At the age of 19 or 20, World War II veteran Russel Danford enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1942.
Enlisting at a courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia, Danford explained why he chose the Air Force.
“I didn’t know anything about the military at that time and while we’re at the courthouse to volunteer, there was a long line for the Marines and a long line for the Navy,” said Danford. “There weren’t very many in the Army line, so I got into the shorter line, the Air Force.”
Danford wanted to join before he was drafted for the war. Not knowing a lot about the recruitment process, he thought he would be able to go home for a while before being sent off to basic training.
“I thought after joining up I would go home for a while,” said Danford. “After I signed my name on that paper, the recruiter pointed to the window and said, ‘Go get on that bus.’”
“I didn’t get back home until after three years.”
After getting on that bus, he was off to basic training and was stationed in Newport News, Virginia. He shared some of his experiences during training.
“There was pretty strict discipline,” he said. “We would get up early at four in the morning. We would clean, then fall in for march and then go to breakfast at six. Afterwards, we had training and worked at designated areas.”
Danford wouldn’t stay for very long in the United States before heading overseas to Africa. He had never been on a ship before and got seasick.
“That was the first time on a ship,” said Danford. “Yeah, I got sick but I wasn’t the only one. A lot of people got sick.”
Reaching Africa, he was not used to the sand and harsh winds.
“We survived,” joked Danford. “Some planes were grounded because of how much sand was blowing.”
Danford was not flying at the time. He was working at the headquarters company, driving different vehicles and transporting soldiers.
One memory that stands out to Danford was bombing Frankfurt, Germany. He was a part of the 410th Bomb Group and piloted a Douglas A-20 Havoc.
“Frankfurt on Main is one of the main airports in Germany, and we came around, and I looked over there and the sky was black with flak,” he said. “They were just shooting up. They knew we were coming for the airport and we came through the flak. We got through it, but the bombardier didn’t get on target and dropped the bomb.”
“We had to go back and come again to that flak, and we got through it.”
“Then, when we landed the plane, the sheet metal people, the mechanics and everybody on the ground crew would reload the bombs on the plane and repair it up and have it ready for the next time.”
While that can be seen as frightening experience, Danford said he was not scared. He says he’s grateful for not getting injured during his time in the war.
Some of his favorite memories were traveling to see the pyramids in Cairo and swimming in the Dead Sea.
After the war ended, Danford returned to the United States. In 1945 he was discharged and returned home to Ohio. He then followed his brothers to Corpus Christi and worked for them building homes.
Now at the age of 97, Danford lives in Portland. He likes to spend his time at home doing chores, maintaining his garden, doing woodworking, going to church and eating at iHop every Tuesday morning with his friends.
AJ Lopez is the assistant editor at the News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270 or at sanpatricio@mySouTex.com