Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Local WWII hero and POW honored in Madisonville

J-E News Editor
The generation that won World War II has long been called ‘the greatest generation’ because the men and women who lived through that era fought, struggled and suffered to overcome adversity and to defeat an enemy like no other we had ever seen.
Last Tuesday night a member of that generation was honored in a ceremony held at the old railroad depot in Madisonville by the Hopkins County Historical Society. He is a man who knows more about suffering and struggles than most of us can ever fathom. He spent 27 months in a German prisoner of war camp that he will never forget.

A sign that hung on the fence of
Stalag IIIB in Furstenbergm Germany
Ivan Russell was born in the city of Poole, KY on November 20, 1919 to Roy and Adelia Russell. He entered the US Army in October of 1941 at the age of 21. After basic training he was assigned to military intelligence at the regimental headquarters  of the 168th infantry - 34th division at Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia.
Russell’s first deployment of the war was as part of Operation Torch, the British-American led invasion of French North Africa during the North African Campaign. The campaign was intended to clear the Axis powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea and  allow the Allied forces to prepare for an invasion of southern Europe in 1943.
On November 8, 1942, the invasion commence
d with landings split between three beaches—two west of Algiers and one east.
While on an observation mission near the city of Algiers, it became apparent to Russell’s unit that they were about to be overrun by German troops. Outnumbered, the Americans attempted to flee across the desert, but were captured a group of natives and turned over to German forces.
Russell and the others were shipped by plane and then by boxcar from North Africa to Stalag IIIB in Furstenberg, Germany, where they would spend most of the remaining years of the war. Also imprisoned at IIIB were Harold Martin, who played as a catcher with the Cincinnati Reds prior to the war, and Mickey Grasso, who returned from the war to play ten years of Major League Baseball.
Another prisoner was a man named Angelo M. Spinelli, who, despite all odds, managed to conceal a camera and film on his person at the time of his capture. He held onto this contraband throughout the war, later releasing his photographs in a book entitled “Life Behind Barbed Wire: The Secret World War II Photographs of Angelo M. Spinelli”.
On Tuesday, Russell, along with friends, family and guests watched a video, narrated by Spinelli, that showed the secret of what went on behind the walls of a German POW camp through those videos.
One of the most notable things was the presence of a library. In the back of his book, Spinelli included a copy of the June 25, 1943 edition of ‘The POW-WOW”, a newsletter printed by POWs inside Stalag IIIB. An article tells about the libraries upcoming grand opening and credits the hard work of the library staff for making that possible. Ivan Russell’s name was on that list.
In February of 1945, as Soviet troops grew close, prisoners from Stalag IIIB were evacuated to Stalag IIIA in  Luckenwalde, Germany. POWs were marched 80 miles through ice and snow to their new home, which was already overcrowded. During this march Russell developed pneumonia, which wasn’t helped any by the poor hygienic conditions he found on arriving at IIIA.
On April 22, 1945, the German guards fled during the night as Russian troops approached the camp. Most prisoners marched to camp Lucky Strike in France. Russell and those prisoners who were sick, were flown to a hospital in France.
After arriving back in the United States, and recovering from his illness, Russell married Lucy Powel of Poole and then began working on his education. He spent two years at the University of Kentucky, and then transferred to Western Kentucky University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Education.
Russell taught school at Tilden and later became the Principal of Wesbter County High School. He finished his career as  the principal of Corydon Elementary.
Among the guest who attended the event last week were State Senator Dorsey Ridley, also a Webster County native, and Congressman Ed Whitfield.
“Ivan, we’re here tonight to thank you for your service to our country and your contribution to education since you came back,” Congressman Whitfield said. “I’m sure that not very many people here today served in World War Two, but I know that none of us know what it’s like to spend 27 months in a concentration camp.”
Whitfield presented Russell with a  flag that had been flown over the capital in Washington D.C. and a certificate of Congressman Recognition for Outstanding and Valuable Service to the country.
“On behalf of Governor Steve Breshear, I am proud and honored to present you with the title of Kentucky Colonel and all of the rights and privileges thereof which you’ve already earned,” Senator Dorsey Riddle told Russell.
Angelo M. Spinelli’s video, along with footage of Ivan Russell discussing the video and photos as he watched for the first time, are available at the Hopkins County Historical Society and the Hopkins County Genealogical Society.

No comments:

Post a Comment