Memorial Day Tribute
Every Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for all those men and women who served this country with honor. So many stories are untold, and many veterans walk amongst us. We see them all the time. We know little about them. Many who served in World War Two are now in their nineties, but there was a time when they were young and full of dreams. Many would end up far from home some would return and some would not.
Dick Russell was born at the Milton Hospital in 1925, and it has been nearly 76 years since a young, energetic Russell was a senior at Milton High School. It was March 1943, and he had just turned 18 years old, and in a few months, he would finally graduate. His life was just perfect and looking forward to working for his father in the restaurant business. But a World War was going on, and he would receive a letter from the U.S. Army, informing him he was to report to Boston's First Service Command.
"The Army needed men, and it was common for anyone 18 years or older to be drafted. It didn't matter that I was still in high school; they gave me a delay until I graduated. They weren't kidding either. The morning before my graduation I reported to Boston's First Service Command to be sworn into the U.S. Army. Later that morning I returned home. I still remember running across the field to where the senior class was sitting making it just in time for my graduation. A week later I reported to Fort Devens and was put on a train to Camp Edwards for basic training. I was assigned to the Anti-Aircraft Division as a machine gunner," said Russell.
Russell would spend the next year and a half training at several Army Camps on the use of heavy weapons including the 50-caliber machine gun.
Always looking to new challenges Russell volunteered for Air Corps. According to Russell he was underweight and needed to weigh in at 125lbs. Before being accepted. "I was always pretty thin, and I weighed 120lbs., five pounds' shy of what I needed to qualify," said Russell.
With a little help from a friend who called out the weight to the doctor and eating a lot of bananas, he tipped the scale at 128lbs enough to be accepted.
His orders were cut, but unfortunately for Russell, the Battle of the Bulge reported a significant loss of soldiers on the American side. General George S. Patton's army needed replacements, and Russell's orders for the Air Corp were cancelled.
Late in 1944, Russell left Boston by boat to Scotland where all the troops were amassed. He would then travel from Scotland by train to England and then a boat trip into France where he and his buddy's joined up with Patton's 61st Battalion 10th Armored "Tiger" Division Company A.
The winter was finally over, and the smell of springtime was in the air on the morning of April 2, 1945. What happens next would change Dick Russell's life forever.
The war in Europe was coming to an end, and Patton's Army was on the move. "Our orders were to keep moving into Germany. We were 23 miles deep behind the enemy lines, and my job was to protect the right side of our armored tank so the enemy couldn't sneak up on the tank," said Russell.
"Suddenly we were fired upon. A German bazooka round was fired at the tank but hit the ground near where I was standing and exploded. I knew I was hit, but for a moment I didn't know where. I looked down at my left ankle and saw blood flowing out of my boot. Then there was a burning sensation from my leg, chest, shoulder, and arm. I was starting to lose consciousness when a medic put another injured soldier and me on the back of a half-track truck".
The medic drove looking for an aid station since the hospital was too far. Russell would briefly come to as he was being worked on by German civilian aides. Later Russell would say, "they were wonderful they saved my life." He was then taken to a hospital in France that treated both Americans and captured injured German prisoners.
During Russell's emergency treatment his clothes were taken off, and his dog tags would be lost. Still in a semi-conscious state on his arrival at the hospital and because so many soldiers were injured and Russell had no identification he was mistakenly thought to be a German.
He was operated on and then transported to the German prisoner's section of the hospital.
"I remember coming to, and some guy was on my chest; I yelled out to get off me you S.O.B. It was a doctor, and he was draining my lungs with this needle. The doctor called for two orderlies telling them to take me to the American side of the hospital. I guess he realized I was an American and not German. I know a lot of people don't know how good we were to the German soldiers who were injured. The war was almost over, and we treated them with dignity," said Russell.
On May 8, 1945, the war would end in Europe, but Russell was still recovering from his wounds. From the hospital in France, he was sent to Camp Edwards. Recovery was slow, and it would be months before he would be discharged. The Army told him he needed to rest for a year before returning to civilian life. Russell's leg injury would never fully recover, and he still walks with a limp that he disguises well.
Alice, Russell's high school sweetheart, was still waiting and they would marry in 1947. The Russell Diner was also waiting, and Russell would take over the business from his father.
Memorial Day will come and pass, but the war and those times are still evident in Dick Russell's mind. The reminder of that time hangs on his living room wall. A tattered blood stained medical form outlining his injuries, his service ribbons, dog tags and his Purple Heart.
"Believe me I'm no hero; the heroes are the ones who didn't come home. Life has been good to me – I have no complaints," said Russell.
The Pine Tree Brook would have plans for the young Russell.