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Interview with Philip A. Russell [3/8/2001]

Alan H. Thompson:

Hello. My name is Alan Thompson. Today is March 8th, year 2001. We're located here at my wife and I's home at 123 River Terrace in Endicott, New York. Today I have the distinct privilege of conducting an interview with a friend of ours, Philip A. Russell. You'll see him shortly. He was born on February 5, 1921. He currently lives at 415 Gorman Road in Kirkwood, New York. He served in the 101st Airborne Division, First Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment. We'll get into a lot more of this in a minute. His highest rank was a Sergeant. He was a squad leader, although when he parachuted into D-Day I believe he was a First Scout. The--what inspired this interview is this book by Stephen Ambrose, A Band of Brothers or Band of Brothers. It's about E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. Phil was in C Company. However, this was my inspiration and when I found out Phil had been in the 101st Airborne, I couldn't wait to do this interview. So hopefully we'll have a little fun with Phil. Finally, further, I'd like to introduce the cameraman/recorder operator without whom none of this would be possible.

Pete Patton:

Hello my name is Pete Patton. I live in Anwill, New York, and I will be doing the videotaping of the interview today.

Alan H. Thompson:

Phil, it's a pleasure to be here with you and a privilege I might add. Phil, would you please state your name, rank and serial number.

Philip A. Russell:

It's Sergeant Philip A. Russell, Third Squad, Third Platoon of C Company, 506th Parachute Infantry.

Alan H. Thompson:

And Phil, what's your birth date?

Philip A. Russell:

February 5, 1921.

Alan H. Thompson:

So when Pearl Harbor broke out, or when Pearl Harbor happened, you were about 20 years old. What were you doing? Do you recall?

Philip A. Russell:

I was working for Crowley's, delivering milk, the morning we got the news.

Alan H. Thompson:

Crowley's a--

Philip A. Russell:

Milk company.

Alan H. Thompson:

Dairy.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, a dairy company.

Alan H. Thompson:

And when did you decide to join the Army?

Philip A. Russell:

It was shortly after. I can't remember the time lapse in between. But things were so bad and I didn't want to be--go in the Army. I said I would never go in the Army, I would never go in the infantry. So I was upset with the way the Jews were being treated in Germany. I had to do what I could to right that. So I went down to sign up with the Navy and then I checked with the Marines and I started home. I had to walk home. I lived six miles out of town. And on the corner by the Capital Theater, there was a big photo of a ice cream sign with a paratrooper floating down over by a church and I said that's what I want to be. I went right back and I enlisted straight into the paratroopers. It was when you first could do it. At the beginning, they had to have three years in the regular Army before you could transfer into the parachute outfit. So I just read in the paper where they could do it out of civilian life and I did it.

Alan H. Thompson:

Wow.

Philip A. Russell:

My mother cried. She thought I would never make it, you know. My dad cried. I didn't think I would either.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now you reported for basic training shortly thereafter?

Philip A. Russell:

I went to Fort Niagara for a month. And then Kerasivaki (ph), one other paratrooper, and I were shipped to Camp Tombs in Georgia. We got off the train at Camp Tombs in front of a casket factory. So we went to the Camp Tombs and they changed the name to Toccoa because it was too morbid.

Alan H. Thompson:

So you were one of the first Toccoa enlistees.

Philip A. Russell:

Yes, I helped--we helped--I got there when it was first--the tents were set up. We had to build our own obstacle course and build our own equipment.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now I believe there was a--part of the training was a significant event that you had to perform. Do you--do you know what I'm talking about?

Philip A. Russell:

I think you're talking about the run up Mount Currahee. Mount Currahee is the Indian name meaning "standing alone." And we all said we stood alone together. But we would run that every day and then come back for two hours of calisthenics and then the obstacle course and that was our regular training.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, currently, I believe, at least from Stephen Ambrose's book that I mentioned before, became the model for the whole 506th Regiment?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes. That was our emblem actually. We had a little Currahee pin we wore with 506.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now your--how would you evaluate your training?

Philip A. Russell:

The best. I think it was the best. We were the top, topnotch soldiers. We had very rough physicals. They concentrated on the physical aspect of it. And we had, of course, we had runs in the heat besides the run up Currahee. It was--

Alan H. Thompson:

Now this was your basic training?

Philip A. Russell:

This was basic training.

Alan H. Thompson:

This was even before--

Philip A. Russell:

Before we went to jump school. In fact, when we got to jump school, the first phase was physical education and we were so good that they bypassed that with the rest of them. They said we didn't need it.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, was the jump field training harder?

Philip A. Russell:

No. It was so easy that they didn't--they phased out the first operation, the physical training part, because when the--I remember one--they used to give us pushups for punishment. This one GI, they told him, "Give me 10 pushups." He said, "Which hand?" So he gave them 10 with his left and 10 with his right, you know. So we put them to shame, the instructors.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, you were--stayed in the states, I believe, again I'm looking at Ambrose, for about a year in jump school training, etc.

Philip A. Russell:

Yes, probably.

Alan H. Thompson:

How many jumps did you make?

Philip A. Russell:

I made 19 jumps in all. We couldn't jump anytime we wanted to.

Alan H. Thompson:

Then do you recall when you went to England?

Philip A. Russell:

I don't recall the day we left for England. But we were in England a year before D-Day, that I do know.

Alan H. Thompson:

Again intensive training?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes. Training all the time. Training all the time.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were there times when--essentially you had intensive training for two years?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

Did you feel the war was passing you by? Or were you anxious to get to combat or were you--

Philip A. Russell:

We were anxious to get it over with. We knew it was coming so. We were anxious to get it over with but the Russians were holding them back pretty good.

Alan H. Thompson:

So your--you said your leadership was excellent?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, we had the best. All West Point men in Toccoa, all West Point officers.

Alan H. Thompson:

I see. Were you a highly motivated--

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

--Outfit?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes. Our greatest fear was getting washed out. No matter what our officers asked us to do, they could do better. They were great. They were always out front. They took them away from us before we went overseas though.

Alan H. Thompson:

Your training in England--

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

--what did that consist of?

Philip A. Russell:

Just normal training. We started with squad tactics, platoon tactics, and worked up to divisional tactics. And then worked--and then moved back down and started over again. We made jumps. We'd do--the physical training wasn't quite as intense as it was in basic.

Alan H. Thompson:

How would you describe your experiences with the English people?

Philip A. Russell:

Loved them. They were great. They were good. We didn't give them any reason to like us either.

Alan H. Thompson:

Could you be more specific?

Philip A. Russell:

We used to--we used to pick on them sometimes. We would, on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday, we didn't have anyplace to go. So we'd go down by a building that was supposed to be our PX in the center of town. We'd stage a fight. One man would be on the ground getting the thunder beat out of him and the women would come out of the building crying, asking us to help him. So I'd grab a stick off the fence and start hitting the guy on the ground, making them believe I was. Then we'd grab him by one leg and drag him behind the barracks and we'd all laugh, you know. The women were crying. They thought we were killing each other. The MPs wouldn't even come over.

Alan H. Thompson:

When did you become aware that you were about to participate in a big operation?

Philip A. Russell:

I can't recall exactly. We made several--several trips to the English Channel in the marshalling area just like we were going to go. So I think they gave us some hints. I can't remember now. It's been a long time.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was--was D-Day talked about? I mean, did--

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, we didn't know when it was going to be but every time we went there we expected it to be that day. But this last time they issued us all sorts of ammunition and we were confined right in one area. We couldn't leave. We were right on the Channel. A little torpedo boat come in one time and sunk a bunch of ships right out there, right while we were watching.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now there are some famous photos of Eisenhower mingling with the 101st Airborne just the evening before?

