The first time I heard about Russell Scott was from my parents.
Sometimes when they come for a visit from Texas, they will arrive a few days early, rent a car, and go sightseeing on their own. They go shopping, try out different restaurants, visit museums and battlefields, and sometimes just drive around.
Last fall, they made a special visit to the Virginia War Memorial. When they came home, all they could talk about was this amazing World War II veteran who volunteers there. Russell Scott, who turned 99 in April, volunteers at the museum every Wednesday and shares his story. He served on a B-25 that was shot down on May 25, 1944, while flying over Italy. It was only his second mission after arriving in Europe.
With both engines shot out and the plane going down, the crew was forced to bail out. Mr. Scott survived the jump from the airplane but broke his back and was taken as a prisoner of war. He remained a POW until the final camp where he was held was liberated on May 2, 1945.
There was much more detail that my mom shared as she talked about this veteran with awe and respect. She told me I had to visit the Virginia War Memorial and should try to go on a Wednesday if I could because that is the day he is there. I said I would try, but, as often happens, life interrupts and I still have not made the time.
Fortunately, a part of that opportunity came to me. Mr. Scott was the special guest speaker at the War Memorial Roundtable for all veterans on June 12, and recognizing his name and wanting to hear his story myself, I agreed to attend.
Mr. Scott came into the War Memorial Cultural Arts and Community Center and was seated at a front table facing about 60 people gathered there.
Listening to him speak, the experience never seemed grandiose or over-exaggerated. He simply told his story. And what a powerful story it was.
He talked about being inducted into the United States Army in April 1943 and the training he received at various bases around the nation to ready him for war. He spoke about the route he took to travel to Europe via South America and Africa.
When he landed in Corsica on May 18, 1944, he was told it would be his home until he finished 50 missions. He flew his first mission on May 23. Two days later, he flew his second and final mission, which had the intended outcome of bombing a railroad bridge.
Mr. Scott recounted being trapped in the airplane because he had trouble getting his door open and then climbing out on the plane’s wing to be able to jump.
“I sat on the wing for a few seconds and thought ‘This plane is going all the way down and I’m not going down with it,’ ” he said.
Mr. Scott was captured by German soldiers and eventually taken to a hospital in Verona, Italy. He said the only treatment he received was heat on his back.
He recalled being transferred and interrogated so the Germans could learn what transport routes he may know. Later, he was taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany and then another one in Poland, where he stayed the winter. At one point, he volunteered to make stove pipes out of old tin cans for the barracks.
After many months, he was transferred to a nearby camp back in Germany and he was still a prisoner there when the camp was liberated. A month later, he boarded a ship home that experienced difficulties but still made it home.
As Mr. Scott’s story wound down, he ended his talk about his involvement in the war with a smile and a simple “That’s the story of my life with the Germans.”
We are in danger of losing the last of our World War II veterans, and, unfortunately, we also have lost too many veterans of the Korean War and Vietnam War as that generation grows older as well. Their stories need to continue to be cherished and shared to honor their service and sacrifice.
And if you get a chance to visit the Virginia War Memorial between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, there is a truly inspiring 99-year-old World War II veteran who can tell his story much better than I ever could.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.