John L. Russell

1920 - 2011

Air Force

Their Story

John L. Russell was born on March 3, 1920, to Jim and Alma Russell. Before his enlistment with the U.S. Army Air Corps, he worked as a sub-carrier at the Rock Island, Illinois, Post Office. He and his first wife had three young daughters when he enlisted to defend his country from the Axis Powers in World War II. After receiving training across the United States, Russell was ready to serve the U.S. Army Air Corps as a member of a B-24 Liberator Bomber crew.[1]

            Russell served as a radio operator on a B-24 Liberator Bomber crew in the Second World War. As the radio operator, Russell was responsible for the crew’s communications. This role was critical for keeping the team in contact with mission command. Equipped with up to 16,000 pounds of explosives for short range missions, the B-24 had a relatively low service ceiling, and was thus extremely susceptible to enemy anti-aircraft fire. As a result, in the European Theater where Russell and his crew served, the B-24 was used primarily for its speed and distance on g long-range raids behind enemy lines. “On high-altitude missions the Liberator had a maximum range of nearly 1,600 miles… 40 percent greater than that of its partner the B-17… because of their greater range, B-24 Liberators were assigned some of the most difficult targets in the latter stages of the war in Europe.”[2]

Russell’s crew operated out of Italy with the Fifteenth Air Force from November 1944 to January 31, 1945, when the crew was forced to bail out of their plane during a mission over the Alps. They were captured and sent to the Nazi prisoner of war Camp Stalag VII-A.[3]

            Russell and his crew suffered from abuse and indignity at Stalag VII-A. The Germans reportedly beat and prodded the prisoners with bayonets when they were thought to be disobedient or deemed not working hard enough at their unpaid labor tasks. If the Germans thought that a prisoner might be attempting an escape, that prisoner was shot at without hesitation. Clothing was insufficient for the winter weather, despite a nearby factory full of unused clothing that the Germans could have distributed to the prisoners to shelter them from the elements. Perhaps worst thing suffered by the prisoners at Stalag VII-A was those things caused by the camp’s poor sanitation:

Despite delousing, lice, and fleas troubled POW’s a great deal… For a time they suffered from skin diseases brought about by uncleanliness; washing facilities were completely unsatisfactory and a man was extremely lucky to take a shower every 15 days. Latrines were always a source of contention between POW’s and camp authorities. Complaint was constantly made, that the pits were emptied only when they threatened to overflow; and that there was no chloride of lime to neutralize the odor, which permeated the surrounding area.[4]

Luckily for Russell and his crew, the camp was liberated that May 1945 by Combat Team A of the 14th Armored Division of the U.S. Army. The prisoners were returned to their countries’ forces.

            After the war, Russell returned to the United States. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for a total of 37 years (including his pre-war employment) and retired in 1978. He married Katherine Briggs on March 16, 1977, in Las Vegas, Nevada. In Russell’s free time, he enjoyed watching NASCAR and traveling with Katherine.

John passed away on January 28, 2011, at Genesis Medical Center, Illini Campus, in Silvis, Illinois. He was survived by his wife, ten of his children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.[5] John L. Russell leaves behind a legacy of bravery for his participation in long-range bombing raids in enemy skies, and resilience for enduring the abuse of the enemy in a prisoner of war camp.

John L Russell (1920-2011) – Find a Grave Memorial

[1]Corporal Russell, Flier, Reported Lost in Austria,” The Rock Island Argus, February 15, 1945, p. 1; “John L Russell,” Find a Grave, February 26, 2011.

[2] John F. Guilmartin, “B-24,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 24, 2014).

[3]Corporal Russell, Flier, Reported Lost in Austria,” The Rock Island Argus, February 15, 1945, p. 1.; “John L Russell,” Find a Grave, February 26, 2011; “American Prisoners of War in Germany,” Moosburg online: Stalag VII A, April 4, 2000.“American Prisoners of War in Germany,” Moosburg online: Stalag VII A, April 4, 2000.

[4]American Prisoners of War in Germany,” Moosburg online: Stalag VII A, April 4, 2000.

[5]John L Russell,” Find a Grave, February 26, 2011.



American Prisoners of War in Germany.” Moosburg online: Stalag VII A, April 4, 2000.

Corporal Russell, Flier, Reported Lost in Austria.” The Rock Island Argus, February 15, 1945..

Guilmartin, John F. “B-24.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 24, 2014.

John L Russell.” Find a Grave, February 26, 2011.

Report 13 More Quad-City Men Held Prisoner by Nazis Are Now Liberated.” Quad City Times. May 20, 1945..