Philip A. Russell:

The evening before, yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was that the 506th?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes, he was there. I seen him. I didn't get to shake his hand but I wasn't too interested in it. We were blackening our face and sharpening our knives and things like that. I had to get my dog tags. I didn't have any dog tags. I told them I can't get mad without my dog tags. So they guessed at my blood type. They got me set.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, what were your personal feelings? I won't speaking for the rest of the regiment or even your platoon, but I believe you were in the same platoon and same company throughout the whole war?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, beginning to end.

Alan H. Thompson:

So I'm assuming you had some very close friends?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

In that squad.

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

When you--well, first thing, what were you--what were you wearing as you boarded the plane? What was your equipment? What did it consist of?

Philip A. Russell:

We had everything they could hang on us. We had extra ammunition. We had extra hand grenades, bazooka men carried their bazookas, machine gunmen carried their machine guns and the mortar on their legs. They had some strapped to their legs. I had my--I had my M-1. I carried--I had it broke down underneath my reserve suit in three pieces. I had to assemble it when I landed. But we had a lot of equipment. We couldn't hardly stand up once we got on the ground without help to get on the plane. It was so heavy.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, you board the plane?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

And you take off?

Philip A. Russell:

They gave us some pills we had to take first over a period of time, little pills. They said air sickness but I don't think that's what they were because I took a nap on the way over. It's not normal for me to take a nap when I'm going to jump into combat, I don't think. I think it was something else.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was that--were you the only one or was that--

Philip A. Russell:

Everybody. We all had to take them. They watched us and made sure we took them. You had to take them--didn't take them all at once. We took them over a period of time.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now how was the--how would you describe the flight over to Normandy?

Philip A. Russell:

It was nice. I slept. Once I got--once we hit the French Coast, we made a left turn across Sherberg and we started getting flack and the plane was tossing around pretty good. You could hear the flack hitting on the plane. We were ready. We stood up. We stood up and hooked up before we hit the peninsula. So if something happened, maybe some of us could get out. It was sort of nerve-racking and you see the tracers and the anti-aircraft explosions. You could see nothing on the ground, only a few fires burning and things like that.

Alan H. Thompson:

And what time was this?

Philip A. Russell:

It was--I'm not sure. Of course, I wasn't looking at my watch. It was probably around 1:00 or 1:30. It was HR minus 4 when we were supposed to jump. HR was 6:00 in the morning when they started invading the beaches.

Alan H. Thompson:

So four hours before you were--

Philip A. Russell:

Four hours before we went in. I only got the--got the command to jump and we went out but we were really awful low. My chute only opened maybe. I don't know if I oscillated once. On the way down, I could see something white, going around in circles down below me. I didn't know it at the time but it was bunch of cows, a whole herd of cows. I landed right in the middle of them. And I'm laying on the ground and the cows form a big circle around me. They didn't know what I was. They were all looking at me. I'm trying to get my rifle together and I heard somebody coming. It was one of my buddies. I had the metal cricket but I didn't use it. I challenged him. I think the challenge was "flash" and the counter challenge was "thunder," I believe. And he--we got--we got through that. And I held my rifle on him but my sock was in my other hand. I didn't have it assembled yet. But it was my buddy.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was this minutes after you landed?

Philip A. Russell:

This was seconds, just seconds after I landed.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay. So you weren't--you weren't isolated?

Philip A. Russell:

Not--not for long. Not for long. And we--we--I hurt my leg. I had a bangalore torpedo in one leg and one pocket. And I hurt both legs on it when I hit. So I had to use my rifle for a cane. And we--we didn't know where we were going. We'd go up--we'd say, let's go this way and we'd go that way. We didn't know where we were because we were 10 miles off where we were supposed to land. So I crawled in the bushes and went to sleep for the night.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, 10 miles. Now, what was your objective? Do you recall?

Philip A. Russell:

It was a town. I think it was St. Marie du Mont. And I was--we were 10 miles away. We were near St. Marie Eglise, I believe.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, this is three o'clock in the morning. Those of us who have been out in the woods at three o'clock in the morning, it's pitch black.

Philip A. Russell:

It was. There was just a little bit of moon. We'd had a lot of wet, stormy weather before. And the moon would peek out once in a while. It wasn't a full moon but part of a moon, like a quarter of a moon thing. I remember that much. You could see a little bit.

Alan H. Thompson:

I guess my question is, how do you distinguish between a German infantryman and an American infantryman?

Philip A. Russell:

It wasn't easy. It wasn't easy but we didn't--there was about probably five of us got together and we decided to bunk down there until it got daylight so we could see something, you know. I crawled in the bushes and went to sleep. And the next morning I'm getting out of the bushes and I hear somebody, "I'll get him. I'll get him." And there was Yose (ph), one of my buddies. He had a bead on me. He'd just been shot at and he knew that I was the guy that shot at him, you know. We were getting on the boat coming home and he said, "Russ, I don't know what kept me from shooting you to this day. I thought sure as hell you were a Kraut."

Alan H. Thompson:

Whew.

Philip A. Russell:

It worked out all right. It was a big problem, friendly troops.

Alan H. Thompson:

Friendly fire?

Philip A. Russell:

Friendly fire. I was more afraid of my own troops actually than the Germans mostly.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, daylight comes, the invasion has started?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Which is not--which doesn't affect you at this point. The group you were with, five, however many men you said.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

Did you--you knew you were lost?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, we--we went down the road till we came to a crossroads. We were at Ravenville or Ravenoville. And there was deep ditches and there was a stone building there. And we set up our defense in these ditches and we spent two days there before we could find friendly troops. The Germans were coming straight to the ditches with machine guns at night. And they was--they had us zeroed in. So what they did, they piled stones up along the end of the ditch. And so the bullets--of course, the Krauts didn't know they were there. And the bullets were loud when they hit those. So we spent two days there at Ravenoville right in the ditches.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, was this two days, what did it consist of? What were you doing these--

Philip A. Russell:

Well, we were--they'd shell us and we'd fight. They'd shoot at us when they could. They'd come in after dark and really try to knock us off. But then the second day, I believe it was, the Navy shelled us because we weren't supposed to be within--nowhere near the coast. And these Navy shells come in. I'm telling you, they sound like freight trains coming in. And they'd hit in the field and the ground would go up, sky high. We burned smoke--orange smoke pots which is a friendly--they lifted their fire right away. Our--our wounded, we put in that stone building.

Alan H. Thompson:

The group of men you were with at this crossroads, in addition to your little group, approximately how many were there?

Philip A. Russell:

There was probably 15 or 20 from all different outfits.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay.

Philip A. Russell:

I only knew a few of them.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, did--the different outfits probably had individual missions?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

Did you decide to break up and try to get back to your main objective?

Philip A. Russell:

No. We left together. We left together. We started down the road and one of my officers come by with a group of men that he'd collected. So we joined--joined with him. I think it was Lieutenant Hasenthal but I'm not sure now. Memory plays tricks on you.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah, it's been 56 years.

Philip A. Russell:

I mean time--time changes.

Alan H. Thompson:

That's another--Time, was there any--did you have a conception of time?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, no, no.

Alan H. Thompson:

I mean, did you know it was D-Day plus three or--

Philip A. Russell:

No, no. We lost track because I don't think I even had a watch. And no one was worried about that. One thing, there was no--night and day weren't too separable because things happened at night as well as day. Just light and darkness is the only difference we could tell.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, looking at your--your data form here. I see you were the First Scout?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

In your platoon or whatever.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, for the whole Company.

Alan H. Thompson:

For the whole Company. What does being the First Scout consist of?

