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Colonel Melvin Rhodes Russell, oldest of two sons of Elsie Florence Spilman and Wilson Rhodes Russell, passed away peacefully at age 97 on January 24, 2010, in Chico, California.

Mel was born July 15, 1912 and raised in Monett, Missouri. He graduated from Monett High School in 1929, where he excelled in academics and sports, and was a member of the Typing Team. He graduated from Monett Junior College 1932 and entered the United States Military Academy, "C" Company, West Point, New York, in 1934. He graduat-ed in 1938 with a B.S. degree in engineering. He married Frieda Anna Mason on June 15, 1938.

His long and accomplished military career included assignments in the combat zones of WWII (European Theater) and the Korean War. During WWII, he was stationed in London, England, where he helped plan the Normandy invasion and conceived and developed a strategy for air attacks which reduced German artillery damage to American fighter planes by 50 percent. After the war, he was executive officer of the American University in Biarritz, France. Peacetime assignments included the Philippines, teaching math at West Point, the Pentagon, advanced military schooling at the Armed Forces Staff College, Army War College, and the National War College, and France. His last assignment was Deputy Commanding Officer of Army Air Defense Command at Fort Baker, California, in charge of the missile defenses of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Upon his retirement from the military in 1968 he was awarded the Distinguished Service medal, the highest award given in peacetime. He then worked for Crocker Bank, San Francisco, until 1976 as a systems analyst and assistant vice president. He and Frieda moved to Chico in 1978.

His hobbies included outdoor sports, bridge, crossword puzzles, games, and community activities, but his real passion was golf, achieving two rare holes-in-one. To his delight, during his assignment in France, in addition to his other duties, he was in charge of arranging golf tournaments in England, Berlin, Rome, and Spain. He was a member of Sons in Retirement, The Retired Officers Association, Northwood Commons Homeowners Association board, and a founding board member of the Sierra Sunrise housing community.

He leaves behind four children, Michael Russell (Gerri), Anne Russell (Don Hinton), Sara Russell (Michael Hochderffer), and Susan Russell; grandchildren, Richard Russell (Karen) and Ryan Russell; and great-grandchildren, Lyndsey, Joshua, and Nicholas Russell. He also leaves behind nephew, Rick Russell (Carolyn Hatfield), nieces, Sister Jane Russell and Julie Russell Grime (Jeff), and sister-in-law, Janet Ferrell Russell. He was preceded in death by his wife in 1999; younger brother, Austin Russell, also a West Point graduate, in 2004; sister-in-law, Bernadine Russell in 1989, and niece, Catherine Russell Best (David) in 2001.

Visitation will be at Bidwell Chapel, 341 W. 3rd St., Chico, on February 2, 2010 from 12 to 5 p.m. There will be a Celebration of Life at Prestige Assisted Living, 1351 E. Lassen Ave., Chico, February 3, 2010 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Services will be held in the West Point Chapel, West Point, New York, February 12, 2010 at 1:30 p.m., with burial following in the West Point Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Paradise Animal Shelter, 925 American Way, Paradise, CA, 95969. Condolences may be sent to Bidwell Chapel or online at www.bidwellchapel.com.

Mel was an honorable, well-respected, and loving man with a wry sense of humor who never said an unkind word. He was an officer and gentleman of the highest degree and will be dearly missed by all those who knew and loved him.

Published in Chico Enterprise-Record on Jan. 30, 2010
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