This was written by Carole Banks Hughes, Russell's niece in response to a request for her thoughts on her long lost uncle.
I've been asked to reflect on my memories of Sgt. Russell Lee Blanton. He was my mother's baby brother. To me he was my uncle Tommy. He was ten years older than me. I can't remember having met him, he was simply always there.
Uncle Tommy had a wonderful sense of humor. He loved the Andy Griffith Show and its colorful characters. He was very athletic. Farm work certainly helped. I've remember the "Hay Pitchin" and throwing bales of hay, his carrying sacks of grain. I was fascinated with the fact that he could walk around on his hands for what seemed then an eternity. He even tried to help us learn by holding our legs in the air. We never did master his hand walking.
On the farm, there was always some kind of game going on. Some would get mad and become very competitive, but Tommy just laughed and teased. Tommy worked hard on the farm too with little complaint. He seemed happy helping my grandparents. He was very protective of his baby sister, Aunt Nita (Anita). But they could have their rounds, too. He had a way of raising one eyebrow and you just knew, he had his limit with her aggravation, but all in all, it was fun.
He had a beautiful red and white bicycle. It was new and he had it with him at our house. We only lived four miles away. My dad got it in his head to take me for a ride. Mom said no. I begged Tommy so he relented. My Dad took me on the bike. I lost my balance, and my foot slid between the chain and guard. I began screaming and crying. Mom was angry, afraid Tom's bike would be torn up when Dad & Tom had to take the chain guard off. I kept saying how sorry I was. Tommy just wanted me to be ok, not hurting or crying. The bicycle just wasn't as important then.
Tommy had the most wonderful laugh, most beautiful smile and awesome teeth. I never saw him as handsome because I was just a kid. I realized later just how handsome he was. I caught some of my cousins on my Dad's side of the family, talking about him. They all had crushes and thought he was " just the cutest" boy around. I said, " Hey, he's my uncle." My cousin Judy told me not to tell him that all the cousins had a crush on him.
When we knew Tom was going in the service, there was pride but much fear as well. Tommy was so thrilled to go. Mom's parents were getting their tobacco crop ready and everyone was pitching in. It was just days before Tommy was leaving. I remember him, following Mom out of the barn and telling her, "Some of the family don't think I'm a man- but when I come back, I will be a man."
The last time I remember seeing Tommy, I heard a knock at our door and there he stood. He put his fingers up to his lips and told me to be quiet, not telling Mom it was him at the door. I told Mom and there she went to answer the door and saw Tom. He stood there looking ages older to me in his uniform and more handsome than ever. It was a wonderful visit for us and we could not have known it would be our last one with him. One letter Tommy wrote from Vietnam to Mom told her not to worry. There were two things he always had with him, his gun and his New Testament. Somehow, that made us feel better.
With the news of his death, I saw my mother in hysteria, a sadness came into my grandmother's eyes that never went away, and a void was left in everyone's lives. A niece was later named after him, he missed numerous births in our family and they placed his name on a wall. The All-American-Boy, went half way around the planet in order to serve his country, his family and the whole of mankind. He returned in a flag-draped casket, guarded by soldiers. He was a rarity, a hero and he had truly kept his promise. He came back home "A Man".
Even as painful as it was to let him go, we will be forever grateful that God chose us to know him and love him. That is truly the love of God.
Carole Banks Hughes
The Blanton Photo collection