Philip A. Russell:

The First Scout goes out as far as he can go and keeps visual contact with the Second Scout. The Second Scout goes as far as he can go and keep visual contact with advance party which has a bunch of automatic weapons. The advance party as far as they can be out and be seen and keep visual contact with the main body. So the First Scout has got to lead--actually, the object of the First Scout is to draw enemy fire, if he can, so they give their position away. But as it worked out when we went into Keratan, there was a causeway, small. There was a lot of water, a lot of little streams. The bridge was out. And there was dead bodies and dead horses and things from the shelling all around the place. It was really weird, the smell. I sent back to the Second Scout and he brought up an officer and the officer told me to go back and bring up the advance party. And Hettle was my Second Scout. We took Hettle up to--a machine gunner was firing at us and took Hettle a machine gun. And a 502 was coming up on our flank. And this was another case of friendly fire. They killed Hettle. They thought he was a German because they were--they couldn't tell. So I often thought it was a good thing they said, "Phil, you come with me." And I might have did something different, though, maybe, I hope anyway.

Alan H. Thompson:

At Keratan, according to Ambrose, the 506th was facing the German Sixth Parachute Regiment?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

So it was Airborne versus Airborne?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, right.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were these opponents particularly tough?

Philip A. Russell:

They were very good soldiers. They did--a lot about Keratan I've forgotten. A lot of the--I draw some blanks.

Alan H. Thompson:

Uh-huh. Now at this time your squad still was the Currahee men?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

There was no--

Philip A. Russell:

No replacements, no. We got no replacements for a long time.

Alan H. Thompson:

So you had some very--did you lose any close friends at Keratan?

Philip A. Russell:

I lost Pappy Zoltz (ph) on a night problem or a night problem. We were going up along a hedgerow at night and the Germans apparently were on the other side. Hedgerows were raised up several feet above the ground and they were covered with trees. They could travel along them. So they threw a bunch of potato mashers or something and Pappy Zoltz was on top of me. So he was between me and the potato masher. Everybody took off and ran back down the hedgerow and I couldn't get out from under Zoltz. And by the time I got there, they--I got down and they started throwing potato mashers out down below us. They were between us and the escape route. Somebody let us go by. So I cut through a gap in the fence and went down the other side. I was going to wait there and I thought my outfit would counterattack back. And I got a hand grenade, I pulled the pin. I'm telling you, they never counterattacked and I stood all night with that hand grenade in my hand because I had pulled the pin already and threw it away. And instead of going over through the bushes, I thought the Krauts were on the other side. But they run out and hit the ground and they opened up with a machine pistol or something. It was automatic fire at the guys running. And along towards morning I could hear scraping and digging, like somebody working in a garden. I thought I was losing my mind. There was--they were digging in back there is what they were doing. I heard that and I said, What the hell is working a garden this time of night. The patrol come on me in the morning and I went back and joined--rejoined my outfit.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, in the dictionary the definition of terror is intense, very intense fear.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

During the D-Day operation, was there a particular time where you were particularly scared or thought you weren't going to make it?

Philip A. Russell:

No, I don't think so. Not like that. We were well trained and we knew what we were getting into.

Alan H. Thompson:

The dictionary also defines courage as a willingness to face and deal with danger, trouble or pain. Was there any particular examples of, I won't even call it heroism, but courage that you witnessed?

Philip A. Russell:

I think everything everybody did was courage.

Alan H. Thompson:

I would agree with you there. Thanks for that.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

There's no one event that stood out?

Philip A. Russell:

No, not one event.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay.

Philip A. Russell:

But we weren't paying attention to each other anyway. We were too busy doing our thing. Only as work-in with us.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now the D-Day operation, approximately how long did that last?

Philip A. Russell:

I think it was a month. I think it was a month if I can recall now. Now I'm blank from the time it ended. We were on a stationary front for a while. I remember that because we had holes dug, and we had a big CP hole dug. Shells were going back and forth over the top of us but the Germans wouldn't come up and counter--wouldn't attack us because we weren't taking prisoners and they were afraid of us, I believe, is what I heard. So the last day, I remember we wanted something to eat. We didn't have anything to eat and they wouldn't let us shoot a cow. So a cow--a bull wandered out on a mine field where a cow was standing. She stepped on a mine and it killed him. So we had a roast beef. And we cooked it on a stick over a fire. We had little fires out there, that's how brave we were. We put bullion powder--bullion powder like for soup, put that all over the roast beef and roasted it. That was good. And K-ration coffee. But we were getting ready to leave, I remember a regular Army outfit come in to replace us. I'll never forget this part. There was this big deep hole they dug for the CP and one of those GIs were down in that hole and the sergeant said, "Please come out." And I was making a play, the guy said to hell with you. But he said a four letter word. Made me chuckle. There was nothing but artillery shells going over.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was there--you know, you've experienced light weapons, mortars you said, machine guns, artillery even naval bombardment. After two years of training, you're in combat up to your eyes.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was there any--is anything particularly that you feared, the artillery, the small--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah the Tiger Tanks, the 88s.

Alan H. Thompson:

88s.

Philip A. Russell:

They had a flat trajectory. They shot like a rifle. You'd get heat burst from them. They could shoot a man across in a field. Hit him with it. They were--Tiger Tank was a great tank.

Alan H. Thompson:

Before we continue, I do have a photograph here. Phil, this is, I believe, Charlie Company?

Philip A. Russell:

This is 506th Parachute Infantry.

Alan H. Thompson:

This is--this is your Company?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes. Every man is a Toccoa man in there.

Alan H. Thompson:

And well, I don't have a pencil, but that young man, right there, the third from the right on the top row is young Philip Russell. All the fine young lives there.

Philip A. Russell:

They were tough boys.

Alan H. Thompson:

You don't have to prove that.

Philip A. Russell:

They went through a lot at Toccoa.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay, thanks. Well, thanks for bringing--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

--that photograph.

Philip A. Russell:

They're my buddies.

Alan H. Thompson:

God bless them. God bless them all. Okay, Phil, after your month or so in Normandy--

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

I believe they sent you back to England to refit?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes. Now we went back to a rest area. I don't remember anything from that time. I don't remember going back to England. It's all--it's all gone from my mind. I don't know how I got back to England. I don't remember. I know we went to Marmalon.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah, according to Ambrose, I'll help fill in the blanks a little. According to Ambrose's book, they went back to England to refit, get replacements.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

But the replacements were not Currahee men?

Philip A. Russell:

No, no, no. They were all--I don't know where they came from.

Alan H. Thompson:

So do you recall the--was the quality a little less or a little more?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes, I think so. Of course we were--Toccoa men treated the other GIs like inferior men. That's what they told me at the reunion. He said, "You made us feel like crap," you know, because they weren't Toccoa men. They weren't nothing, we figured.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, they certainly hadn't been through what you had been through.

Philip A. Russell:

No, well, they had us brainwashed in training. We--we were tough.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah. Was there any--you had two years of training. You were obviously well-motivated.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

It doesn't sound like you had any trouble adapting to combat. Did you--it sounds like you were anxious to go, willing to go, and did your job from the moment you landed. Would you say that this was the case with everybody that you were with?

Philip A. Russell:

Pretty much, yeah, pretty much, most of them. When we were training in England, we had to make a night jump. We went up and we were getting ready to jump and they said there would be a fire on the field. They were going to call it off because we had a problem with wind that day. So we're up there and all of a sudden--all of a sudden there's all sorts of tracers and things going through the air and things exploded and fires on the field. One guy says, "I think it's called off. There's a fire on the field." But we happened to be up just in the time when they had an air raid and they were shooting at the German planes and we didn't know what was coming off. But we made the jump. We made the jump.

Alan H. Thompson:

You mentioned air raids. Was the German Luftwafta, were they a factor during D-Day in your experience?

Philip A. Russell:

No, no. I only seen one plane. He came in--he came in fast and I'm sitting there wondering, I said, I hope we got a friend with a cross on its wing. There was a Piper Cub up there, was observing for the artillery. And he went after that Piper Cub and that Piper Cub did all sorts of loops and everything. He never hit him. He did loop-to-loops.

