Russell Howard Webber

October 22, 1924 – June 28, 2005

Russell Howard Webber was born in Norwood, Massachusetts on October 22, 1924 to Edgar Webber and Margaret (Colbert) Webber.

 

He was the 8th of their 9 children. When their 6th child, Margaret,

Russell (bottom left) shown with his sister Phyllis (back) and brother Kenny (bottom right)
Russell (bottom left) shown with his sister Phyllis (back) and brother Kenny (bottom right)

died at the age of two in 1919, it resulted in an age gap in the children. Because of this, Phyllis, Russ and Kenny  spent more time together and ended up closer to one another than they were to their older siblings.

Edgar worked various jobs, including one for the Town of Norwood, but the family never had much money. As children, their mother would send Russ and Kenny out with a bucket to walk the train tracks. When the trains would come by they would waive and the fireman on the train would throw some coal over the side for them, which they picked up and brought home to heat the house.

Russell Webber, age 14, 1938

Near Sumner street, the Bird Paper company would buy and collect Russell Webber, age 14, 1938old clothes and rags and use them to make paper. Coins, jewelry and other items would fall out during the process and settle into a holding pit.  The boys would comb through the piles in hip boots. They would almost always find a few pennies and on a good day they might find a nickel or even a dime.  A dime in the early 1930’s would get you a hamburger or a movie ticket, or a newspaper and a cup of coffee, so they spent lots of free time there. Russ even took  Jimmy there when he was a small boy.

Russ’ grandmother, Christine McLeod Webber, owned a farm on Winter Street next to Highland Cemetery that stretched to the Westwood town line. Christine offered to pay the grand kids a nickel if they helped pick strawberries on the farm. One day Russ came and picked strawberries for her and at the end of the day when Russ asked for his money, Christine explained she had to sell the Strawberries first.

 
Russ as a young teenager, playing basketball
Russ as a young teenager, playing basketball

Although he was slightly shorter than average, Russ was still very athletic, and strong as an ox- he was considered one of the toughest guys in the neighborhood. Aside from street fighting, which he did often in South Norwood, he played football (he even used to practice with the Dedham football team and kicked the ball barefoot), baseball and basketball. He learned to skate on the ice where the Bird and Son’s factory is located where Mansion drive meets Washington st in East Walpole.

The house where Russ  was born was located at 717 Pleasant St. (Street View). It was torn down in the late 1990’s. The family moved quite often in the 1920’s and 30’s but stayed in the South Norwood area. They eventually settled at 60 Highview St. (Street View). This is the address listed in military enlistment records in 1942 when Horace (31), Preston( 29), Edgar (27), Russell (19) and Kenny (17) all joined the armed forces. Elliot, aged 35 at the time, was considered too old to join and stayed home in Norwood.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy on 1st_Marine_Division_InsigniaDecember 7, 1941, men from all over the country signed up for the armed services and Norwood was no exception.  Russ enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on January 12th, 1942, at the age of 17. Years later when asked why he joined the Marines instead of the other services, he said all the recruiters were lined up in a row, telling the people passing by why their service was the better one to join. When he passed the Marine recruiter, the man said “Semper Fi”, but Russ thought he said “Seventy Five” which was more than the Army paid, so he signed up for the Marines instead.

Russ went to boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina and was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.  By March of 1942 he was stationed at New River, North Carolina and in April moved on to San Diego California. Despite his short stature, he carried and fired the BAR Army_Heritage_Museum_B.A.R.(Browning Automatic Rifle) for his unit (company I), which weighed almost 25 pounds and was almost 4 feet long. He participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal (including the battle at Bloody Ridge) from Sept 18 1942 – Jan 4 1943.

Following their first campaign, the regiment was sent to Melbourne, Australia to rest and recover. During their stay, they were billeted in the Melbourne Cricket Ground which was near the center of the city. The 7th Marines were 30 kms south-east at the bay-side suburbs of Balcombe, Mt Martha and Frankston.

On August 30, 1943 Russ wrote a letter to Elliot from San Diego. He was recovering from the heavy fighting in the Pacific.

He asked about the family and wanted Elliot to let everyone know he was resting and doing fine, but that he hadn’t been paid in weeks and would be broke until his next payday on September 15th.  Paydays had been switched from the 5th and 20th of every month to a once a month payday and with no money, Russ was bored and asked Elliot to write him back if he had time.

During August  and  September of 1943 the bulk of the DivisionMarines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain

Marines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain

moved north and by October 24th the last Divisional units arrived in New Guinea.  As part of the campaign to secure New Guinea, the combat on New Britain took place in some of the most rugged terrain anywhere on earth.  Materials like clothing, paper, and leather quickly rotted or fell apart in the intense humidity and heavy rainfall. Weapons and ammunition corroded almost in front of men’s eyes.  It was a difficult environment to be in for any length of time, let alone fight in. Russ contracted Malaria there for the second time of the Pacific campaign.

