbors growing up in East LA.
“She was the love of my life,” and she was the only girlfriend he ever had, he said.
They had four children – and took care of many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Both worked in aerospace until they retired. The couple was well known in the community when they went out to watch movies, go shopping or attend church services.
Things take a turn
Two years ago, Campa lost Betty.
Since then, after the second breaking of a hip, he has been under 24-hour home care. Now, three caregivers take care of Campa, who said they too have become like family.
But the care has started to deplete the family’s funds once again.
“It’s about $10,000 a month for the caregivers,” Komisky said, “and that’s not including medication, food, paying the bills, all the other things that are necessary for life are not factored in.”
So, Campa and his family faced a choice.
They could sell the home or turn to the community. Option A just seemed undoable at this stage in Campa’s life.
“The goal was to keep my grandparents here,” Komisky said. “My grandma passed in her home, and of course my grandpa is still here and that is still our goal. “But he pretty much outlived his reverse mortgage and that’s where we’re at to this day.”
100-year-old WWII veteran, John Campa, with his granddaughter, Sarah Komisky, as he talks about his life at his Whittier home on Wednesday August 30, 2023. With the cost of his rising medical needs, continuing to receive care has created a major financial challenge for Campa to stay in his home. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Contributing Photographer)
When asked about his home, Campa gets sentimental.
“There are a lot of memories of her (Betty), and all the family, all the kids and the time they come to visit me,” he said.
His family wants to share Campa’s wish. He said that he wants to live out his last days in the Whittier home.
But the need to sell was looming.
“Having a conversation about that with him was not at all easy, we tried to avoid it at all cost, but then we realized that it had to happened and that’s heartbreaking,” Komisky said. “None of us want to let this house go or say goodbye, so we had to come to a point where we needed to make sure there were no other options, and when there was, to have the conversation and then still say what else can be done.”
Plus, “it’s like how do you have that conversation with someone who has 70 plus years of memories in this house,” Komisky said.
Afraid of what that would do to the 100-year-old man, the family turned to an option they had not yet acted on — asking the community for help.
Campa’s family decided to ask the community for help to make that wish possible for “Papa.”
They turned to creating a page on Go Fund Me, to share with close friends, neighbors, their church community who might help. One of the grandchildren had connections to a news channel, which reported on the family’s effort to raise money.
Donations were planned to be used to help for in-home caregivers, as well as other medical needs and bills, Komisky said.
To the family’s surprise, more people and organizations started stepping up.
Nonprofit organizations donors caught word of the fundraiser page.
The Oath to Country Foundation — a nonprofit that serves veterans and their families, service members, and first responders by renovating their homes to create a clean, safe and sustainable environment — stepped in. Volunteers from different communities, including Whittier, helped clean up the front and backyard of Campa’s home in late August.
Justin Gracieux, founder and CEO of the nonprofit, said that helping Campa was a reflective moment for him, as his grandfather also served during World War II.
“It was an honor for all of us volunteers to help John with his landscaping, since now at the incredible age of 100, yard work has its physical limitations, as with most veteran homes we’ve completed, so this is where we step in and take the help where it’s truly needed, right to their front doors,” Gracieux said.
After receiving a message from the family, Gracieux said Oath to Country Foundation gladly answered the call to serve a veteran from the “Greatest Generation.”
“For all of us, giving back to this generation of men allows us to express our deepest gratitude for their sacrifice, honor, courage, and valor to our country,” he said.
Campa and his family also received support from the American Legion Post 328 in Norco, which offered support by hosting a fundraiser breakfast.
“It’s been really mind-blowing to know that there’s still people who are kind and want to genuinely give back and it’s been really cool to see that happen,” Komisky said.
The family is also working with Veteran Affairs to receive additional help, she said.
“It’s been overwhelming to know that his story has gone out everywhere,” Komisky said. “The people in Whittier have been so supportive in his journey and his wish and we’re blown away on how far it’s reaching and people who want to be able to help in some way. It’s been incredible to be able to see the support.”
Campa’s struggle is not unheard of.
While people of all ages are facing high prices due to inflation, more than a third of older Americans are having an even harder time because they often live on a fixed income or are unable to increase their paychecks. Meanwhile, they are living longer.
For the Campa family, things are day to day as they work to hold on to the place. They continue to seek assistance on the GoFundMe page, and to reach out to supportive organizations.
And Campa himself?
Wearing his veteran’s cap, Campa said he is proud to be a veteran.
“There is nothing else like this, the United States of America,” he said.
“I want to stay in this house until the end,” Campa said. “People can help by donating, they can help with my joy, I want to stay here.”
To donate and help support Campa and his family, visit gofundme.com/f/john-campa-help-a-wwii-hero.