Alan H. Thompson:

The Piper Cub?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, that guy was gone. That guy come through and I'm sitting there trying to squash up leaves, we didn't have camouflage clothing. We had just a brown, light tan jumpsuits. I'm trying to squash leaves into my pants when he come over. I had plenty of brown in my pants after he came over. I didn't need the leaves.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, after you got refitted in England, I believe your next campaign was--well, they called it Market Garden?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

That was in Holland?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

This, I believe, was a day jump too?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes, uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, after having already having one combat jump under your belt, what were your feelings about doing another combat jump?

Philip A. Russell:

Not too much different. Not too much different. We were edgy about it. You know, we were a high-strung bunch anyway. We were ready. We knew we had--we knew we had to go back in. We'd already missed about six jumps because Patton had already got there ahead of us. [Looking at the cameraman.] Thank you, Mr. Patton. I have Patton here as my photographer.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay. Now your second combat jump was in Holland?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

And I believe it was a day jump. Do you recall your--the day, the events of that day?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yes, yes. We lost one plane. That one plane had--the jump master's in the door, flack hit him and he went out and everybody followed him. Most of them got back by the Dutch Underground. I landed somewhere near Eindhoven in a big plowed field. I had a Tommy gun with a 30-round clip. Actually ammunition in a bag, brown bag, was ripped off on my opening shot. I'm walking across this field and I see a hole in the ground and there's my bag of ammunition. And the clips were a half-moon shape. So I went to a little building there. It had like a big brick wall around it. It used to be a building there or something and the roof was gone. I figured that was a good safe place. So I went in there and I got shelled with everything they had. I never seen so many--I seen rounds explode right in the ground, right in front of me. And they were coming in like--I never went through a--

Alan H. Thompson:

Artillery rounds?

Philip A. Russell:

Artillery of some kind, mortar rounds. I laid--I hit the ground, of course, lay right next to a big corner, cracked all the way around. And I'm thinking that's going to tip over if I put a little stone in the crack. I watched that to see if it moved. And I was going to take off but they never hit me.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were you alone or was there--

Philip A. Russell:

I was alone. I was alone. I think they thought there was a whole bunch in there. I think they thought that we had _____. You see, they had planned that. They had already zeroed that place in. It was a natural place, way out in the open where you couldn't get hit by small arms fire.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, when did you manage to get back with your--

Philip A. Russell:

Well, the same day, that same day. I went--I'm drawing blanks there again in Holland. We went to Amfudin (ph). A lot of men got hit at Amfudin. But we were--after the first day, I was going across--a bunch of men--the German Tiger Tanks had come back in there for R&R. They dropped them back in a rut. We jumped right where they were. We were supposed to take a bridge. We were cutting through this road lined with trees with a big field of grass, run up a slope and one of the men behind me says, "Hey, I see a machine gun there. Can I take a shot?" I said, "Yeah, go ahead," you know. And he shot a tracer. The tracer went right up there and that's all it took. Cause that tracer worked both ways. The Kraut could see where the tracer came from too. He opened up. I'm telling you, we had just a very low ditch which wasn't over a foot deep, I don't believe but a gradual slope to the sides. I lay in there just as close as I could get and the bullets were kicking the dirt up on both sides of us. One round, spent round, landed on my sleeve. It was black and greasy and smoking and half-round, half like moon shape. I put it in my pocket but I lost it somewheres. I never found it again. But somebody, they knocked out the machine gun. Then we went--we were supposed to attack and take this bridge intact. I can still see the bridge going up in the air. They blew it. That's when I come upon a dead German. He'd been killed by the artillery. And I was walking along and he had a holster on and he was laying on his face. And I said, if somebody took his pistol, they would take his holster, wouldn't they? So I looked under his body and it was in his hand, just like this, under his body. And one of the guys said, "If you're afraid to roll him over, I will." So I grabbed him and I rolled him over and I got my P-38 off this dead Kraut. And we were always looking for guns. I'd like to have a luger, but this was supposed to be an improvement on the P--on the luger. This, you can fire it like a revolver. You can pull the trigger and the hammer will come back and fire. And it has a pin back here. The round in the chamber will stick out. So you automatically know if there is a round in the chamber.

Alan H. Thompson:

Did you carry that?

Philip A. Russell:

All through the war. I carried it through the war and I got hit in Holland, a slight wound. I went back to England through the hospitals. I carried it strapped to my crotch in my leg.

Alan H. Thompson:

How did you get hit?

Philip A. Russell:

I got hit by a small arms fire. I was crossing a field with my Thompson gun. It was an automatic weapon. They led me too much. They were too far ahead of me. And they hit me in my arm. They smashed my--my Thompson gun barrel or the stock, and they led me too much. I wasn't going as fast as they thought.

Alan H. Thompson:

So when you went back to the hospital, you took your--

Philip A. Russell:

I took this--I taped it. I tied it to my crotch, like this. I got it in the hospital. I put it underneath my mattress. I know one guy laughed, he said one day the girl come through wanting to change my mattress. And I jumped right on the mattress. "I'll change my own mattress." She looked at me like I was crazy. Well, okay. So I got it home. I got permission from the Army to bring it home.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, did you keep it with you because you were afraid it would get stolen?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yeah, I'd never see it again. If they took it away from me, I'd never see it again either.

Alan H. Thompson:

So that pistol there went the whole rest of the war with you?

Philip A. Russell:

It went all through the war with me. Went all through the war with me.

Alan H. Thompson:

I'll sit that there. In Holland, you were there a couple months I know.

Philip A. Russell:

We were there quite a while.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were there anyparticularly terrifying incidents that happened there?

Philip A. Russell:

No. Something was kind of strange happened. We were at nighttime and we were deployed out. We got hooked onto another outfit. I was the last man in the line, another outfit from Eon. My squad was out in front of me and they had the holes. And mine wasn't very deep. I didn't dig mine very deep. So there was a Sherman tank that the Germans had that they captured from us. After dark, all of a sudden I heard this noise and here comes a whole bunch of Germans. In the meantime before that, I had moved--the outfit behind me had moved out. They had a better hole so I moved back into this hole. I heard this slosh, slosh, slosh. Here come, I think it was 12 or 13 Krauts. And I took a bead at the one guy with my M-1 and it misfired. And they walked to my old hole, they looked down and they stepped over it and kept going. And I said that was the loudest sound I ever heard, that thing clicking. But I remembered a man, he had a Tommy gun. And he opened up on them. Well, they remembered these holes back there and they come running back and they jumped in these holes. And they jumped on top of one of my buddies in the other hole and he was sleeping. He was supposed to have been awake. He was sleeping and he jabbed one of them with a bayonet in the face. One of them was hit in the leg. He was sitting in my old hole and crying and carrying on, blacker than pitch. He was crying and carrying on, so I said I'm going to shut him up. So anyway I took my rifle and I'm going to hit him over the head. And there was a guy sitting on this side. I couldn't see him. And I--when I hit him with my hand, I lost my rifle. So I got it up. I shot one guy. He was getting ready to leave. I could see him against the skyline.

Alan H. Thompson:

So you had gotten another rifle?

Philip A. Russell:

I got the same one. I got the same one. I stomped out the cartridge, got another cartridge. I put another cartridge. The next cartridge jammed and it wouldn't come out. The extractor ripped right through the edge of the casing. So I didn't pull it out. By then I had to find another rifle. But we landed. I didn't know--we couldn't find an officer anywhere. Bedlam was supreme. And the guys were crying and some of the Krauts were carrying on. So we run a jump rope from one man's neck to the next man's neck to the next man's neck, all the way back. And I got a rope in the back and the guys got a rope in the front and we were taking them out. We didn't know where we were going. We were going to head back. And we took everything off of them, any weapons or anything they had on. But in the dark you can't tell. This one German in the rear kept jabbering at me. And I'd poke him with my rifle and tell him to shut up. He's trying to tell me we took his belt off. And his pants were falling down. He fell down, got tangled up. He fell down and the rest of them thought we'd killed him. They were yelling and crying. Oh, I'm telling you, it was really something awful. We got him back and we didn't see any officers till the next morning.

