On Sunday, January 26, 2020 Russell Wood Smith II went home to be with Jesus. Russell was born April 28, 1927 to Russell Wood Smith Sr. and Beatrice (Paynter) Smith in in Knoxville, TN.
Russell grew up in Louisiana and joined the United States Navy in 1944 during World War II. After boot camp he became a carpenter’s mate and worked in damage control serving in the Southwest Pacific on a landing ship tank that transported ammunition from one ship to another. He continued active duty until about six months after World War II ended. He was then discharged from the Navy as a petty officer second class. He then enrolled at Southern University where he attended for approximately a year. Once the Korean War started he felt his country needed him again and he then rejoined the military, but this time in the United States Air Force, where he became a tail gunner. During his training to become a gunner he was the only black man in training and became one of the first African-Americans to be trained as an aircraft gunner. During a bombing mission during the Korean War, the B-29 he was on was hit, forcing the aircraft down. After bailing out of the plane he and some others were caught after a few days by the North Koreans and fed fish heads and rice, which ironically ended up being one of his favorite meals to date. After 18 months of captivity, they were released and was brought back to the United States and returned to duty. He then served in a division of the Air Force Reserves and finished his military career in 1966 as a tech sergeant.
He married his first wife, Gilbertha in 1948. They lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and had 4 children together, Brenda, Deborah, Francesca, and Russell “Woody” III. Gilbertha sadly passed away in 1960.
He then married Marcela Merlo Garcia in 1961 and divorced in 1972.
He then married third wife Veva (Marston) Smith in 1974. Veva had two daughters Jenny and Debbie and they had a son together, Michael. They moved to Amador County from Merced where they both became bus drivers and raised their family. Veva and Russell also raised their grandson, Gregory Marston from the age of two and had many foster children over the years, including Daniel “Danny” Robinson who they had from the age of 4-32.
Russell had a special love for his country, family, and community. He drove school bus for Amador County Unified School District for approximately 35 years, where he built many relationships with his riders that have lasted to this day. He retired in 1993 at which time he started driving for Meals on Wheels delivering meals to the elderly in the county and building even more relationships. He couldn’t stay retired long, so when the school district asked him to come back in 2002 he accepted, but only if he could drive a van and not a bus. So he then started to drive a transportation van for special needs children until he was unable to drive anymore.
Russell’s last years were spent living with his step-daughter and step son-in-law enjoying watching some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren run around and watching his sports. He was a true sports fan and loved any and all sports.
Russell was one of a kind with a heart bigger than could be imagined, and had so much love for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren that they will miss tremendously. His smile and laugh would make you smile and laugh. He just truly loved and cared about everyone. Russell was an amazing man and will be missed more than he could have ever imagined. His stories and heart will live on and be remembered by many.
He is preceded in death by wife Gilbertha Smith, sister Barbara Smith Banks, Son Russell Wood “Woody” Smith III, wife Veva Smith, son-in-law Jeremiah Messick, and step-daughter Debbie Gonzalez. He is survived by his daughter Brenda French and husband Richard French, daughter Deborah Newcombe, daughter Francesca Messick, son Michael Smith, grandson (son) Gregory Marston, and step-daughter Jenny Bolin and husband Phillip Bolin, along with nieces, nephews, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Russell’s ashes will be placed alongside his son Woody’s at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon on February 20, 2020 with services at 11:00 AM with a full military honors service. There will also be a Celebration of Life on March 7, 2020 from 2:00-4:00 PM at the American Legion Hall in Sutter Creek, CA. The family would like to extend an invitation to both events to anyone that would like to attend.