Russell, 26, was one of 17 soldiers killed Nov. 15 when two Black Hawk helicopters collided in Mosul, Iraq. As of Monday
night, the military's overall death toll for U.S. soldiers stood at 431. Of those, 297 died as a result of hostile action;
2,076 U.S. service members have been injured as a result of hostile action.
Older, stronger and matured from their high school years, his Gregory-Portland High School classmates joined about 200
in attendance, holding small U.S. flags and wearing buttons with the soldier's photo.
"Anyone who ever met John saw he was so full of life," said April Fielder-Clark, who knew Russell since she was 3. "I don't
know too many people who have as many friends as John. No one was safe from his jokes, but it was all in good fun."
Gen. Jack Gardner, stationed at Fort Sam Houston and commander of U.S. Army South, read a statement Monday from Russell's
company commander and presented Russell's mother, father and wife with a Bronze Star, recognizing his honorable service in
Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division of the Army.
"He distinguished himself as a selfless soldier, and in our view he is a true hero," Gardner said. "His company commander
said he was a very talented guy, who was highly respected, and highly liked by everyone."
Those traits seemed to span Russell's life. Born Dec. 24, 1976, in Portland, his popularity was evident Monday in the pews
filled with family, neighbors, military and high school friends.
Russell joined the Army as soon as he graduated from high school in 1995 and began active duty in 1997, following in the
footsteps of his father, who served in the Army for 34 years.
"Everyone always knew when John's dad was coming to the game," said Marty Mumme, a former football teammate. "It was a
big deal. He always looked up to his dad."
Fielder-Clark said during a school assignment about heroes, Russell wrote a paper about his dad.
"In seventh grade, John was the only one who wrote on someone close to him, his father, for fighting for his country,"
she said. "And little did he know then where his own life would take him."
His journey ended Monday, with a five-gun salute and the sounds of taps and "Amazing Grace" as the wind blew in gusts across
San Patricio Memorial Gardens cemetery.
Three flags were presented: one to Russell's mother, Betty, of Portland; another to his father, Dennis, of San Antonio;
and the third to his wife, Brandi, of Chicago.
Some see Russell's ending as a new beginning.
"I know as a Christian, that John would never come back to this earth if he could, because the world he knows now has no
borders," Fielder-Clark said during the funeral.
Billie Beasley, a former neighbor of the Russells, remembers driving her son and a station wagon full of neighborhood boys
- a group known to everyone just as "the gang" - to the movie theater for dollar days.
"John was always first out of the car, and first to say thank you," she said. "He would always be the one to do the right
The former high school football player was also a member of the drama team, and as a participant in Peer Assisted Leadership,
Russell elicited "enthusiasm, happiness and self respect from the kids," said friend and former classmate Steven Alvarez.
"I am deeply gratified for your service in the military and defending our country," Alvarez said during the service. "May
you and your fellow comrades now soar among the angels where conflict does not exist, but sweet serenity is infinite."
Contact Beth Cross at 886-3618 or firstname.lastname@example.org