Married: Mary Jane (Cieplinski) Jan. 6, 1973, at Holy Trinity Church Dunkirk, NY
Children: Ross Russo III, Nicholas
Sisters: Nancy and Jo Anne
Medals and Awards: Air Medal with V device; Army Commendation medal with two V devices Silver Oak Leaf Cluster; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with device; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry cross with Palm Unit Citation Badge; Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars: Meritorious Unit Emblem; National Service Medal; Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar
The bronze V device denotes awards given for valor.
Vietnam Helicopter Door Gunner - A U.S. Army Vietnam era helicopter door gunner is a crewman tasked with firing and maintaining manually directed armament aboard a helicopter. The actual role will vary depending on the task given on a particular mission.
The role of door originated during the Vietnam war when helicopters were used in large numbers. The original personnel who served as door gunners aboard UH-34 and UH-1 helicopters were normally enlisted crew chiefs who served as both the aircrafts maintenance supervisor and door gunner. Later as the war progressed, the door gunner position usually became a non-aviation soldier or Marine who volunteered for the door gunners duties thus most aircraft carried both crew chief and gunner, with the crew chief manning a weapon as well.
As the war progressed the 60-caliber machine guns used bungee cords to suspend the guns which became popular with the door gunners, this gave the gunners unlimited angles for their rate of fire on the enemy. Safety lines had to be attached to the gunners themselves to prevent them from falling out of the helicopter when the pilots were forced to navigate to a safer air space, the only thing left to stop the fall were the helicopter skids which many gunners used as support when firing at close angles.
The door gunners position was not a particularly popular one due to the inherent vulnerability of manning a machine gun in the open door of an attacking helicopter.
Ross Russo Jr. was born on Aug. 25, 1949, in Dunkirk's Brooks Memorial Hospital to Ross Russo Sr. and Rose (Depasquale) Russo. He attended School 4, and graduated in 1966. As a child, he loved hunting, fishing, and anything outdoors. As a teen you would always see Ross with his friends, mostly in Fredonia in his old car.
In February 1966, Ross, because of no good jobs available, only in the $2 per hour range, decided it would be a good idea to join the U.S. Army. Ross also knew that by volunteering for the Army in 1966 would land him in Vietnam. Needing his parents to sign the enlistment papers it wasn't long before Ross was on his way to Fort Dix, N.J. for his 16 weeks of boot camp. His next training sent him to Arberdeen Grounds in Maryland, where he received his advanced weapon training.
Airborne school was next, Ross was now issued a military travel ticket, which got him a ride to Fort Benning, Ga., for more intense training. Fort Bragg, N.C. sent him to his first ranger school.
With training completed, Ross headed to Panama in South America to attend Advanced Special Jungle Training. After completion, Russo came home for 30 days leave. At home, in the mail, came his new orders, to report to San Francisco. Anyone in the military, with these orders, meant your next destination was to depart to Westpac, which in civilian terms meant South Vietnam. Arriving in Vietnam, in January 1967, he was part of the 9th infantry, 75th division and 5th Special Forces.
Being in Vietnam meant living in bunkers built with sandbags and steel reinforcements. Most bunkers built by the Seabees had five foot thick layers of steel and sandbags to protect from incoming artillery rounds.
Russo's duty was now helicopter door gunner, whose primary duty was to protect the helicopters coming in for landing and take-offs, and also to aid in search and destroy missions to help infantry men with boots still on the ground. Some of the missions in Vietnam were covert, based on secret intelligence, which at times could include selective targets, H and I (harassment and interdiction), or any other military specified target needed to be dealt with.
At times, the army in the Vietnam war would take Army and Marine Recon to insert U.S. Marine FO Teams into Laos in Cambodia, whose missions were to disrupt the notorious Ho Chi Minh trail. He also participated in LRRPS which was the Long Range Recon Patrol Squad. While on duty Ross was wounded. He was hit by metal shrapnel from a Chinese rocket propelled grenade, it entered his back, arms and leg. He was transported to the 7th field hospital on the U.S.S. Hope, then he was sent to Tokyo to recover.
Most servicemen would spend a tour in Vietnam, which lasted for one year for the Army and the Marine Corps tour would last 13 months and 15 days. Russo's tour was 27 months and 11 days because of his choice not to leave his fellow soldiers, and to stay and finish the job they started.
After the war Ross worked at Alumax Steel, Conrail, finally retiring from Al Tech in 2001.
Although it took nearly 20 years for Ross Russo Jr. to receive the many medals he earned while serving in Vietnam, while serving not one, but two tours in country.
Serving in Vietnam in 1967, 1968, and parts of 1969 were hard years, because we had to not only put up with the weather, jungles, NVA and Vietcong, but with the war back home. The war back home had our country being divided with the strong believers that we were actually doing good while the anti-war protesters and peace lovers who kept telling everyone the war was wrong.
It was hard because the new guys would arrive fresh from the states and tell us that going back home that life wasn't going to be easy.
Being a Vietnam veteran meant battling and fighting a two-front war. Russo felt that two tours were needed to accomplish his goal to help the people of south Vietnam and to make sure in his mind he was leaving his fellow soldiers in good hands. One of the hardest things a combat veteran can do is leave his unit while they are still in harm's way, knowing you can no longer cover your buddies back.
We were told in boot camp that if we make it through this war, through the Nam, that life would then be easy. W
ell for Ross, life was far from easy. He did come home, but when he arrived and felt that his combat days were over, he was wrong. Coming home Ross had enemy's here, the anti-war people. The title of Vietnam veteran tagged him as a killer a different kind of person.
The Veterans Administration kept telling Ross that there was nothing wrong with him, to go home and suck it up. The endless nights that took him back to the jungles, rice paddies, or fire fights of Vietnam without leaving his bedroom. Living every day with that war coming up and controlling his mind.
I've never had the chance to meet Ross, but looking at his high school picture I do remember him. Had I had the chance to talk to him, I'm sure he had some great Vietnam stories. People who attended Ross's funeral commented they never realized how decorated this veteran was. It's sad that we had to lose this great, young veteran before people got to know the things he had done for our country. The things that he had done for his unit, that one child, that one woman, that one life he may have saved. For his efforts, Ross is our hero of the week.