Marine dies in infantry training

Published 11:38 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2007

By By Adrienne McKenzie
PFC Russell William Stewart, a Walnut Hill native, collapsed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and eventually lost his life to pneumonia combined with a group A Strep infection April 14 at Wake Forest Hospital.
According to Stewart's aunt, Beth Drew, the marine had put up a fight for his life ever since he was born on Sept. 8, 1978.
"Russell was born three-and-a-half months premature," Drew said. "He had a twin brother that did not survive, and he was given only a 10 percent chance of living."
However, Stewart did survive. He attended Northview High School, Pensacola Junior College and Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Miss., where he graduated with a degree in graphic arts. But, according to Drew, Stewart has always been interested in the military.
"He always wanted to go into the military, especially after 9/11," she said. "He had to get a waiver to even get into the military because he was 28 years old. He was so excited about going into the Marines. The military was something he really wanted to do. He loved it. He was very faithful to God, country and his family."
Stewart was in top physical condition when he left for boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, due to the training he had put himself through. He graduated from boot camp Feb. 28. After boot camp, Stewart came back to visit his family and friends for approximately a week and then had to report to Camp Lejeune for infantry training.
"He collapsed about halfway through that," Drew said. "He probably had pushed himself too far. Russell was the type that wouldn't have said 'I can't go on.' He collapsed because of pneumonia and a Strep A infection."
Drew said Stewart fought for his life, as he had when he was a baby, but ultimately did not make it.
"He fought violently and we thought he was going to get better but then he lost his battle with pneumonia," she said.
Stewart's friend, Ross Terry, said they had known each other for about 10 to 12 years.
"We were the same age," Terry said. "We worked together at the Y and got to know each other pretty good. He was a good guy, one of the best you'd ever know. He was honest and straight up with you."
Terry said Stewart worked at the Atmore Area YMCA for about two years during high school. After college, Stewart came back and worked at the YMCA for a year before going into the Marines.
"That (the military) is something he always wanted to do," Terry said. "He thought it was his calling, he wanted to do something for his country."
Stewart's family did not know he wrote poetry. However his mother, Gerri McDonald, found a poem while preparing for his funeral that he had written right after the Sept. 11 tragedy.
This is a poem entitled "Soldiers" written by PFC Russell William Stewart:
Killed in battle, laid to rest
We fought to free those oppressed
We died a valiant death
Served our country, not for glory or fame,
But for our brothers in arms who shared our pain.
For we are soldiers tried and true,
We died on the field of battle
Let our death not be forgotten
For we fought for you. Soldiers.

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