Alan H. Thompson:

Actually, Phil, that's--you answered two questions. I was going to ask you, one, do you remember anything really terrifying? And the other was anything really humorous and it sounds like you had both in one night.

Philip A. Russell:

Both. It wasn't funny till afterwards.

Alan H. Thompson:

Couldn't have been funny.

Philip A. Russell:

But the next morning, though, is when I went--I had to take my squad--I was getting ready to move out for an attack and I had to contact another outfit. I did it about three times with my squad. So there was a barn, I already told you, there was a barn burning there. And the Krauts had a tank on the other side of the barn. So I'm--we're hiking down this road and I found quart jars of pork, meat or something, and a whole pan of eggs. So I deployed my men along the road and I broke these eggs into my mess gear. And I got where that barn was burning and I'm cooking them. And the Krauts--the tank is moving around the barn. And I'm keeping the barn between me and the tank. My one man--Hollensell (ph), he said he never forgot that. I cooked them breakfast when the Krauts were on the other side of the barn. I'm over there cooking breakfast for them.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, you're a squad leader now?

Philip A. Russell:

A squad leader, yes. I had--I can't remember--about 12 or 13 men in the squad.

Alan H. Thompson:

So you're no longer a Scout now?

Philip A. Russell:

No, no.

Alan H. Thompson:

So you're a Sergeant?

Philip A. Russell:

A Sergeant, yeah, a Buck Sergeant. They gave me a test to make Staff Sergeant. In combat, they asked me, if you're marching, what foot do you give the column rights on and what foot do you give the left blades on. And the officer was winking his eye. The other one was telling me, I don't know if he means my right or his right. I don't know if I ever got a promotion or not.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, as a squad leader you've got 10 plus men?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, I took care of them.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was this--this was still the Third Squad, Third Platoon?

Philip A. Russell:

Yep, yep.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were--were there still any of your close buddies in this squad?

Philip A. Russell:

I can't remember now. I can't remember now. There were some. There were some

Alan H. Thompson:

Some of the Currahee men?

Philip A. Russell:

Some of them had been hit, yeah, some had gone.

Alan H. Thompson:

Back in--when you train together for two years, I know when I was in, you have--there's always two or three guys that you hang out together.

Philip A. Russell:

You always buddy up with somebody.

Alan H. Thompson:

Did you have any close friends like that?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were they as fortunate as you?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, John Hendrix was a close friend. Pya (ph), we were close. They all made it through. They're dead now but they made it through the war. Hendrix was hit in the nose by a tiny piece of shrapnel about the size of a pea. One day he sneezed and he blew it out. Barney, my one close friend, he got killed in Holland. He was a mortar man. And Terry Zavadney, a Polish guy from Rochester, we were really close. He was a big bear of a man.

Alan H. Thompson:

He's in this picture here actually.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, Harry is right next to me. He got killed in Holland. He got wounded slightly and went back to the first aid station and I don't know what happened there. Something happened. He got hit with artillery or something. But we used to lay on the side of the hill on maneuvers and he'd teach me Polish lessons, Polish words.

Alan H. Thompson:

Curse words probably.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, piani kochnot (ph), things like that.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay. Back to Eindhoven, the fighting, I guess, for the British was disastrous but the final six, according to Ambrose, you accomplished your mission?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Then again the chronology set by Ambrose, you were pulled back out of the line to refit again?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

The next significant event, I believe, is going to be in December of 1944. You're, I believe, in France?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, we were in Reims.

Alan H. Thompson:

And the Germans attack in the Ardennes?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

Bastogne. I know this is sudden and a particularly nasty offensive by the Germans. Eisenhower decided to throw in the 101st and, I think, the 82nd. Do you recall the initial--because you were notified and two days later you were in combat?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, we didn't know. We didn't know what happened. All we knew is they canceled all our passes. We thought we had it made. We were back resting up. All passes were canceled. They loaded us in the trucks and they just took us. We had no briefing. We had nothing. We didn't know. We had no idea where we were going. We were packed in the trucks and I know we were going there to Bastogne and I see a truck driver coming out. And a black man, probably that Red Ball.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah. Red Ball Express, yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

We said, what's happening. He said, "I don't know. All I know is everyone is getting out and the 101st is coming in." He said, "I got to get out of here. I've been sniped at," he said. But we went in. We had no ammunition. We had no winter clothes. We had no food, very little.

Alan H. Thompson:

And I believe this was the--one of the worst winters on record?

Philip A. Russell:

It was like it is out now. It was snow and deep. It would snow and then get warm sometimes. Sometimes a few days would get fairly warm and then you get all sweaty. The troops were retreating. They were in disarray. The regular Army men, they were fleeing for their life. They hollered at us, they were going to take off and kill us all. And the people going by, they'd throw us ammunition. Strip off their belt and throw it to us. They were just getting the hell out of there.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, according to Ambrose, you were pulled out of France on the 17th. You probably don't know what day it was.

Philip A. Russell:

No, no.

Alan H. Thompson:

By the 19th, you were in position, the First Battalion of the 506th, was in position. Again I'm quoting Ambrose, at Novell outside of Bastogne.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

And were engaged with the Second Panzer Division.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

This is battalion versus division. According to Ambrose, there was a two-day affair, savage fighting, and 199 men out of 600 enlisted men were killed and 13 officers also.

Philip A. Russell:

It was really rough.

Alan H. Thompson:

What--what kind of fighting was this? Was this--

Philip A. Russell:

Well, mostly shelling and small arms. It was everything, artillery, mortar, 88s. We were in the pine forest like, pines and they would get tree birds and fire at us in the trees and the birds would come down and go in the holes. In fact, sometimes you know what we did? We'd pull the dead crows and the Germans over the top of the hole to protect us. So it would keep the shrapnel from coming down in the hole. We had no food. We had to scrounge. We had no camouflage. They tried to--sometimes they brought back sheets, anything they could find from the houses. Anything they could find to eat. We had nothing. We had nothing to fight with. The Germans didn't know how close they were. We had two rounds of mortar left and they quit. They give up on us, you know.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, there was--Ambrose mentioned there was 30-odd German tanks were knocked out?

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh. And bazookas. I can't remember what all they had. Of course, I had small arms.

Alan H. Thompson:

How--I don't know how you can explain it, but there's a small band, I want to say band of brothers, but--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. That's what we were.

Alan H. Thompson:

How do you hold off a motivated, well-trained German panzer division?

Philip A. Russell:

You just have to--it's not easy. You have to just--we were trained. We were well-trained. For what we had, I think we did good.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, again, Ambrose makes the point that the Second Battalion, two days later, came up and expecting a terrible counterattack which never--

Philip A. Russell:

Never occurred.

Alan H. Thompson:

--never happened because of the beating that you had given them?

Philip A. Russell:

That we had given them.

Alan H. Thompson:

And being that Ambrose is right about the Second Battalion, not the First, that's a pretty high compliment.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, I always, in my impression of the Battle of the Bulge, you know postwar, just from the movies, Patton was sent to relieve Bastogne. You were surrounded and he broke through and relieved you. Now I always thought, well, that was the end of the--of your part of the battle.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

But looking a little deeper into this, all he did was get ammunition and food.

Philip A. Russell:

Ammunition and food, yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

And the battle went on for another month or so?

