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Hugh Russell, 89, will not celebrate Fourth of July in his customary place at Kitchens Mill because of his health.

World War II veteran unable to celebrate 4th as usual at Kitchens Mill

By Ronnie Thomas · 340-2438

For the last 14 years, World War II veteran Hugh Russell has been a fixture at a century-old cabin in the Kitchens Mill community of Lawrence County, where a family and their friends celebrate Independence Day.

Russell, 89, won’t be in his customary place Wednesday. Instead, a broken hip and other ailments have him confined to bed at his Decatur home. He was unable to interview with a Daily reporter.

“He’s in pretty bad shape now,” said his brother, Raymond, 87, of Decatur. “He’s up and down. Part of the day, he seems to know everything. And then the other part of the day, he doesn’t.”

Jan Lowery of Decatur said Russell also came to her family’s cabin the first Saturday night of each month as they eat, play music and sing, and swap stories.

“We erected a big flagpole about five years ago and dedicated it to Hugh,” she said. “That’s how much we think of him.”

Lowery said her mother, Mae Haygood, and Haygood’s five sisters dismantled the old cabin in Westchester County, Tenn., numbered the logs and reassembled them at Kitchens Mill, after their mother died.

“Everybody wanted a place to meet,” Lowery said. “The family was too big for any one person’s house. They named the cabin for my grandparents, Jessie and Callie Russell, who lived at Kitchens Mill.”

Hugh Russell and the family aren’t related, but he and Lowery’s father, Earl Haygood, are lifelong friends.

“Hugh was a pilot and dad is a pilot, and they would fly around the cabin in their plane and drop out pieces of paper for people to catch. Hugh would pay them whatever amount was written on the paper,” Lowery said. “Our distant cousins would return home to South Alabama, and they’d tell the folks, ‘You’ve always heard money doesn’t fall out of the sky? Well, it does in North Alabama.’ ”

Lowery said at the monthly gatherings, she and her uncle, Bill Haygood, played fiddle, her dad played guitar and all the children sang.

“Hugh, without fail, would arrive with some story he had written, sometimes on a napkin,” she said. “Either he read it or someone read it for him.”

Lowery said before dinner at each Fourth of July celebration, Russell led prayer and always sang “The Marines’ Hymn” solo.

“This year, we’re praying for him,” she said. “We will miss him. His sister, Marilyn Hill, and her husband, Van, will be here.”

Raymond Russell said his brother was in the Marines when the war started and that he fought on Iwo Jima.

“Hugh was there only 10 days, when he got shot in the top of his head,” he said. “He recuperated in Hawaii. He still has his Purple Heart.”

Later, Hugh Russell wanted to go back into the Marines, but when he couldn’t get his ranking, he joined the Army as a gunnery sergeant, his brother said.

“He was in four years,” Raymond Russell said, “and he and his wife spent some of the time in Germany.”

He said upon returning to Decatur his brother got into the cattle business and operated a service station before buying and selling cars.

“After that, he got to buying and selling airplanes, and then he got into buying and selling houses,” he said.

Raymond Russell said his brother still works hard in an effort to keep his mind as sharp as possible.

“Hugh tries to work the Sudoku puzzle in The Decatur Daily about every day,” he said. “My wife, Addie, works it, too. He calls her for help.”

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