My soldier’s name was Corporal Russell Blair Dillard. Dillard was a pathfinder in the 527th PIR of the 82nd Airborne. His job was to jump in before the main assault force and mark the drop zones for the following paratroopers. After landing, the 507th’s job would be to assist in capturing bridges such as the La Fiere or Chef du Pont bridges. After the initial days of the invasion, the 507th would assist in cutting off the Cotentin Peninsula to seize Cherbourg. It was during this attack that Dillard was killed on June 23, 1944. During Dillard’s time in the Army, he received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Dillard was born in Rockbridge, VA during 1919. He graduated from four years of High School and he worked as a mechanic before the war. He enlisted into the military along with millions of other young Americans after Pearl Harbor. He was 23 at the time. He was truly the average Citizen Soldier.
But along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans, he never made it home. It is difficult to understand how each name in a casualty list is an actual person with friends and family, hopes and dreams, and personality and feelings. As much as I hate to quote Joseph Stalin I will because I feel this quote fits well: ”One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic”. It is impossible to imagine the deaths of millions of people. Only when you focus on one story can you understand what a tragedy this war was.