Colonel Gerald Russell passed away at Mount Nittany Medical Center on February 24, 2014 . He was 97 years old. The Colonel was a true American Hero who devoted his life to his family, his country and to his community.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, he was one of five sons and one daughter of the late Ellen and Thomas Russell. His sister Eileen survives in Massachusetts.
The Colonel grew up in a family surrounded by love and encouragement, the seeds planted for a life spent giving and serving others. He graduated from La Salle Academy in Providence, excelling in both academics and athletics. He was the National Schoolboy Miler winner in his senior year and was awarded a Track scholarship to attend Boston College. A graduate of Boston College with a degree in history, the Colonel was the first alternate for the 1940 US Olympic Team in the 800 meters. Athletics and track were a lifelong passion and he later served as Military representative to the 1968 (Mexico) US Olympic team and on the US Olympic site selection committee. He was the United States representative to the Conseil International du Sports Militaire in 1967. As a USA Track and Field Master level certified Finish Judge, he officiated at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden and at the Penn Relays, Colonel Russell remained connected to the track community well into his retirement. The Colonel was instrumental in starting and eventually coaching the United States Marine Corps (USMC) track team.
Immediately upon graduation from Boston College, the Colonel enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was commissioned 2nd Lt. as a member of the first Officer Candidate Course offered by the USMC. His remarkable and unparalleled military career included deployments on Guadalcanal where he was wounded and contracted malaria and at Iwo Jima, where he fought for all 36 days in one of the most horrific battles in American history. As Battalion Commander, the Colonel was responsible for leading 1000 troops and was one of the youngest Battalion Commanders in World War II at age 27 at Guadalcanal and age 29 on Iwo Jima. He was wounded on Iwo Jima and witnessed the historical raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi. He commanded one of the first units to land in Japan and provided protection for the U.S. technical teams covering the atomic bomb site in Nagasaki. He accepted surrender of the Tushima Islands off the coast of Japan. A career Marine with promotions and assignments taking him to, among other places, Quantico, Camp LeJeune and to the U.S. European Command in Paris, the Colonel served in the Korean War where he was once again wounded. He served as Commander of the U. S. Ground Level Defense Forces at Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile crisis. Throughout his military career, he served in a variety of leadership roles with diversity in service including instructor for Officers Basic School in Quantico; NROTC staff at the University of Oklahoma; Marine Corps Research and Development Staff; Director of Amphibious Warfare School and as Commanding Officer 8th Marine Infantry Regiment – Camp LeJeune. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1968 during the Viet Nam conflict. In addition to being promoted to the rank of Colonel, he was one of the highest decorated Marines in World War II. Colonel Russell was awarded the Republic of Korea Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star with ``V'' for Valor, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart Medal with two gold stars, U.S. Presidential Citation with four stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation with three stars, Navy Meritorious Unit Citation, the Defense Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal with three stars, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Medal, World War II Japan Occupation Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, among others.
At the time of his death, he was one of only two surviving Battalion Commanders from Iwo Jima.
The Colonel met his wife Eileen at Quantico where her father built many of the buildings. With a typical twinkle in his eye, the Colonel liked to tell people that he saw her from across the Base swimming pool and knew immediately that she was the woman he wanted to marry. She was fond of saying that she always wanted to marry a career Marine. Eileen, and daughters Eileen and Maureen, embraced the life that is career military, including an assignment in France. The Colonel and Eileen were known, not only for their incredible entertaining and cooking skills but for role modeling for their daughters the importance of their roles as Ambassadors for America and for the Marines. A gifted decorator and graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Eileen made each new assignment feel like home for her family. Eileen, the Colonel’s life partner and soul mate passed away in 1999. The Colonel is survived by daughter Maureen Russell of Santa Fe, NM; daughter Eileen Moser and her husband Dan of New Hope, PA; a granddaughter Courtney H. Moates and her husband Coby of Wilmington, NC; grandson Brad R. Moser and his wife Emily of Raleigh, NC and great-grandaughter, Cayden Moates, also of Wilmington, NC.
Colonel Russell retired from the Marines in 1968 with 30 years of service. Almost immediately after retiring, the Colonel accepted an invitation from fellow Marine Ralph Rackley to join him at The Pennsylvania State University where Dr. Rackley was Provost. Having earned a Masters of Business Administration from George Washington University and a Masters of Education from American University, the Colonel experienced the same level of success and promotion in education he had with the Marines. In 1970, he became Assistant and speechwriter to Penn State President John Oswald with a co-appointment as Assistant Secretary to the Penn State Board of Trustees. In 1973, he was promoted to Assistant Professor and Assistant to the Dean of the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER). He was promoted to Associate Dean of HPER in 1977 and remained in that position through his retirement in 1987. In their move to State College, the Colonel and Eileen were again noted for their friendships, their fabulous parties and entertaining, and for their commitment to the community. Devoted to family and faith, the Russells were active members of Our Lady of Victory parish in State College.
In what family and friends describe as his third career, the Colonel directed his post-retirement efforts to charity work and support for the community. He participated in the Marine Corps League and has served as Honorary Chairman for the Toys for Tots campaign. He was the Founder and Chairman of the local United Way Day of Caring and served as a member of the United Way Board of Directors. He was instrumental as a member of the annual PA Special Olympics Summer Games management team. In the early years of the Special Olympic state games at University Park, the Colonel would put out the call to his network and retired Marines from all over came to State College to lend a hand. He has been recognized for his charity work with the Good Scout Award for community service; the Kneebone Award given by the United Way; and as the first recipient of the Lt. Michael Murphy Distinguished Citizen Award given by the Navy League in honor of Penn State graduate Lt. Michael Murphy who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics in Afghanistan.
Those who knew the Colonel describe a man of great kindness and of devotion to his family, his country and to God. He was humble in his success, while genuine in his desire to help others be their best. His sense of humor, his leadership and his eagerness to make a difference impacted people all over the world but most importantly his family. A relationship he developed with a Korean officer he met while serving his country became a lifelong friendship; when that Korean officer, General Kim, became Secretary of Defense for Korea, he called on the Colonel to make a major address in Seoul on the anniversary of the end of the Korean War. The Colonel was in his 80s at the time. Throughout his life, Colonel Russell led by example and encouraged others to do the right thing. He was a voracious reader and expert carpenter, building furniture and book cases in many of the homes where they lived. In their later years, the Colonel and Eileen enjoyed travel and entertaining friends and family with “cocktail hour” as an evening ritual. After Eileen’s death, the Colonel continued to impress his guests with his own cooking skills until he moved to Brookline Retirement community in 2007.
On his visit back to Iwo Jima at age 89, he shared with his family his sadness that so many had lost their lives. An American patriot who met with Presidents, presented before Congress, led troops into battle and who remained vibrant and vital into his 10th decade, Colonel Gerald Russell stated he hoped that he would be remembered for the impact that his life had on others and that he made a difference.
Friends will be received at the Koch Funeral Home in State College, PA on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 from 2:00-4:00 PM and 6:00-8:00 PM. A funeral service will be held at 10:30 AM on Thursday, February 27, 2014 at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic church on Westerly Parkway in State College.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution may be made to Special Olympics of Pennsylvania by visiting the website at www.specialolympicspa.org or State College Office Special Olympics Pennsylvania, PO Box 1017, Lemont, PA 16851.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com.