Philip A. Russell:

Right. Right. I can't remember now. I think it was January. Something in January.

Alan H. Thompson:

At this time you had winter clothes and equipment?

Philip A. Russell:

We had some. We had some. Ammunition is what we needed because we were all surrounded because we always jumped behind enemy lines. So being surrounded was nothing but we had something to fight with. We had some ammunition. We had some food. Food makes a big difference.

Alan H. Thompson:

Food seems to be a recurring theme.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. We used to get two guys in a foxhole. Boy, I'll tell you, we got as close as we could to each other at night to keep warm. It was cold. It was awful. I always said I would never complain again in my life after that.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, you were eating K-rations in the field?

Philip A. Russell:

What we had, we had just a few. We didn't have many. Not then. But we ate Ks, generally.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, after Patton relieved Bastogne, did the food get better?

Philip A. Russell:

We got some more, maybe some Cs in a can to heat up but mostly Tasty Ks, we called them. Dried biscuits and powdered--bullion powder and stuff like that. It tasted good to us.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were you able to scrounge food?

Philip A. Russell:

Not much. There wasn't much. We couldn't go, I mean we couldn't travel all over, you know. We didn't have a place to go to scrounge. They did make it into Novell though and got some sheets and tried to use them for camouflage.

Alan H. Thompson:

Do you have a particularly vivid memory of this, because it was a month or so that you were in the field?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, just confusion one day to another. You know, it's not--not something you put your finger on. It's just chaos cause we were trying to get food, trying to get ammunition, trying to fight them off and worrying about the tanks moving in.

Alan H. Thompson:

How about sleep?

Philip A. Russell:

Didn't sleep much. You had to sleep in a foxhole. Somebody got to keep awake so we had to sleep in shifts. One guy would wake up while the other guy would sleep. And then you didn't know if the other guy was going to stay awake or not. So it was sort of hairy. Couldn't sleep too sound, not when it was that cold.

Alan H. Thompson:

Again to get back to that definition of courage, in the face of danger, trouble and pain. It sounds like everybody was doing their part?

Philip A. Russell:

They told us we didn't have to fight. They were going to drop us where the fighting was and let us make up our mind, you know.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, after Bastogne, you probably were pulled out of the line, I believe?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. I think we went to Novell but I can't remember. I've drawing a blank from there.

Alan H. Thompson:

So just back for refitting again?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. I think we went back to England. I don't know what we did. No, we didn't. I got a letter from Novell but I'm drawing a blank there.

Alan H. Thompson:

But you refitted, getting new replacements?

Philip A. Russell:

We refitted and then we followed Patton, now that I think about it.

Alan H. Thompson:

I think you went into what they call the Ruhr Pocket?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

On the Rhine River?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. That was where the Germans were cut off on the other side of the river and we'd go out on the river at night in our foxhole. And then before daylight we'd pull back into the houses. We wanted to go out there at night so they can't sneak across. We sent a patrol to do a cross there. Rescued a couple of guys. But there was a bridge there. I can't remember what the name of the bridge was but there was a big bridge there they blowed up, the Germans. So we--they put a pontoon bridge finally.

Alan H. Thompson:

And that's--well, you're in Germany now?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

In Germany.

Philip A. Russell:

Then we followed Patton.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, I believe you had liberated a concentration camp?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yeah, Landsberg, Germany. I'm not sure if it was a concentration camp. I thought it was a concentration--there were dead Jews there. They were awful skinny is all I know. According to Stephen Ambrose, he says it was a factory where they worked. But there was a big pit, I bet it was 300 feet long, where they dumped the bodies. So if it wasn't a concentration camp, it worked just as good, I guess. It eliminated the Jews.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, you mentioned actually earlier on in the interview that one of your motivations was the way they were treating the Jews?

Philip A. Russell:

The way they were treating Jews, yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

I don't think at the time, that early in the war, that it was well-known about these.

Philip A. Russell:

I knew they were doing it, they were mistreating them.

Alan H. Thompson:

But did you realize the extent?

Philip A. Russell:

I didn't realize the extent, how they were gassing children. I knew that they were really killing a lot of them is all I knew. You'd hear rumors.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was it a particular shock to you to see this camp?

Philip A. Russell:

No, not really. Not really. I expected it. I had seen enough dead people along the way, you know, nothing but skin and--you know, they were wasted away. So that's what these Jews looked like. They were walking skeletons.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, the 101st, the 506th was particularly lucky, I'll say, because I guess you had the ultimate revenge. You managed or were sent to Bertchesgaden retreat?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

In which, I believe, was where you finished the war?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. I know the war was getting close to ending. The SS troopers were directing traffic. We got almost up into Austria.

Alan H. Thompson:

Speaking of that, here's another souvenir.

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yeah. This I picked up. The Germans had to get rid of any ammunition and stuff like that. This is Nazi SS troopers shore knife that they wore at--it's got writing on the blade but I think it says--it's got some German saying. I don't know what it says.

Alan H. Thompson:

I can't read it.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. These were worn by the Nazi SS troopers for courage and things like that.

Alan H. Thompson:

And you got that after the war?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. The war was almost over, almost over. Because we'd followed Patton. When Patton would come to a town, he didn't go through it, he went around it. So we would go--come to a town and they'd run a bunch of troops through the town and then we'd meet in the middle, go from house to house looking for soldiers, guns, ammunition, anything like that. And we went all the way through--well, we got well into Germany. And then the war was almost over and then we headed for Austria.

Alan H. Thompson:

Was that house-to-house fighting, was that particularly dangerous?

Philip A. Russell:

No. No, not there because it was--their soldiers were pretty much gone. It was mostly like going through Endicott or anyplace. But we had to be careful. Most of the Germans--I didn't see too many soldiers there. We got in Bertchesgaden the night the war ended. So we were happy.

Alan H. Thompson:

There's a famous photo of, actually movie, of Hitler in front of the window with that great globe?

Philip A. Russell:

The globe was still there when I was there. The house was burned out and the picture window was gone but you could see that beautiful view and the globe that Hitler put his hand on right there.

Alan H. Thompson:

So you ended up in that room?

Philip A. Russell:

I was in the room. I was in the room, yeah, looking around. I went in the--up--up on the mountain there by Hitler's home were like barracks. And the mountain was all hollowed out with tunnels, just like a modern factory underneath. All electric lights and they had cafeterias, everything. They wouldn't let--the French had liberated and the French had set fire to some of them. Some of them were burning. So they wouldn't let us go into them. So I was--had my guard--I was Sergeant of the Guard and I took my guard and I put them all to keep people out. But when I relieved my guard, all the old guards and I, we'd go through the tunnels. It was just like an office building. We got in the parts where they just hadn't finished construction yet. There were like wooden steps going down and huge holes in the dirt where they hadn't poured their concrete and such. Very interesting. But up down below Hitler's house I had--one day a guy--on Sunday, they asked me to delegate a man to dig a slip trench to go to the bathroom in, you know. And the guys were all sacked out so I'll go up and do it myself. So one of my buddies said, "Hey, Russ, do you want a hand?" And I said sure. So he ran over to this wall to jump off and I'm digging. And I looked and he's gone. So I went back and he's down in the hole. There's a metal grating there, and down about seven or eight feet were steam pipes and things and the grating fell in. He was down there. He had to walk about a half mile to get back out.

Alan H. Thompson:

Do you have any other particularly humorous--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, that was--

Alan H. Thompson:

Because the war is over now.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, the war is over.

