NO. 17436 •
Died December 12, 1951, In an Aircraft Accident at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, aged 27 Years
To those of us who live life with a code, there is a quiet cognizance of the brevity of time on earth during which we consciously or unconsciously build to be remembered. For some it takes all of a normal span of life with a continuous effort. Those who knew Russ Leggett will say that his pristine goodness came to him naturally, and though his untimely departure was announced at a youthful age, a wonderful remembrance of a great fellow will always remain.
Russ was endowed with two great traits of character that make him unforgettable. For determination and devotion he had no equal. While serving in World War II as a pilot he received his appointment to the Academy and leaped at the opportunity to satisfy this long cherished ambition. Despite the privileges he had already had as an officer, Russ readily adapted himself to his new surroundings as a cadet. His diligence was rewarded by his graduation among the top men in his class, and there were many of his classmates who felt grateful to him on graduation day, June 6th, 1950, for his academic assistance and friendship,
Although he successfully completed the course during World War II, he was ordered to go through flying school for the second time because of the lapse in years away from flying. The Air Force found a true blue pilot in Russ Leggett. There were few like him in his persistence to achieve success in his chosen field. He was good enough to be eligible for the best of assignments, but no matter how inviting they were, he remained unchanged to the end. All his fellow officers admired him and respected him. His work was thorough and efficient. His loyalty was undying and alive with enthusiasm.
When Russ arrived at Langley Field, Virginia, he was assigned to a photo reconnaissance squadron. Shortly thereafter he volunteered to fill a vacancy in a light bombardment outfit. Now, at last, he was in his glory. It was not long before he was among the most responsible and proficient pilots in the squadron. It seemed as if "Lady Luck" was with him because this squadron became part of the first jet bomber group in the Air Force. Finally, and deservingly after many obstacles through the years, Russ had worked his way into a position that meant a promising future. He knew what he wanted and there was nothing that could prevent him from going on ‑ that is nothing but the nasty hand of fate.
You can read about things like this, you can hear stories and maybe even see one from a distance, but nothing strikes the heart closer than when you actually play a part in such a tragic episode. December 12, 1951 began like any other day. That is until the roll was called. And then the Operations Officer reported that one of our planes on an early morning flight had crashed. An engine failure, the field was in sight, emergency procedures seemed to be working all right, then suddenly silence. A fisherman reports seeing a giant aircraft plunge into Chesapeake Bay. You rush confused up to the tower. Men are screaming orders to rescue boats. You can see helicopters on their way to the scene, our Squadron Commander stands quietly nervous, a thoroughly chewed cigar providing the only indication of his tension and concern. A thousand thoughts race through your mind each second, then, as the excitement subsides to whispers, as assumptions become conclusions and facts, you are struck with the cold hard reality that a fellow man closer than a friend is no longer with you.
The synopsis of this man's life would not be complete without knowing a little of his deep love and affection for Charlotte. As his boyhood sweetheart, as his "One and Only" at West Point, and as his wife, Charlotte was all that Russ could hope for. Understanding and compassionate, she endeared further our sentiments for him. If you knew them, there was only one impression you could have ‑‑ they were two young people who shared a manner of living that won the envy of all. Eight weeks after the birth of their son, Lawrence, Charlotte received the tragic news. Her courageous conduct throughout the ensuing gloom was testimony to her character. Despite her burdened heart of misery she was actually a comfort to those who paid their respects. Only the people who knew her well could realize the magnitude to her of this misfortune.
Russ was laid to rest in a small cemetery very close to the airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It seemed the natural thing to do for a man who had dedicated his life to the progress of aviation. A devoted husband, a grand friend, a loyal soldier. God has not created enough like him. Lawrence will never know his father, but he has a magnificent heritage to guide his way through life.
- Elliot E. Heit