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CAMP SHELBY, Miss. -- Growing up, 1st Lt. Rodney Brock with the 177th Armored Brigade, Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, enjoyed his grandfather's Navy stories about World War II, and looked to him for guidance before joining the Army. Ultimately, these stories and his grandfather's example influenced Brock decision to join the Army.
"He told me all the things that he liked about his commanders during WWII. He also said that he thought I exhibited a lot of those same traits and that if I chose to join, I would be a good leader to my Soldiers," said Brock. He said he would be proud of me either way," said Brock. "He didn't push me into the decision."
"So I joined, and I visited him the day that I came back from Fort Lewis as a freshly minted second lieutenant," said Brock. "He said it was one of the proudest days of his life."
When it comes to following a family member into the military, Brock isn't alone. According to a survey released last year by the Pew Research Center, approximately 79 percent of today's veterans followed in a family member's footsteps. This is almost 18 percent higher than the general public. Serving can be considered a family business, Brock said, since several other members of his family have served as well.
Typically his grandfather would only tell the hilarious stories about WWII, he never really talked much about the horrors he faced until I came back from my first deployment, said Brock. It wasn't until Brock decided to help his grandfather receive recognition for his actions on Omaha Beach on D-Day that he saw parallels between their two careers.
"My grandfather suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," said Brock. "I know how bad it was, and I am proud to work done at the 177th Armored Brigade, First Army Division East and First Army to help Soldiers deal with it today."
The 177th mobilizes and demobilizes units under guidance from First Army Division East and First Army. The care and concern that is shown to all Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airman when they return home is outstanding, so they don't suffer from PTSD alone the way his grandpa had to, explained Brock. First Army works with the Army's Medical Command, the Veteran's Administration and other organizations to ensure every single redeploying Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are correctly evaluated and receive the medical and behavioral health assistance they need.
When Brock first returned from Iraq, he and his grandfather talked about his experiences. It brought them closer and Brock better understood the demons his grandfather fought alone for so long. Over the years Russell had put his memories of his military service on tape, capturing the thoughts and emotions of a man who has walked through and seen the anguish of war.
"It seemed like the Iraq war brought back so many memories of the war," says Russell in his memoirs. "Many nights I had nightmares that I was still fighting the Germans."
Russell was among the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The images he saw that day haunted him for years.
"Everybody was wet, hungry and afraid; food had been scarce for almost three days. We were towing a LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) I think, a boat to carry the Rangers on it to hit the beach hard as they could," states Russell in his memoirs. "We had to watch the horrors of the men and parts of men that had been destroyed.
The beaches were being cluttered with broken equipment and GI's who had suffered the supreme sacrifice. Yes, the heroes were placed in the soil on Normandy," recalled Russell.
"It was hard to think that in just 10 months from Normandy, I was in Okinawa fighting for my life and others," said Russell.
After D-Day, Russell, a Gunners Mate 2nd Class, served with a crew of about 70 crewmen and seven officers on the USS LCS (L) 86, also known as the 'Mighty Midget.' Many men and officers received special awards for bravery; the entire ship crew received The Presidential Unit Citation for heroic duty in supporting the landing at Okinawa.
Russell, who has been legally blind now for five years, said the VA furnished him with a machine that helped him read. He began reading a little book titled "God's promise, ask and ye shall receive," while struggling with PTSD resulting from his experiences in both France and Okinawa. It took a lot of prayer, faith, medical help, and the love of family, but Brock said his grandfather has won most of his PTSD battle.
"One night I had a dream," said Russell in his memoirs. "I had my pack upon my back and I was walking through the streets of home. God was saying my child it is over now; do not fear for you are safe now. Since then I have not had any problems with my thoughts and memories."
After knowing what his grandfather went through and knowing how he suffered, Brock said is proud of the unit he works for and the job they do, in helping Soldiers transition thru the demobilization process after they return from combat. And it was through his assignment at Camp Shelby that Brock found a way to honor his grandfather.
"I spend a lot of time at the museum. I like to look around during my lunch," said Brock. "While I was there I picked up a flyer that said Veterans that served in France during WWII were now eligible to receive the Legion of Honor." Brock decided he would submit his grandfather's information and ensure he received the recognition he deserved.
Brock started putting the required paperwork together in early January 2012and submitted it to the Atlanta Consulates' office. He didn't hear anything back for five months. In late June, his grandmother received a letter from the French Ambassador stating Oscar Russell had been appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
"We were beyond excited," said Brock. "My grandmother called and said she had received a big envelope. She opened it and read it to me on the phone; it came as a huge surprise to us."
Brock's grandfather, Oscar Russell, was honored for his service during WWII, at a ceremony at The Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby on Aug. 15. France's Lt. Col. Philippe Testart, French liaison officer to the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Ga., and Honorary Consult to Mississippi, Keltoum Rouland, presented Russell the Legion of Honor and the accompanying title of Knight or Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Receiving the award on the arm of his grandson brought his service full circle for Russell. When Testart, awarded Russell the medal, he recalled a passage from Russell's memoirs.
"Many men did not make it to enjoy the freedoms of jobs, peace and contentment, the love of children, parents and family," Testart read from Russell's memoirs. "We that lived should never boast as heroes."