Alan H. Thompson:

Were there any other humorous things?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yeah. I'll tell you. One thing--the war is--this is something I'm back before the war so we're back away from the front a little bit. We're living in these houses. I'm asleep in my bed there. And my buddy, Wyatt, I put my guard out there on the outpost there. All of a sudden I wake up and I hear this crying and carrying on. I open up my eyes and there's a Kraut standing right at the foot of my bed, you know. And he's crying. And I woke up, what the hell's happening? Wyatt says, "I'm on guard duty and I just come off and I had to take a crap. So I go out to the outhouse," he said, "I open up the door and here's this guy in the outhouse. So I hauled back my fist," he says, "and I didn't even have my gun and he surrendered." So he brought him in. So they took him somewhere and shut him in a room. Wyatt went back out to the outhouse again and there was another one in there. I still got a letter from him. He said he told people about that and nobody believed him. They said he was crazy. And I sent him a letter said I stated the fact that I seen it happened. He said, "Boy, was I glad you sent me that letter. Everybody said I was lying."

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, Phil, I know you were in the Airborne. I believe you had a short stint in the cavalry too?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, yeah, up in Austria. I was up in Austria and the German bandits or the Italian bandits were coming over the border and attacking the people, robbing them and raping the women. So they decided to join the--make an Airborne Cavalry. The German troops brought their horses down. It was up above Bertchesgaden, a small village, way up in the mountains. I can't recall the name. So I went down and I said, That's a good goof-off duty, you know. So I told my buddy, I said, "I never rode a horse. So get me a good one." So we went down into the town. The German soldiers were there with the horses. And he said, "Hey, Russ, here's one for you." His head hung way down to the ground. So I got on the horse's back and they had two sets of lines and I didn't realize it. I got one and the horse stood on its hind feet. So I started walking around on his hind feet. The Germans were all jabbering at me. And it was--it had two sets of lines. One was very severe on his mouth or something. And the other one was for driving it. So we started down the road, trying to get out of town. The Germans were crying, they had to leave the horses. We started down the road and these guys were all good riders and they were whipping their horses and trying to make them go fast. And my horse is going faster and I'm trying to slow it down. I'm going sideways. I run into buildings. I'm backwards. Come to find out, the German horses were trained. The officers' horses were trained to lead. The enlisted men's were trained to follow. And I had an officer's horse. He was trying to keep ahead of all the rest of them. They were trying to beat them--beat me and keep going. So we got back to Goran's (ph) estate and his wife was a prisoner upstairs. We went in the barn, the big barns, and I swapped horses with an enlisted man's horse. I take him out to practice and I couldn't get the horse away from the barn. I had to whip him to get a hundred feet away from the barn. And he turned back like crazy. But I used to go up in the mountains and ride and come down and my saddle would end up around the horse's neck. I wasn't a very good horseman. But we had a big parade. There was a big lake we used to ride around. Life Magazine was going to show pictures of the 101st Cavalry. So we went around once at a trot by the cameras and the big drums and the horns playing, you know. It was okay. The horses were a little scared. The next time at a trot they were kind of skiddish. We went by the ____ and I'm telling you, my horse jumped left and right and left and right and my left foot come out and all of a sudden there were horses' legs going by me. And I get off the field. I feel I won. I landed right in front of the grandstand. And there were horses going in all directions, their stirrups sticking out behind them, and the guys were picking themselves up. That was the end of the cavalry. I didn't ever see any pictures in Life Magazine.

Alan H. Thompson:

You have to stick to Airborne, I guess, huh?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, yeah. I know the commanding general was having a hard time to keep from laughing. He was trying to keep his face straight. He was standing on the podium.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, after the war was over, you were still in Germany?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

After a year of terrible fighting with the Germans, did you have any feelings one way or the other of the German people that you met?

Philip A. Russell:

No, not really, not really. We were--we ended up in Austria. We ended up in Ausria. When we left Austria, we went to France so. But we didn't get along badly with the German--I liked the German people. We didn't like--I didn't like the French. But when I got to Germany, the German people were nice. We stayed in their houses, buildings and houses on the way through. Like they had towels and the towels hooked right on the houses. And they were very nice to us and we were good to them. But there was one farmer, I tried to milk his cow. And she'd already been milked. He stepped around and I'm saying, Soo...soo...soo, like that, you know. My buddy said, "How the hell do you know her name is Sue?" But then we separated. We separated and the farmer started hiding parts that were dirty and separated. But they were good, they were good.

Alan H. Thompson:

How about the people in Holland?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, they were excellent. They brought us apples. We had nothing to eat there much either because the Germans--we had a long corridor we had to keep open. The Germans kept cutting off. We'd march all night long and fight them and drag them off and they'd drop our supplies and the Germans got them, most of them. So one time, we got a big milk can of milk, half rancid. And one time I caught a chicken who was on a creek. I cooked her and let the body heat up. And the next morning I couldn't stand up straight. I had cramps in my stomach. And I went back to the first aid station. The guy gave me a drink of paregoric or something. I said, Boy, that tastes awful. He said, "Take a drink of water and get it out of your mouth." He gave me a canteen that they had been mixing alcohol with something the night before, clear alcohol. It just had alcohol in, clear alcohol. I took a big drink of that. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't do nothing. I couldn't even swallow. He thought I was dying. I said, "My God, that's worse than the paregoric." He smelled it. He started laughing. He got the wrong canteen.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, you mentioned a chicken. I think there was one other episode?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, in England?

Alan H. Thompson:

I think it was--

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, that was the Ruhr Pocket? I didn't tell you about that? Yeah, we were in the Ruhr Pocket and I had nothing to do. So I would get behind the house. There was a chicken looked like a game chicken, but all between the houses and it was pecking away. I get behind the house and I get a head start and go just as fast as I could after that chicken. When I come out between the houses, the Germans would open up on me from the other side of the river. And I'd go behind the next house. They didn't know when I'm coming out or what direction I'm going in. So same thing I had to work on the next one. They probably thought it was like a shooting gallery. I'd get a good head start.

Alan H. Thompson:

Food was a--

Philip A. Russell:

A priority.

Alan H. Thompson:

A priority.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, a priority.

Alan H. Thompson:

And I'm just guessing you never had enough?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. I got a--I got a chicken in England before D-Day. And I was out on maneuvers and I got ready to come back. We were going to hike back to camp. We were staying in horse stables over there. And the officer said, "Hey, men, we're going to take you back in trucks." I had the chicken inside of my shirt. I was going to butcher it when I got back. I said, "Do you mind if I walk instead of ride?" He said, "Russell, what the hell is wrong with you," you know? By that time the chicken stuck her had out and said, Braaawwk, looking him right in the eye. He said, "I'll be damned."

Alan H. Thompson:

Did you get to eat it?

Philip A. Russell:

No, I let it go. I let it go. He told me later I could have kept it but I didn't know how he'd take it.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, Phil, between June of 1944 and April of 1945 you had a very intensive combat experience?

Philip A. Russell:

Yes.

Alan H. Thompson:

Now, when you got out of the Army, to go from that intensity coming back to Broome County, did you have any trouble finding a job?

Philip A. Russell:

No. Life was kind of boring. I went back to my old job at Crowley's. But before we come back, we went to Joiner, a place in Paris, near Paris. There we would--we had to get all our points, you know? So our commander said if we--anybody that hit all three of our combat jumps would get a Bronze Star. So I didn't want to wait around for a Bronze Star so I got out as quick as I could. I went back to work. It was hard. It wasn't easy. Boring, life was kind of boring. It was kind of hard to go back going to work. It wasn't fun.

Alan H. Thompson:

Did--well, obviously, you're retired now.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

But how long did it take you to adapt to your civilian occupation?

Philip A. Russell:

Oh, not long, not long because it was normal. Just normal living. In fact, I was going to re-enlist. I signed up. I signed up. I was going to go back in because it just wasn't right, you know? And I changed my mind again and then I got married and raised a family and that sort of tied me down and got me used to civilian life. I'll never get over it but.

