Patrick and Adele Russell of McLean plan to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on Sunday, Feb. 24.
Pat Russell was a handsome young Navy reservist and a student at the University of Minnesota when he met 17-year-old Adele Marie Bissonnette at a friend's house in Minneapolis in 1939. Bissonnette had just graduated from Washburn High School and would attend the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., the next year. She was a little shy, but she laughed at his jokes. She had big brown eyes and curly black hair that hung just to her shoulders. Just like Russell, Bissonnette danced well. She was smart, and she could play piano by ear. Russell decided she was the girl he wanted to marry.
Unfortunately, for the next three years, the two rarely saw each other. They attended different colleges. Russell took naval flight training in Corpus Christi, and when WWII started, the Navy assigned him to fly seaplanes off the cruiser USS Detroit in the Pacific. Bissonnette stayed in Minneapolis, working in the personnel department at Honeywell. So they wrote each other a lot of letters. They agreed that they wanted to marry, and Russell gave her an engagement ring, but he wouldn't be in charge of his comings and goings until the war ended.
Late in 1942, Lieutenant (JG) Russell was flying anti-submarine missions in the north Pacific. Over the tiny village of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, he dropped a small gray air delivery message sack into the street near the Red Cross station. The sack's marker, a 3-foot-long red ribbon, trailed in the wind behind it. The sack contained Russell's note on a telegram form that read, "Adele, go to my mother's and bring the church papers."
Russell hoped someone at the station would see the sack and send the message on to his fiancée. But when he looked behind his plane, he saw that the snow in the street was 4 feet deep. Would the Red Cross even find the sack?
The Red Cross did find it. They telephoned Bissonnette and read Russell's message to her. When Russell next saw his brown-eyed girl, she was at his mother's home in Spokane, Wash. The couple wed at Spokane's Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral on Feb. 24, 1943.
They toured the world on Russell's many Navy assignments, finally settling in McLean to raise their six children. Carol, Pat, Michele, Tom, Mary and Steve all graduated from McLean High. Today, most of the Russell children, 18 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren live within minutes of them and visit them often. Birthday and holiday dinner tables are usually set for 30 or more.
Adele Russell still keeps house, cooks nightly dinners, babysits and pays bills. Pat is active in a military history club and plays golf twice a week when the weather is nice. Almost every weekend they drive to see their grandchildren's basketball, lacrosse, or baseball games.
The couple plans to celebrate their 70th anniversary on Sunday, Feb. 24.