Living History: Meet Bob Russo

Bob Russo, a former U.S. Air Force service member, poses in front of the 86th Airlift Wing headquarters building in 2012. The photo recreates one he took in the 1950s during his service on Ramstein Air Base.Photo by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards

When Airman 1st Class Bob Russo arrived on what is now called Ramstein Air Base in 1952, he started down a path that would shape the rest of his life.

As a young man from Boston, he brought a humble nature, quick wit and infectious charm to uplift those around him while serving in Germany.

Bob said that most of his fond memories included the bonds he made with fellow service members.

“My generation has nearly passed now, and we have been the beneficiaries of a relatively peaceful world,” he noted. “My group of friends worked hard, were generous to their community and were proud of our country.”

His arrival on base mirrored the reassignment of the 86th Fighter Bomber Wing, both transitioning from Neubiberg Air Base, located nine kilometers south of Munich.

“When I first saw Landstuhl Air Base, now Ramstein, at the age of 21, I was at my peak of mental and physical prowess. I was given the job as Special Orders Clerk. If anyone had asked me how long I would be in Germany, I would have said forever — but the answer was three years. But, that was forever at 21 years old,” Bob said.

Airman 1st Class Bob Russo, left, eats with friends in a dining facility on Landstuhl Air base in the 1950s. Bob said that most of his fond memories during his service in Germany included the bonds he made with fellow service members.

Bob had several jobs on base, but most remembers his time working for the base paper.

“During my time (on Ramstein), I also wrote for the base magazine, ‘The Raider,’ with my friend Sgt. Dick Hoffman, who ran the magazine,” he said. “Dick was talented and usually frustrated by all the regulations that capped his creativity. And when he smiled or smirked you could never be sure if it was the beer or the brilliance.”

Dick asked Bob and several other Airmen to write about the jobs they had prior to joining the service.

“I had been a licensed Beautician for about a year before entering service. In my column, I used a photo of me behind a beauty/barber chair in a white jacket cutting a lady’s hair,” the Boston native noted. “From that article my life and my Air Force career took on a life of its own.”

At that time 12th Air Force had moved on to the adjoining base, which was called Ramstein Air Base. Ramstein and Landstuhl Air Bases were separated by a road that was the old Autobahn, which is now called Kisling Memorial Drive.

“I got calls from women at all bases to come and cut their hair. I did not believe I was particularly outstanding as a stylist, but I was a star because I was the only one — and I was an American. I would come to your home or the Bachelor Officer Quarters to do hair in the rooms,” he said.

Bob made quite the impression both on and off base. He met and married his wife Lotte, a local German woman, while at Ramstein Air Base. They met at Fasching in Kaiserslautern, and it is tradition for women to ask men to dance during the celebration.

Fasching, also called Karneval, is a festival that takes place on the two days immediately preceding Ash Wednesday. It features processions of masked figures, dancing, and is the equivalent of Mardi Gras and the last day of Carnival.

“In that time it wasn’t very popular to date American military, but I asked him to dance a few times, and he was fantastic at the jitterbug. It wasn’t until he opened his mouth that I found out he was American,” said Lotte.

“After we met that first night, I went back to see if she was there the next week, but she wasn’t. Finally I found her and after a while she and her sister let him drive them home,” Bob said.

“It was a cold night so I drove them through  bombed out buildings, and when she and her sister hopped out, I couldn’t believe that she lived there,” said Bob. “I called after her for her number and she kept going, but her sister gave it to me.”

Bob made it his mission to capture her heart.

“I asked her to marry me several times, and each time she said no,” Bob said. “Finally, I made up my mind to ask one more time and if she said no, I would leave her alone. But, she said yes.”

“He didn’t give up,” said Lotte. “And we have been married 67 years.”

“At 91, leaning on 92, I look back at my service time as one of my best times in life,” Bob said. “Three square meals, clean sheets, a shower, and even a paycheck. My advice for Airmen now, is to be good, be ethical, and be kind. The tears, sweat and gnashing of teeth will come, but do the best you can do.”