Alan H. Thompson:

You mentioned a couple of your friends that were particularly close that didn't make it back. I don't know what the percentage was but we're grateful that you've shared this with you--with us.

Philip A. Russell:

Uh-huh.

Alan H. Thompson:

And you're certainly a well-adjusted man now.

Philip A. Russell:

I think I am. ____+.

Alan H. Thompson:

56 years kind of--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

--kind of softens the memory.

Philip A. Russell:

Father Time is doing what the Germans couldn't do to us.

Alan H. Thompson:

Father Time does it to everybody.

Philip A. Russell:

15 hundred years dying now, they say.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay, then--

Philip A. Russell:

I lost five buddies last year. We have a reunion every year. Going back to--there was about 40 of us at the last one. This year it's going to be in Louisiana.

Alan H. Thompson:

New Orleans?

Philip A. Russell:

New Iberia, yeah. We've been there once. I got good buddies that live down there.

Alan H. Thompson:

You going?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, so we're going to go down there this year.

Alan H. Thompson:

Okay. Just trying to tie up here. I think we covered--

Philip A. Russell:

Just about everything.

Alan H. Thompson:

Just about everything in depth. It's been a privilege and a pleasure. Phil?

Philip A. Russell:

[Shaking hands.] It's been a pleasure. Glad I lived to tell you about it.

Alan H. Thompson:

Believe me, we're glad too. Thanks very much.

Philip A. Russell:

Thank you.

Alan H. Thompson:

[Video spliced and resumed in mid-sentence.] ...men they shot.

Philip A. Russell:

You know, at the Battle of the Bulge we lost two divisions of our regular Army. I didn't know that. One whole division was captured.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

I didn't know it till I read that book.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah, it was a mess.

Philip A. Russell:

How many tanks we smashed but no wonder--they must have hit those GIs hard with regular Army men because they were scared shitless.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, one of the books said that a lot of those were new guys, new divisions.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

And they said, Well, we'll put them in a light combat zone to kind of get them used to it.

Philip A. Russell:

That's where they hit.

Alan H. Thompson:

And then they hit them. They, you know, they just couldn't deal with it. You guys were used to it, I guess.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, well, we'd been--

Alan H. Thompson:

But there was an incident where the Germans shot machine guns at a whole hundred GIs. Was there anything--you know, you mentioned one time you took no prisoners. But I don't think that was an organized line-'em-up-and-shoot-'em.

Philip A. Russell:

No, no. They told us not to take prisoners. They told us we could if we wanted to but then we'd have to give them our food. We had no place to do it. Where we going to put them, you know?

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

I know that one Stephen Ambrose tells about the two guys shot and his eyeballs popped out of their head. They were shot blank--close as this. The officer shot them. It was two kids.

Alan H. Thompson:

Oh, wow.

Philip A. Russell:

Took them, captured and the German counterattacked. He shot him between the eyes. You know that Lieutenant Spears?

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

He was good--I knew him good. He's the one that gave a bunch of Germans the cigarettes.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

Then Tommy-gunned them after he gave them the whole pack. That's what they said. I wonder if he shot the other one. I never thought he was like that, you know? I wouldn't shoot a prisoner. I would if he--if we had no place to take them or something, you know.

Alan H. Thompson:

I think Spears even kind of said that I got this reputation. Why should I--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Whether it's true or not--

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

You know--

Philip A. Russell:

I don't know. I liked him. He was a nice guy, I thought. He was in C Company for a while.

Alan H. Thompson:

Oh, really?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah, he was in my company.

Alan H. Thompson:

He was one of the Band of Brothers. He's the one that saved that one town, you know?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

The lieutenant, the guy that didn't know what to do.

Philip A. Russell:

He took over.

Alan H. Thompson:

He ran over there--

Philip A. Russell:

He was on the ball. I know that white horse thing. I seen that. Remember the guy riding the white horse? I seen him go on a horse. Also, the two-man tank, the French tank.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

They hopped in this tank and the buddies were always screwing up. He took down the ___ going to fight the Germans. He come back, How the fuck you turn this thing around? They were crazy.

Alan H. Thompson:

The one--the German on the motorcycle but that's okay.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

We covered--you did your part. You know, somebody can look at that and--

Philip A. Russell:

Maybe a hundred years from now.

Alan H. Thompson:

In a few years. You don't know what little bit they're going to take out of that.

Philip A. Russell:

I know, I know.

Alan H. Thompson:

I mean, or a thousand years from now.

Philip A. Russell:

It will be really interesting like if we had something from the Civil War on tape.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, that's one thing that inspired me before I even knew about you and the Band of Brothers.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

I said to Mary Ann, I said, God, imagine if you had-- in 1900, if you had somebody from Gettysburg.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Then I read Band of Brothers and I go, I got Phil Russell. And he was there.

Philip A. Russell:

My dad saw a guy from the Civil War, down in Gettysburg. The guy was a water boy. It was the 50th anniversary of the Civil War. Yeah, my dad talked to the water boy.

Alan H. Thompson:

It almost seemed like ancient history but I was born after the second world war. You weren't. If you're 20 years old now, that's ancient history. What's D-Day. If it wasn't for Saving Private Ryan they wouldn't have any idea.

Philip A. Russell:

Band of Brothers. They could make a movie of that.

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah, it's a TV thing.

Philip A. Russell:

Is that what it is?

Alan H. Thompson:

It's going to be a mini-series on HBO so you've got to pay for it.

Philip A. Russell:

That would be worth seeing.

Alan H. Thompson:

Oh, yeah.

Philip A. Russell:

See how they do it.

Alan H. Thompson:

Well, especially D-Day. I mean, if you had to pick one battle of the 20th century, just one, that was D-Day.

Philip A. Russell:

That was the biggest, massive, that they ever had or will have again.

Alan H. Thompson:

Hopefully, yeah. And you're a little quarter of it. That's what we just--

Philip A. Russell:

You know, you're one person. You know, like here, if the fighting is going on, you don't know what's going on over the hill. You don't know--

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah. Well, my uncle always said what you said about chaos. Cause he was at Omaha beach. I think I told you, I don't know if I told you--

Philip A. Russell:

We were near Omaha.

Alan H. Thompson:

From reading Ambrose, I think he was in the First Division of the 16th Regiment.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

So I went on the Internet and I put in First Infantry Division. They got a whole museum. So I have--they have all these researched. So I e-mailed the guy just the other day and I said, Geez, I think my uncle was in, but I'm trying to find what battalion and what company.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

Because I know they have reunions and--but I remember him, D-Day was just chaos.

Philip A. Russell:

I told you about the Polish guy that come in up at Bertchesgaden?

Alan H. Thompson:

Yeah. That's a nice little touch.

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah.

Alan H. Thompson:

We did good, we did good.

Philip A. Russell:

A Polish guy come in and he wanted to play some place to work. He was a displaced person so we gave him a job in the headquarters doing clerical work. When we got ready to move out, he wanted a letter to show that he did good work for us and stuff. He had saved his life a few times. I don't know if he did or not. But two or three years ago, we were down at a reunion. It was at Louisiana too. And this guy showed up. He went from there, he used that letter, and he finally went to Canada. He come from Canada to the United States and he's a professor at some college now. His son went in the Army in the Korea--or Vietnam, Vietnam. He was in the 101st. And he said, there's something about the 101st that reminds me of something. So he wrote his dad. His dad told him about the letter from us and he come to our reunion. He seemed so grateful to our officers for writing him that letter. And he brought his son and his family and we got to meet him. He's got a big beard. A professor now.

Alan H. Thompson:

Didn't you say it said it saved his life or something?

Philip A. Russell:

Yeah. They said the letter did.

Alan H. Thompson:

Why don't you break that down and I'll let Rusty out--

[END OF VIDEOTAPED INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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