Last Active-Duty Marine Corps WWII Veteran To Retire
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The Marine Corps’ last active-duty combat veteran from World War II is retiring after a career that included two bloody South Pacific engagements and a North Vietnamese rocket attack.
″The Marines have been my life,″ Chief Warrant Officer Charles B. Russell said Monday in a telephone interview from Camp Pendleton, where he is stationed.
″I liked everything I did, practically. Now I’ve reached that magic age of 62 and, without an act of Congress, why, you’ve got to go home,″ Russell said.
Russell, who has worked in ordnance dispersal, safekeeping and recovery since re-enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1954, officially retires Friday, ending a 35-year career. He will be presented with a meritorious service medal during ceremonies at the base 40 miles north of here.
″When he retires, the Marine Corps will no longer have an active duty Marine with World War II combat service experience,″ said base spokesman Cpl. Paul Hermann.
A native of Ottumwa, Iowa, Russell was drafted in December 1943 and reported to San Diego for boot camp. He was trained as an amphibious vehicle driver and sent to the South Pacific, where he was involved in landing Marines during the invasions of Peleliu, near the Solomon Islands, and Okinawa.
″It was very heavily reinforced by the Japanese. In fact, it was one of the most vicious battles fought in the South Pacific area,″ Russell said of Peleliu, where there were 7,919 U.S. casualties, including nearly 1,500 killed.
At Okinawa, there were 48,000 American casualties, 12,500 of whom died.
″I was very fortunate that with all the action I was tied up in (during WWII), I was never hurt,″ said Russell, who also ferried supplies to the South Pacific beaches and transported casualties to hospital ships.
Russell went back to his hometown in Iowa and started his own business when he was discharged in 1946. He re-enlisted 8 1/2 years later after a meat- packing plant strike hurt Ottumwa’s economy. Russell said he overextended himself by loaning money to friends left jobless by the labor dispute.
″I went broke. I was bankrupt. Meantime, the Marine Corps had contacted me about coming back because they had a place for me,″ Russell said.
Russell, who spent most of his career at Camp Pendleton, was sent to Vietnam in 1969, where his tour of duty was cut short by a North Vietnamese rocket attack.
″I had a little bad luck in Vietnam,″ he said. ″I was there the last part of ’69 and the first part of ’70. I was the officer in charge of ammunition supply at Da Nang. It was a rocket attack. It put me in the hospital for 90 days.″
Russell said he finds it hard to believe so many years have passed.
″It seems like only yesterday I was doing all those things, but there’s a lot of difference between being 18 or 19 years old and being 62,″ he said. ″It’s been a good life. I think the Marine Corps has been very fair to me.″
Russell said he will continue living in Fallbrook in northern San Diego County after he retires. He plans to look up old friends in his hometown and see more of his wife, Karol, and their two children.
″I haven’t been back to Ottumwa in 10 years,″ he said. ″Really, I don’t have anything planned, just see some friends and neighbors, do some traveling, you know, just to say, ‘Hi.’ ″