By WT Cox
One of the most difficult things about growing old is having your friends pass away. When I was young, I remember my grandmother reading the obituaries every day. Back then, there was no Facebook, social media… or the internet to keep in touch with people. A lot of families did not even have telephones when I was young, but our newspaper was delivered daily… sometimes it would end up in the side ditch or a mud hole if had been raining, and other times our family dog would find it and hide it, but normally it was there every day. Assuming that she got her hands on the paper, my grandmother would always go to the obituary section. Now, that I am close to 70 years of age, I can understand why my grandmother always read those obituaries. It seems that one of my childhood friends or classmates pass away, much too often. Over the last decade, so many friends have died. Thankfully we are left with memories, and as I look through pictures from the past, I cannot help but smile as I recall some of the great times I have had with people I grew up with. Russell Jessup was one of my best friends, and he passed away on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2021. It seems fitting that Russel was called home on a day dedicated to veterans. One of his most cherished accomplishments was the time he spent in the Navy during the Viet Nam War.
Russell Jessup was born June 24, 1946, and grew up just outside Ramseur and attended Ramseur School along with his brothers Jean, Tommy, David, and Tony, and his sister Lori, Judy, and Phoebe. His father was a farmer and carpenter, so Russell grew up with a respect for hard work and a love for his country. He joined the Navy just as the Viet Nam War began to heat up. Russell belonged to an elite group of all-volunteer soldiers known as HELATKLTRON-3 Sea Wolves. He was stationed on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) during her maiden voyage as the first nuclear combat battle group to ever fight in wartime. He served with a Light Helicopter Attack Squadron and flew 501 combat missions as an open door gunner in some of the heaviest fightings during the War. After the Navy, Russell returned back to his hometown of Ramseur and began to carry on with his life. He married Donna Bell on 10/26/1979, and they were together for 42 years until his death this year. After re-settling back in Ramseur, Russell went to work as a stonemason. Russell became known as one of the best stonemasons anywhere and took great pride in his work. I was privileged to have Russell lay the stone for my home’s foundation and saw firsthand just how hard of a job that was. The heavy lifting and work required eventually caused back problems and Russell was forced to retire.
Russell was an avid outdoorsman and loved camping and canoeing. We went on many canoeing trips together navigating white water rapids of rivers like the Little Tennessee, Nantahala, New, Haw, Mayo, Dan, French Broad, and Rocky Rivers…. Just to name a few. The last time I saw Russell, he said “we got to break out those canoes one more time..” That time never came. I look through pictures that were taken over the years and remember the good times. Friends are never lost, as long as we remember them.