Flying A Flag And Baptism By Fire
When Dad died in August, the funeral home folks explained that they fly a flag over the bandstand on the square each month to honor a recently deceased veteran. They accompany it with a short article in the Oskaloosa Herald telling a bit about the soldier and his time in the military. When asked if we’d like to do this, I agreed because the United States flag was important to Dad and he often had one flying. He was drafted and sent to the most foreign, unimaginable place to him to do things against his gentle, kind nature in order to protect that flag and for what it stood.
I picked April for his flag to be flown because Dad always loved the flowers that started to bloom, the morel mushrooms that would sprout and also because it was his birthday month. Instead of having the funeral home folks compile a few paragraphs of dates and places, I said I would write something and submit it to them, crossing my fingers that they would think it was worthy and appropriate.
I went through his military documents, some handwritten notes and in my mind, sifted through a few of the stories he shared with me. I often found myself tense and holding my breath. I was touching the essence of my Dad and in a distant way, his fear, loneliness, courage and resiliency. How do you honor a person whose importance and influence cannot be adequately articulated? How do you encapsulate and convey what he experienced and sacrificed?
Well, duh, you don’t. I gave myself a little talk and permission to capture a few dates, places and one story because anything else would be too overwhelming and probably not right for the intended audience, anyway.
Here is what I wrote:
In December of 1951, John W. Russell received a letter from the Selective Service System that would change his quiet, small, rural life; an Order to Report For Induction. A month later he was officially in the United States Army. He would leave his parents, his friends, his job, his skating rink, his fast car and the only life he knew, for two years. He bounced from Camp Crowder, Missouri, to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, to Camp Cook, California, to Fort Lewis, Washington, before leaving the states.
His departure from Seattle took him aboard a boat with hundreds of seasick servicemen on a seventeen day voyage to Yokohama, Japan. From there, Tokyo and then to Iwo Jima for six weeks of Supply School.
Then, April of 1953, Korea. He was assigned to the Headquarters Company, 3rd Infantry Division, 15th Infantry Regiment. His first night there, his commanding officer introduced him to the Supply Sargent who offered them both a drink to which the commanding officer declined. This infuriated the already inebriated Supply Sargent who tossed his drink onto the commanding officer, splashing onto the wood burning stove keeping him warm, and both the Sargent and the commanding office became engulfed in flames. John never saw either of them again and from this point on, he was the Supply Sargent. He was in charge of supplying the front line, the Main Line of Resistance, with artillery, a duty that weighed on him, the lives lost and changed with that artillery never leaving him, until the day he died.
He survived numerous battles, including the pivotal Outpost Harry, “Hold At All Costs”, frequent food poisoning, death, destruction, the inhumanity of war and the loneliness of missing his loved ones. He left Korea and was honorably discharged in January, 1954. He resumed his life and his job at Rolscreen where he would work for 44 years which included his service time. He downplayed any talk of his medals (Sharpshooter, Bronze Stars) but instead chose to remember his comrades or as he always referred to them, the other “kids”.