The Philippines, Being Injured, Going Home and College
Food and Drug Unit
James Russo, Jr. was born in February 1923 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He had a twin brother who he was close to throughout his life. They even served together overseas during the war. Russo's father was a building contractor who took good care of his family. The boys attended one of the best schools in New Orleans. Russo heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor after he had joined the military. Before then, he attended Louisiana State University [Annotator's Note: in Baton Rouge, Louisiana] for two years. During his college tenure, he participated in ROTC [Annotator's Note: Reserve Officer Training Corps] in the field artillery. He decided to enlist in the Army to put his field artillery training to good use.
James Russo applied for and was accepted into Officer Candidate School after his Army basic training. He was then sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for artillery training. Upon completion of his training, he was assigned to the 569th Artillery Battalion [Annotator's Note: 596th Field Artillery Battalion] in Mississippi. He did not like the officer in charge and was glad to be transfered out for training as an artillery spotter. He learned to fly a Piper Cub or Grasshopper [Annotator's Note: Piper J-3 Cub light observation aircraft, also known as the L-4 Grasshopper] as it was referred to in the military. He once fell asleep while solo flying over Texas and ended up flying over the Gulf of Mexico. He had other close calls as a pilot. Russo was in training with his twin brother throughout this time. They were even deployed together. Russo has a favorite picture that shows him and his twin brother standing in front of their planes after they were sent overseas. He was being shipped out to the Philippine Islands when Harry Truman [Annotator's Note: Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States] used the atomic bombs and Japan decided to surrender.
James Russo deployed to the Philippines as a forward observer pilot. [Annotator's Note: Russo deployed with the 596th Field Artillery Battalion following Japan's surrender. He flew a Piper J-3 Cub, or L-4 Grasshopper, as it was referred to in the military.] With the end of the war, the demand for artillery observers was nonexistent. Russo, his twin brother and the other pilots who deployed with him were transferred to the military police. Russo used his spotter flying abilities to observe Filipinos performing illegal activities. During one mission, Russo was shot down and crashed in his airplane. He was severely injured. The plane was on fire. Russo had to be pulled out of the aircraft by his passenger who was the commanding officer of the operation. The plane exploded shortly afterward. The passenger received a medal for his actions. Russo was taken to a hospital in Manila where he recuperated for three or four months. It was tough because he had to be heavily sedated. He was then sent home and recovered further in a series of stateside hospitals. He was well taken care of during his rehabilitation. He met a great individual in the hospital who also had been wounded. If Russo had not gotten hurt, he could have stayed in the Philippines. He might have worked there and married a Filipino girl. Nevertheless, Russo has no regrets. Things turned out well for him. He was discharged about a year and a half after the accident. It was called "separation from service" instead of discharge. Russo met his best friends in the military. He attended college after his separation from the service using the G.I. Bill. He knew many veterans who also took advantage of the benefits offered by the G.I. Bill.
James Russo considers himself fortunate in his life. After the war, he went to work for the Food and Drug Unit in the state of Louisiana. On one occasion, he had to use his authority to force his way into an interview with a hesitant manager. The individual was operating without proper permitting, Russo called his hand. Russo shut down the facility immediately because he had no permit to operate. Only when the permit was shown to Russo after a few days did he inspect the plant. It was seriously deficient in many requirements. Russo shut down the facility again. Russo followed up to assure all the corrections were eventually made. The facility was allowed to reopen and go back to work. It was one among his many interesting experiences during his career.
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