An eighth grade Catholic nun in South Philly walked into a classroom wearing a full Union uniform when she introduced the Civil War to her students. A history-loving father handed his 16-year-old hospitalized son Bruce Catton’s Gettysburg: The Final Fury and a second book on the history of the Confederacy. These two impactful experiences true to then teenager Bob Russo were the beginning of his lifelong appreciation of the Civil War. “Those books, on top of my eighth grade experience and a visit to Gettysburg a couple years later, left me hooked for a lifetime.”
Bob was first interested in battles and troop movements, even visiting battlefields (Antietam is a favorite) to better understand the carnage, and in the process recognized that every person on or near the battles, both military and citizen, had an experience. “The strength, courage, and perseverance exhibited by people is truly impossible to imagine.” Later, he became interested in Civil War medicine and was surprised to learn — despite Hollywood’s depictions to the contrary — that anesthesia was used in operations and that medical care was state of the art for the times. As a trusted historian, Bob needs to know all sides of the past — the good, the bad, the sad, the ugly.
Dedicated to pursuing his passions, Bob shares his knowledge of the nation’s history with Saturday morning visitors to Independence National Historical Park. Since 2015, he has been conducting tours of Independence Hall, Congress Hall, and giving talks at the Liberty Bell and other sites within the Park. “The most special thing for me is to stand on the delegates’ side of the railing in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall to talk about those momentous events.” Bob would like to have a sit down with John Dickinson, the man he believes to be the most misunderstood Founding Father because he did not vote for independence. “That is true but extremely misleading.”
Bob is a member of numerous historical organizations including the Gettysburg Foundation, Surratt Society, the National Constitution Center and others. He also received the Certificate of Completion from the Civil War Institute at Manor College, where he once attended an Antietam class run by the Delaware Valley CWRT and Jerry Carrier. Impressed by the class, Bob went to the group’s meeting in Trevose, Pennsylvania and ”Rich Jankowski, the eternal recruiter for Old Baldy CWRT, was in the audience. Rich didn’t even wait for the end of the meeting; he turned from a few rows in front of me and shouted, “I have a group that meets much closer to you! We will talk! That’s the thing about OB, DV, and every historical organization I belong to. Great people, great camaraderie, and great experiences.” He is a nine-year member of Old Baldy and past vice president.
Born in 1958, Bob is a true believer in the old adage, “those who forget their history are bound to repeat it.” With that in mind he has written and presented “The Wounded Knee Massacre” and “Arlington National Cemetery ‒ Garden of Stone.” After two years studying the December 29, 1890 Native American tragedy (hundreds of Lakota dead at the hands of the U.S. Army), Bob and his wife, Carol, visited the site on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. “During that entire study, I found myself often deeply saddened by what was done to all native American tribes, which in my opinion is the attempted annihilation of a people and a culture by the United States government. The entire story is incredibly sad.”
After 20 or so visits to the military cemetery that contains the remains of approximately 400,000 people, “ I still feel humbled just thinking about it. The biggest thing that people do not realize about Arlington is, beyond the immense service of those in eternal rest below those headstones, and the dignity and importance of the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington through a couple hundred memorials and monuments offers a history of the United States.”
A graduate of the Pennsylvania Institute of Technology, Bob is the senior vice president of Central Metals, Inc., and Roma Steel Erection, Inc. He and Carol live in Cherry Hill and have been married 35 years. Between them they have three children and four grandchildren. Bob recently introduced his grandsons to model railroading. “They are mesmerized and seeing them that way is a great joy for me. I look forward to introducing them to fishing in a nearby lake in a couple years.”
Profile written by Kim Weaver