STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Col. Gerald S. Russell, one of two surviving Battalion Commanders from Iwo Jima and a former associate dean at Penn State, died Feb. 24, 2014, at the age of 97.
In 1968, Russell retired from the Marines with 30 years of service. He retired from the University in 1987 as associate dean of the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation – now the College of Health and Human Development.
A graduate of Boston College with a degree in history, Russell was the first alternate for the 1940 U.S. Olympic team in the 800-meter run. Immediately upon graduation, Russell enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was commissioned second lieutenant as a member of the first Officer Candidate Course offered by the USMC.
His military career included deployments on Guadalcanal where he was wounded and contracted malaria, and at Iwo Jima, where he fought for all 36 days. At age 89, he revisited Iwo Jima. As battalion commander, Russell was responsible for leading 1,000 troops and was one of the youngest battalion commanders in World War II at age 27 at Guadalcanal and age 29 on Iwo Jima.
He was wounded on Iwo Jima and witnessed the historical raising of the American flag on Mt. Suribachi. He commanded one of the first units to land in Japan and provided protection for the U.S. technical teams covering the atomic bomb site in Nagasaki. He accepted surrender of the Tushima Islands off the coast of Japan. A career Marine with promotions and assignments taking him to, among other places, Quantico, Camp LeJeune and to the U.S. European Command in Paris, the Russell served in the Korean War where he was again wounded. He served as commander of the U. S. Ground Level Defense Forces at Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile crisis. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.
In addition to being promoted to the rank of colonel, he was one of the highest decorated Marines in World War II. Russell was awarded the Republic of Korea Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star with ``V'' for Valor, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart Medal with two gold stars, U.S. Presidential Citation with four stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation with three stars, Navy Meritorious Unit Citation, the Defense Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal with three stars, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Medal, World War II Japan Occupation Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Korean Service Medal, among others.
Russell had earned a master’s of business administration degree from George Washington University and a master’s of education degree from American University.
Almost immediately after retiring from the military, Russell accepted an invitation from fellow Marine Ralph Rackley to join him at Penn State where Rackley was provost. In 1970, he became assistant and speechwriter to Penn State President John Oswald with a co-appointment as assistant secretary to the Penn State Board of Trustees. In 1973, he was promoted to assistant professor and assistant to the dean of the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He was promoted to associate dean in 1977 and remained in that position through his retirement in 1987.
Russell participated in the Marine Corps League and served as honorary chairman for the Toys for Tots campaign. He was the founder and chairman of the local United Way Day of Caring and served as a member of the United Way Board of Directors. He was instrumental as a member of the annual PA Special Olympics Summer Games management team. He had been recognized for his charity work with the Good Scout Award for community service, the Kneebone Award given by the United Way and as the first recipient of the Lt. Michael Murphy Distinguished Citizen Award given by the Navy League in honor of Penn State graduate Murphy who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics in Afghanistan.
An American patriot who met with presidents, presented before Congress, led troops into battle and who remained vibrant and vital into his 10th decade, Russell stated he hoped that he would be remembered for the impact that his life had on others and that he made a difference.
Friends will be received at the Koch Funeral Home in State College from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church along Westerly Parkway in State College.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution may be made to Special Olympics of Pennsylvania at http://www.specialolympicspa.org or State College Office Special Olympics Pennsylvania, P.O. Box 1017, Lemont, PA 16851.