Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry tells the story of Dick Russ, who made a generous Christmas gift as a six-year-old in 1930, and went on to serve his country with distinction in WWII. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.
It was Christmas of 1930 and six-year-old Dick Russ made the papers. He marched into the San Francisco Chronicle office with an old mayonnaise jar filled with pennies ($1.78) and 20 of his best marbles.
He informed Betty Beecher of the Chronicle that he wanted to help with the Christmas Basket Fund. “Give ’em to some poor boy, will you?” Dick told Betty with a warm smile and bright eyes.
Well, the Chronicle caught up with Dick 12 years later. It was 18 December 1942, just a day shy of when Dick made the news back in 1930. The reporter was informed Dick had once again marched into another office to serve a noble cause, and that was Uncle Sam’s.
Dick, still the enthusiast, admitted he fudged his age to the recruiting officer so that he could dash off to military training. His father thought it a bit impulsive but pardoned his fervent son. In fact, any father would appreciate a son who won his wings as a paratroop commando at 18 years old.
When Dick was interviewed in 1942, he chuckled at the old photo of himself the paper had dug out of the archives. Dick had come a long way from that blonde, bright eyed youngster who trotted into the Chronicle’s office 12 years prior.
Dick had finished training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was home on a short stint before he was off to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to advanced paratroop school.
There was more for Daddy Russ to admire in this son. Dick earned five medals for excellence with mortars, hand grenades, bayonets, and machine guns.
The apple did not far from the tree. Dick’s father Cecil Russ was an infantry captain during World War I, and his grandfather was a British Army officer in the Indian, African, and Zulu campaigns.
It did not take long for Dick to get back in the spotlight of the San Francisco Chronicle. In March 1943 Dick was sent overseas and landed in Sicily. According to the paper, the War Department telegraphed Dick’s parents that Dick had been wounded on July 11.
Soon after Dick sent word and told his folks he had “a couple of holes in his left arm,” but “was happy to be alive.” Dick also shared that a colonel dressed his wounds and gave him kudos for “sticking to his guns.”
Captain Richard “Dick” Russ served his country with the same joyous attitude he possessed when he was a young lad giving his pennies to the poor. He was a Silver Star Recipient in the 504th Parachute Infantry.
Wishing Joyful Tidings and A Peaceful New Year to all the Troops and Readers!
Note: Just as an online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, told the stories of Dick Russ’ life, they can tell you stories about your ancestors that can’t be found anywhere else. Come look today and see what you can discover!
Richard Warren Frederick Russ (1924-2003), son of Cecil Edward Fraser Russ (1888-1958) and Maude Evelyn (1887-1960).
He married Nell Reals (1925-1983), daughter of Harry Reals and Ruth Rawls in North Carolina, 8 July 1949.
Dick’s siblings: Paul Hartley Russ (1911-1969) and Murielle Francis Russ (1915-1978), married to Lee Martin Allen (1912-1993).
Dick is buried in Yountville, Napa County, California, USA Veterans Memorial Cemetery.