Glendale businessman Michael Russell is among the 22 veterans set to be inducted into the UAV Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame in October.
Russell is a U.S Army veteran who spent 1969-70 in Vietnam and was injured several times, including a leg lost in combat. He received many honors, including the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with “V” for Valor for his time served.
After discharge, Russell owned and operated several of his own businesses, a few of which are an international sales corporation called the Russell Group, a doughnut shop and now Heroes Pub & Grub in Glendale.
He also volunteered with such organizations as Stand Up for Veterans, the local VFW and was a veteran representative for others coming home like him from Vietnam after the war. It was through these efforts, and many others, that he met Rep. Debbie Lesko (AZ-08), who nominated him for the hall of fame.
Many Vietnam veterans, Russell said, felt “lost in the shuffle” after coming back to the United States. He remembers returning home to people shoving and spitting at him in protest of the Vietnam War. He said acts of recognition like this nomination are steps toward healing.
“To come from there to being honored in this hall of fame was incomprehensible to me, and I’m extremely humbled,” Russell said.
The hall of fame is sponsored and run by United Arizona Veterans. The coalition of over 50 veterans groups meets monthly to represent the needs of vets to state and national legislators and provide communication between the different factions.
Each year, a select group of veterans is nominated for their service and work for their community after retiring from the military. A panel of 13 members thoroughly examines each nominee’s credentials in an extensive background check. Then, the Arizona governor must sign off on each inductee.
Past inductees, since the hall was founded in 2007, include state legends state icons John McCain, Barry Goldwater and Pat Tillman.
“There are over 600,000 veterans in Arizona, and there were just 22 selected this year. So, to be part of that group is pretty prestigious,” said Bob Dalpe, the group’s communications director.
Military service is instilled in Russell’s blood. At Heroes, every veteran coming into the restaurant for the first time is given a standing ovation and signs the “wall of honor.”
Often, Russell said, the veterans will become emotional, as years after military service the recognition is the first time they have received any form of gratitude.
“Every person who served our country like that is a hero to me. So, I take this award not as something for me, but as recognition for the many people who have served, as we should all be very grateful,” Russell said.
Among the 22 inductees from the West Valley are Judge Donald Watts of Peoria and Victor Peterson Jr. of Buckeye.
The induction ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at the Talking Stick Resort Conference Center, 9800 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale. For more information, visit azuav.org.