During April 1944 the 1st Marine Division (called the “Old Breed”) deployed to its new home on Pavuvu in the Russell Islands. The Division’s Marines were bitterly disappointed when they first set eyes on Pavuvu. It was a tropical hole infested with sand crabs and covered by coconut plantations. Russ said he and his fellow Marines called it “starvation island”. He said it was the worst place they visited and they were miserable there, but at least there was no malaria.papa 006 wounded

On 15 September 1944, the First Marine Division assaulted Peleliu in the Palau islands. Only a few points off the equator, Peleliu was a brutally hot and humid place under the best of conditions. Repeated bombings stripped most of the vegetation from the island’s sharp volcanic ridges, leaving naked coral that soaked in the sun and was unbearably hot to walk on. The landscape also  offered little concealment. Russ was wounded there on September 29th, earning one of the two Purple Hearts he was awarded.

Russ was honorably discharged as a Private First Class, and returned home to Norwood where he went back to work at Bird & Son’s in East Walpole. The Bird plant made roofing shingles and paper products and was the largest employer in both Norwood and Walpole at that time.

papa 031b FIRST MARINE b

Russ would later be  a founding member of the 1st Marine Division Reunion Association in Boston after the war and was extremely proud of his Marine service throughout his lifetime.

Florence Webber Portrait-large

He met and began dating Florence Howard,  from neighboring Dedham, Massachusetts,  in 1951. She volunteered at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in West Roxbury and he would sometimes give her a ride home.

old pics0007b-largeIn 1951 he took her to the Thanksgiving football game between Dedham and Norwood, but told her he wouldn’t be seeing her that night. She knew he was also dating a nurse from Braintree who he was going to see.
 
 
 
 
When he was with Florence he would tell her stories about the nurse and they would laugh about them, and apparently he also talked to the nurse about Florence. The night of the football game the nurse had finally had enough and said “All you do is talk about her, maybe you should just go be with her tonight”, and Russ said “That’s a good idea!” and went back to see Florence. He never saw the nurse again.
 
 
florence and Webber, Russell wedding (1)
Florence Howard and Russell Webber on their wedding day, August 10, 1952

Florence lived in an apartment on the corner of Cleveland St. at 69 Railroad Avenue in Norwood. On August 10th, 1952, Florence’s 28th birthday, she and Russ got married and Russ moved into the apartment. Russ’ sister Doris was the maid of honor, and Russ’ friend Pete Bamba was his best man. After the ceremony, they went to Chinatown in Boston, then hopped on the bus and went to California on their honeymoon. Florence’s friend Kitty McDonough watched Cynthia and Jimmy while they were away.  Florence didn’t think Cynthia would mind but she cried most of the time they were away, while Jimmy spent time with the other kids.

For their honeymoon, they took a bus across the country to San Diego, California. It was Florence’s first trip outside New England.

In March of 1953, Russ’ mother Margaret Colbert Webber died. His 286 Railroad Ave in 2015father Pa needed help running the house, so in December Russ, Florence, Cynthia and Jimmy moved in to his house further up  the street at 286 Railroad ave.

286 Railroad Ave in 2015 (2010 addition on the left)

They bought the house from Russ’ brother Preston (who had financed the house for Pa) for $6000.  Richard was 2 months old when they made the move.   Once Russ and Florence started having more children, Pa moved in with his daughter Eva on Winter street. Todd, Sharon, Jeff and Mark were all born while they lived at 286 Railroad ave. The house still stands at the present location, although an addition was added in 2010.

On August 9th, 1965 the family took out a $19,300 mortgage to pay 311 Nahatan St in the late 1970's. The front of the house has been painted red but the right side still has some brown shingles.of 286 Railroad Avenue and buy the house at 311 Nahatan st.  The monthly mortgage payment for the 30 year loan was $66, which was a good sum of money in 1966 but by the 1980’s was a bargain. The

311 Nahatan St in the late 1970’s. The front of the house has been painted red but the right side still has some brown shingles.

backyards of the houses almost touched, only separated by the yard at 3 School St. Most of the family’s belongings were moved straight through these back yards. Built in 1910, it was a brown, wood shingled house set up as an upstairs/downstairs two family residence when they purchased it. Russ’ brother Kenny and his wife Janet had actually rented the second floor at one point while Russ and Florence lived at 286 Railroad Ave. Kenny and Janet’s daughter Susan was born while they lived at 311 Nahatan st. The upstairs kitchen was used as a bedroom for 19 year old Jimmy, with the plumbing left intact. Russ and Florence took the upstairs bedroom that overlooked Nahatan st. Downstairs, the current living room was the dining room and the front bedroom was the den.

The family would go for long rides in the car, with all the kids piled into the backseat and sometimes Mark layed in the back window. Usually they would go to visit someone specific, like Russ’ sister Phyllis in New Hampshire, but often they would just head in a direction and see where they ended up. If the children misbehaved Russ would threaten to pull over and get a “switch”, a small tree branch, to spank them with.

