Col Russ Schleeh- 65th Anni Breaking Sound Barrier Part 2:

October 18th, 2012

After breaking the sound barrier, doing a press conference, a 1.5 hour talk, we rushed to the civilian jet. After a bit of a delay and we were off to Chino – about 41 minutes.

Beautiful country. I flew co-pilot. Gen Yeager and DK in the back.

We landed and hurried over to the hangar where our friend Bob was telling stories about Col Russ Schleeh at a Celebration of Life for Russ.

We espied Bob Hoover and Dan Gurney, made our way over and said hello. Bob got up and told a story and introduced Chuck Yeager.

The crowd gasped, thrilled that Chuck Yeager was there.

CY told a few great Russ Schleeh stories – mostly in his book.

He sat down and Dan got up – told a few stories as well.

Russ was a very positive, fun, funny guy. Every time we called he was so excited and thrilled, so positive. Here was a guy who had had a stroke 10 years earlier but every day was a great day.

He had been a bomber pilot in World War II, chief of fighter test, chief of bomber test, and then held world records on the water.

He also was the only one who congratulated Chuck after he broke the sound barrier in 1947 – the others were annoyed that the most junior officer (Yeager) got the best project and succeeded.

Dan and the guys would meet once a week at a restaurant for breakfast/lunch to get Russ out of the house and visiting with friends. We tried to go if we were anywhere in Southern California. Luckily it ended up being 1-2 times/year.

When CY joked with him about shooting at Bob Hoover when they were bear huntin’ – Russ told me, “If I was shootin’ at him, I woulda hit him!”  Still feisty!

Chuck told a story at lunch one time about Russ flying the YB-49, a flying wing. He landed, broke his back, saved his co-pilot’s life and tried to block the fire department from putting out the fire: Let the sumbit– burn!

Chuck continued the story at one of the lunched: Russ ended up in a full body cast except for a couple of spots. Pancho said: I bet he’s thirsty and horny. She put on a big coat, stuffed the pockets with whiskey and brought her best “girl”.  And snuck them both into Russ. She left the whiskey and the girl – I don’t remember her name –

Russ, 50 years later, “Julie. Her name was Julie, ” said with a look of sheer ecstasy in remembering.

The last time we saw Russ, Dan Gurney had had a private lunch with just about 8 of us. Russ was in his wheelchair, sleeping until and unless Chuck Yeager was speaking. Then he’d wake up. Esp if Chuck Yeager was telling on Russ Schleeh.

Such good-natured ribbing.

Right after that private lunch, we went off to Afghanistan to visit the troops. We were gone just under 6 weeks.

A couple days before we headed home, we got an email that Russ was failing, please call. But no number. So I emailed back asking for the number. Never heard.

We got home from the Middle East late Saturday night. I didn’t worry about the time  too much – it was 10:30 pm. We called Russ.

His nurse put the phone to his ear. He couldn’t talk but he was thrilled to hear from his good friend Chuck and his shorter term, but still, good friend Victoria. He smiled a lot apparently.

We hung up glad we had gotten a chance to talk to him.

He died the next day. A great soul. GREAT, great soul.


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