Russell E. Wallace
Colonel — United States Army
Korean War (1952-1955) Active Army Reserves (1955-1979)
Veteran Russell Emery Wallace spent much of his life serving in the Korean War and Active Army Reserves. Taking a leadership role, he was able to manage and direct many in not only his time abroad, but his time in the Active Army Reserves. A born leader and true patriot, while Wallace was never actively involved in battle, he dedicated years to protecting our country.
Russell Emory Wallace was born on August 10, 1930 in York, Maine. He grew up in a quaint town called Ogunquit, Abenaki Indian for “beautiful place by the sea.” Raised by his father, a local minister in a baptist church, and mother who stopped working once his parents were married, he vaguely observed war from a young age. His father fought in World War 2. Wallace said, “By the time the war started in 1939, more or less, I was nine years old. So I didn’t have a great, big hand in it, and didn’t observe it too critically.” Before being drafted, he earned a BA degree, and eventually a MBA degree thanks to GI bill educational benefits. Wallace worked a variety of jobs throughout World War 2, including washing dishes at a hotel, working for the sewer department, and taking care of neighbor’s lawns.
Wallace was drafted into the Korean War at the Whitehall Street Draft Station in Lower Manhattan in September of 1952. He had just finished school at the time of his draft, and was unmarried without children. His family was expecting him to be drafted. “It was kind of non-react. It was just what was happening at that time. It was not a matter of choice, and so it was full acceptance,” Wallace said.
He was sent to the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania to train for the war. There, the 5th Infantry Division was preparing 14,000 men to go to Korea. He was trained for light infantry first, including M1 Garand Rifles and light machine guns before having a second-phase of training with heavy weapons. These heavy weapons included mortars and recoilless rifles. Adjusting to basic training was essential, “It’s a new life. You have to learn quickly how to adjust to group living as well as the function things that were traditional.” Wallace felt that the efforts he put forth at basic training were taken seriously by superiors and peers and that his training was very effective. Many of the people at Basic Training with Wallace had been in Korea and were returning from the areas of conflict. They had previously received excellent training. “I always felt that my officers’ candidate school was equally value – as valuable to me as, certainly a semester of college, or maybe two semesters. I just learned a whale of a lot, and it’s a good age for learning.” Wallace also had NCO, or non-commissioned officer, training before leaving Pennsylvania.
Basic training was a new experience for Wallace, but not far from his rural life beforehand. “I think growing up in a smaller town, a more rural-area, was very helpful.. For one thing, we weren’t living in too much luxury, and getting caught in the field in mud and rain and slop, and so forth, wasn’t too much trouble. The city kids had a harder time with it.” Training for Wallace continued throughout his time in the army.
In all, Wallace served about three years and two and a half months of active duty. After leaving Indiantown Gap, he went to Fort Benning for more training. Briefly, Wallace spent time at Fort Sam Houston in Texas to take an officer-level course about medical administration and service. After his training, Wallace went back to the East Coast before being shipped to Germany.
Upon his arrival in Germany, Wallace was responsible for a platoon-sized group of about 50 people and his rank was Second Lieutenant. His specific jobs consisted of keeping track of the soldiers, what they were doing, where they were, how they were doing in relation to the assignment. One of the most exciting parts of the deployment was that Wallace was going to his first foreign country aside from Canada, and really experiencing the world. The army camp in Germany was formed out of an old four or five story building. There were places to dine and sleep, and in the middle a playground type area. There were sufficient supplies throughout Wallace’s time in Germany. He recalled, “Army food is good. They buy their food well.” Out in the field, Wallace often used what was referred to as an “immersion heater” to heat food without electrical sources. The army camp in Germany had a lack of entertainment, according to Wallace. “It just didn’t happen. We were there to occupy, and so it wasn’t – There were no ball fields for us, or anything like that.”
While Wallace did not receive special training there, but many other soldiers were being trained in Germany. There was a group of soldiers who were Puerto Rican and they had to learn quickly to speak the native languages and understand. Wallace recalled that his wife had a job that helped people who did not speak English as a first language to learn what a commanding officer is, who is in charge, and things of that nature. One of Wallace’s other jobs was to teach them to shoot weapons. He had to teach unit tactics as well, “Simple, little things, like if you have three elements in a troop unit, two go to the top, and one is a reserve, or it can do an envelopment around.” When weapons were updated, or improvements were made, Wallace and other higher ranking officers would get briefed on the machinery, and then were expected to teach the people underneath them.