When the 1st Marine Division was trying to expand their membership, Russ drove all over Massachusetts knocking on doors to sign people up. When looking for one particular veteran, the went business card0009 (1)to Roxbury, where they were given a new address he had moved to in Needham. From there they went to another town, and another until they finally arrived in Weston. They never tracked the guy down, but the resident of the last house in Weston said Russ should join the FBI with those kind of detective skills.

Russ and Florence attended various 1st Marine Division reunions in places like San Antonio, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Orleans, South Dakota, Washington D.C., Baltimore, San papa 034 divisionDiego, and Chicago (which was Florence’s favorite). in 1965 the reunion was in New York city and they brought some of the kids with them. Mark was at boy scout camp on Cape Cod and Richie and Todd may not have been there, but Jeff climbed the Statue of Liberty with Florence all the way up to the crown, which was a very long walk.

Florence has just gotten her license before the Philadelphia reunion (1968).  While they were away, Mark and Sharon were sent to her sister Edna’s house. All the kids attended the Washington reunion, where Russ got a spider bite on his hand  right before the trip and Florence had to drive all the way home.

They also loved to stop at flea markets, swap meats and yard sales. With so many children and not much money, they took advantage of any kind of deal they could get. Russ’ brother Kenny, who ran the town dump, would also call Russ if he saw anyone throwing away anything the family could use. This included toys for the kids as well as furniture for the house.

 

One day Russ and Florence stopped at a church on Chapel Street

Russ was featured in an article in the Daily Transcript on August 28, 1985 where he talked about the Eiffel Tower.
Russ was featured in an article in the Daily Transcript on August 28, 1985 where he talked about the Eiffel Tower.

in Norwood where they were holding an event. One of the exhibits was an eight foot tall metal Eiffel Tower. She always wanted to visit France and never got to go, so Russ bought the Eiffel tower and put it on the front lawn. That was sometime in the late 1960’s.  The Eiffel tower was hidden from view by several pine trees in front of the house until the mid 1980’s, but as the trees fell or were removed, the tower became a local landmark. To this day people stop and take photos of it or with it. A photo in front of the tower is often listed on local scavenger hunt lists.

In 1964 Russ got a job as the junior custodian at the Shattuck School, across the street from his house on Nahatan st. Over the next 20 years,  Russ worked in every school in town at one point or another, but mostly the Oldham school. When he retired from the school department in 1987, the kids at the Oldham school threw a huge party for him, complete with a paper lei for him to take to Hawaii with him on vacation.  After his retirement he volunteered as a playground monitor at the Oldham school until 1989.

Once he retired, Russ loved a good cup of tea at home and liked to eat his meals in bed. For several years he would head down to McDonald’s on Broadway and have coffee with his friends. He was a talented story teller and it was often hard to tell which ones were exaggerated or flat out made up, but they were all entertaining.

Over the years, Russ invited many people to stay in the house at 311 Nahatan St. His daughter Sharon, son in law George Curtis and grandson George Curtis Jr. lived there from 1980-1983 and then came back several other times (1985, 1988, 1990) in between duty stations. When George and Sharon were separated in the summer of 1989, she and George lived there for 3 months again. Jeff’s daughter Jessica lived in the house from 2001-2002 when her son Andrew was born. When there was a fire in the apartment across the street, the house painter from Ireland had no place to go so Russ let him stay on the couch for a few months.

Grand Marshall Russell (with Florence) in the lead car of the parade. Taken on Washington st in downtown Norwood on July 4th, 2004.

For many years he marched in the annual Norwood 4th of July

Grand Marshall Russell (with Florence) in the lead car of the parade. Taken on Washington st in downtown Norwood on July 4th, 2004.

parade  with the Norfolk County Marine Corps League and carried the flag.

He was chosen as the Grand Marshall of the parade in 2004, a moment he called the proudest in his life.

Parties on the Fourth of July were an annual tradition in the Webber household going back to at least the early 1970’s. They started as smaller events with family and a few friends and grew larger and larger as the years went on.  By the 1980’s, most of the guest were friends of Russ kids, but a large number of family members and friends of both Russ and Florence also attended each year. Motorcycles lined the sidewalk out in front of the house and a live band played in the back yard.   Around mid afternoon, everyone would leave to head down and get a spot for the parade, then once the parade was over, the party would continue back at the house until long after it was dark. For years the party ended in a sizable fireworks display (even though fireworks were illegal in Massachusetts). By the mid 1990’s, the fireworks shows were over, and kareoke was sometimes used in place of a live band. The party no longer continued after the parade, and dozens of motorcycles would fill the street and sidewalk in front of the house.

Russ had a great sense of humor and loved to sing, never missing a chance to attend karaoke night at local bars and pubs. Notorious for having a stubborn streak and a dislike for authority, he was just as well known for his generosity. He was always willing to do you a favor, even if it took him out of his way or caused him an inconvenience, but if you crossed him watch out! He was loved and respected and very much missed by friends and family.