One of the Last Remaining Army Hell Hawks: Bob Russell

Army Hell Hawks were a band of brothers-fighters in WWII that flew P47s. These planes were sometimes called flying tanks. They had an ability to take hits and keep flying. The brave boys and men who flew them provided air cover for the Army infantry, strafing and bombing at the battle lines to keep things going the right way.

Bob Russell was one of the Army Hell Hawks, pictured then and now.

Robert Paul Russell, Bob, was a WWII Hell Hawk. Or rather, he still is. Bob turned 100 years old a few days ago, on January 17th, 2024. A couple of years back, research showed four Hawks as still alive. One hundred is a milestone year, and folks wonder if he might outlive us all. He is sharp mentally, and still has his convertible red Mustang.

Army Hell Hawks Were Important in the European Theater

Bob fought in the latter part of the war, flying missions as part of the Battle of the Bulge. His final combat mission, where he got shot down, was at a bridge outside of Berlin. His squad helped stop the Nazis from retreating to their capital city. As he said, “All the Germans had left was a lot of ack ack (anti-aircraft fire), and that’s what got me”. On previous missions, fighting was so intense the Hell Hawks drew fire immediately on take off.

For most of his life, Bob didn’t talk too much about his war experience. But, in recent years he has opened up. For those who know him well, it’s interesting that we keep getting more perspective and detail. The great depression and the war are strong influences on his life. He is not an advocate of war, but he recalls the patriotism all the boys felt. Bob tried to enlist at seventeen, but they made him finish high school and guided him toward the air force within a year. The Indiana youngster held physical and mental skills. He was a gymnast for a time.

“It was the right thing to do, really the only thing”, Bob said about joining up. Bob has a fearlessness about him. “Just follow the rules, and everything will work out”. As an example, he describes how he used this mindset to stay safe from danger when keeping a tight flight formation. “And if you follow the rules, you don’t have to worry. I never worried much about anything”.

The Army Air Corp

Bob flew as part of the Army because there was no air force yet. His early training was done in bi-planes. Early versions of the P47s had no enclosed cockpit; they were open air with a short windshield. He has a pair of goggles he wore. Radio-assisted landing technology didn’t show up until right at the very end.

Honoring Bob

WWII Veterans’ Memories was on hand this year to interview Bob. Jenny and Florent Plana are from France, where there is much interest to know more about the American GIs who helped free their country. Bob’s is a story worth telling. Mark Welsh from the Honor Flight organization was also on hand to honor Bob, and to facilitate one of his birthday parties. Bob’s story might go into the Library of Congress.

My wife (one of Bob’s daughters) and I will soon make another van trip down to see Bob. After all, how many hundred-year-olds are out there having a Yuengling and face-timing while being honored for stopping the Nazi-types? Video and more later.