FLORENCE — Juanita Russel Williams said her father would have been honored by the military service that was held at the family's gravesite Friday in Greenview Memorial Park.

Members of American Legion Post 31, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8640, the local Patriot Guard Riders and other paid tribute to Lt. Darrell Arlen Russel, who served in the U.S. Army in World War II and became a prisoner of war when his unit was captured by German soldiers on Nov. 22, 1944.

Tom McKnight, a member of the Post 31 Color Guard, presided over the service to honor a man who became his mentor when he arrived in the Shoals 15 years ago to research his family history.

Russel, who died in 2010, was also known around the Shoals as the founder of the Natchez Trace Genealogical Society.

Williams said her father was also involved in helping bestow the proper military honors on deceased veterans.

"We are extremely honored and touched beyond belief," she said. "He would have been thrilled that his great-granddaughter was here to see it."

Before the service began, Avie Hyde walked up and touched the hanging piece of metal artwork bearing the phrase, "Never Forgotten." Hyde is Russel's great-granddaughter.

A large funeral tent was erected to protect family members and dignitaries, including two World War II veterans and Florence Mayor Steve Holt, from the elements, but predicted showers held off for the roughly 30 minute service.

"Dr. Russel was a friend of mine and I thought a lot of him," said Rev. David E. Gregg, of Florence Boulevard Baptist Church. "He took me under his wing and taught me about something I loved."

Gregg said Russel came to one of his history classes and talked to the students about what it was like being a prisoner of war.

Holt placed a wreath at the grave site.

"It's an honor and privilege to pay honor and tribute to Lt. Darrel Russell and others who serve in our military," Holt said. 

At least eight American flags were positioned near the grave. About 50 people attended the service, including many veterans and three soldiers in green camouflage Army combat uniforms.

McKnight read an excerpt from Russel's diary concerning the day 14 members of his unit became outnumbered and captured.

McKnight and fellow veteran Don Johnson then slowly and meticulously folded an American flag, making sure its corners were sharp. There was almost complete silence as the flag was folded. 

A rifle volley was fired, followed by "Taps".

Jesse Qualls, commander of VFW Post 8640 of Sheffield, placed three spent shell casings inside the flag.

"Duty, honor, country," he said as he placed a shell inside the flag after each word. 

Post 31 Chaplain Archie Kimbrough gave the benediction, which closed the ceremony.

McKnight has made it a mission to see that military veterans who might not have received the property military honors at the time of their deaths receive them.


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