In Germany, Wallace and his platoon were ready for the seemingly probable invasion of Russia coming from East Europe to West Europe. His platoon was ready to defend the southern German Borders if the threat of Russian troops came. The morale in the German Army base was nothing negative, according to Wallace. “Everyone was satisfied. There was concern. The Navy propagandized the troops a little bit, and had us thinking that the – the Russian threat was real. We didn’t know that it wasn’t.”
Wallace was able to communicate with his family overseas by mail. In Germany, he noted the mass destruction left from the previous war. “My first sergeant, for example, rode through Munich… And he said you could see from one side of the city to the other, because there was so much bombing,” Wallace said, “Where we were they would try and get started with the rebuilding, and they were hauling rubble to a mountain they made on the edge of town, 24 hours a day.”
After about a year in Germany, Wallace was released and given leave. It was May of 1955 at this time. Germany was no longer occupied territory, and the independence of Germany allowed the soldiers stationed there to leave. Wallace traveled to Southeast Europe and Southern France after being released from service. “We went to a lot of museums and also a lot of beaches. And we drove from Munich all the way down to Pompeii in an old 1946 or 1947 Plymouth that I took over,” Wallace said. Wallace’s time in Germany earned him the Occupation of Germany medal and a Good Conduct medal.
After traveling through Europe, Wallace returned to the States. Upon his return to the states, Wallace didn’t feel that there was any problem for him adjusting back to life. “You were back, like all other people. Accepted, received well. No problem. Not like some subsequent periods,” Wallace said. Once he was back in America, he returned to school, but stayed in the Active Army Reserves. The active Army Reserves were, in Wallace’s words, “Usually one night a week, and two weeks of summer camp someplace like Camp Roberts or Fort Ord.” Occasionally, the Active Army Reserves took Wallace across the country. During this time, he earned his highest rank, Colonel.
He attended school at University of Utah for about a year and a half and earned his MBA, or Master of Business Association Degree. After schooling, he went to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and eventually the Bethlehem Steel Company. He was busy raising a family upon his return. “We did things like, I guess in the old days, camping. But a lot of stuff just having to do with kids, and Boy Scouts, and the yacht club, and some sports.”
After serving in the Army Reserves until he was about 65, Wallace ended his time with the active Army Reserves. He doesn’t consider his leave from the active Army Reserves a release, but more of a new phase in his life. “I really didn’t get released. It was always a part of my life.”
Throughout his time in the army, Wallace was motivated by the thought of a home and family in his future. The Army was a good way to earn money and buy a house. He put his first mortgage down on a house near Blackie’s Pasture in Belvedere. Wallace said, “I was in the habit, and I was still relatively junior in corporate life, and – but I knew what I was doing as far as the Army was concerned… I actually enjoyed seeing the guys and doing that, too. I was comfortable with it.”
Wallace still receives invitations to military reunions, but most of them take place on the East Coast, making it difficult for him to attend. Many friends that Wallace made have been attending the reunions for about 60 years. Currently, Wallace is a part of the American Legion, and the Reserve Officers Association as well as the Order of St. John. The Order of St. John is a group made of majority military personnel that supports needy people locally, as well as in foreign countries. Wallace works to help in the city of Mill Valley.
Throughout his service, Wallace didn’t experience too many doubts about time with the Army. “I didn’t question it too much. I just went- I just adjusted,” he said. He recalls some of the humorous events that happened during his time at Fort Benning before leaving for Germany, “They’d just do crazy shows, and people who couldn’t really sing, would sing, and people who couldn’t really play an instrument too well, would play, and do impersonations. Groups tend to find ways of amusing themselves away from their normal society. And we did.”
Many of the experiences that Wallace had in the war were justified in his opinion. “They call Korea ‘the forgotten war….’ Individual freedom and democracy were threatened. And so, of course, it was – I felt it was a worthwhile thing to struggle against.” He learned a lot from his time in the Army, especially the aspect of commanding and leading a few hundred people at such a young age, about 22.
Wallace thinks that today’s population should be aware about the history of the United States, and what people fought for. “I think it’s really sad that [people] don’t see how much some people have given to preserve our freedom to live as we do.” He thinks that it is important for Americans to remember how much people give to fight to protect our country. For interested Army youth, Wallace encourages people to make sure they look deeply into Army life before making the choice to enlist, like any career path. Wallace’s advice to future generations went along with an old saying from his father, “Keep your nose clean, mind your own business, do what you should do, and be positive, not negative.”
Interview conducted by Emily Sweet on October 23, 2016.