Born 27 August 1946 at Austin, TX, and killed in action at the age of 23 on 01 February 1970 in the Tay Ninh province of Vietnam. Served in the US Army in Troop B, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division. Awarded the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Bronze Star (2), Combat Infantryman’s Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Military Merit Medal, Gallantry Cross with Palm. Buried in the Restland Memorial Park cemetery in Dallas, TX in the field of honor section. Block P Section 43 lot 3. Honored on the Vietnam War Memorial on Panel 14 West Line 088.
The Citation: (Presented to the family at the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, DC by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew on 16 December 1971.):
“The President of the United States in the name of Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to RUSSELL ALBERT STEINDAM, 1st Lieutenant, United States Army, for service as set forth in the following citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1LT Steindam, Troop B, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, while serving as a platoon leader, led members of his platoon on a night ambush operation. On the way to the ambush site, suspected enemy movement was detected on one flank and the platoon's temporary position was subjected to intense small arms and automatic weapons fire as well as a fusillade of hand and rocket-propelled grenades. After the initial barrage, 1LT Steindam ordered fire placed on the enemy position and the wounded men to be moved to a shallow bomb crater. As he directed the return fire against the enemy from his exposed position, a fragmentation grenade was thrown into the site occupied by his command group. Instantly realizing the extreme gravity of the situation, 1LT Steindam shouted a warning to alert his fellow soldiers in the immediate vicinity. Then, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his safety, 1LT Steindam deliberately threw himself on the grenade, absorbing the full and fatal force of the explosion as it detonated. By his gallant action and self-sacrifice, he was able to save the lives of the nearby members of his command group. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by 1LT Steindam were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
The University of Texas at Austin named their ROTC building Russell A. Steindam Hall.
In 1993 The City of Plano, TX named a recreational park Steindam Park, located at 4501 Quincy Lane..
Steindam graduated from Plano High School, a member of the National Honor Society, in 1964. He then attended the University of Texas graduating in 1968, where he excelled in ROTC. He chose a career in the US Army, and not only became an armored vehicle commander, but earned the wings of an Army Ranger as well. In October of 1969, he left his expectant young wife Mary at home, and reported for duty in Vietnam.
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According to Russell’s mother, Le Oma, and some of his closest boyhood friends, that boy was destined to be a soldier. Even as a kid he was always the one in charge and whatever the game, enjoyed planning the strategy, and then directing others as a team in the process of achieving their goal, but he didn’t play baseball.
Mrs. Steindam: “He had a problem with his eyesight and couldn’t see the ball very well, so sports was not something he pursued. He excelled in debate and drama, though. Russell was more of the A literary type, a real bookworm. But I called him the little general, because he always wanted to be the one in charge.”
Russell was born in Austin, Tuesday, August 27, 1946, while his dad, Albert, was a student at the University of Texas. He was named after his parents, Russell being his mother’s maiden name. The family moved to the small town of Plano when Russell was in the 5th grade. Seven years later, in 1964, he graduated from Plano High School among a senior class of less than eighty students.
Reverend Travis Berry, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Plano: “I knew Russell well. I would say that we were very close. I came to Collin County in 1952 as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Farmersville, and then moved to Plano in 63 when Russell was a senior in high school. He was a very intelligent young man. He was a natural leader and one of the most outstanding young men I have ever known; straightforward, honest, strong in his religious convictions, and worked hard at everything that he did. I could always count on Russell.”
He was an outstanding student and member of the National Honor Society, and entered the University of Texas in the Fall following his graduation. Shortly after arriving in Austin, he called his dad and told him that he had joined the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps). The news was not that surprising, but it was not exactly what his dad wanted to hear. Second Lieutenant Albert Ludwig Steindam had been a young pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II and POW.
Albert told his son, Russell, that he was a man now, over eighteen, and in charge of his own life. The war in Vietnam was a looming reality, and the former POW wanted his boy to make sure he knew what he was getting into. Russell informed his dad that he knew fully well what was at stake and more than welcomed the responsibility. Albert was at least happy that if Russell did go, he would go, as an officer and life would be better than that of a buck private. Albert and Le Oma Steindam were very proud of their son and had every reason to be.
Reverend Berry: “We had a program at church where we would have different young people who had gone off to college, to come back and speak to our kids about college life. When Russell came home from the University of Texas, he gave his talk before the entire church and I will say without a doubt that it was the best talk ever given in one of those programs. He was a great speaker and his words moved many that night.”
Russell did very well in his class work at UT as a history major, as well as with the ROTC, where he was selected as outstanding cadet, received a scholarship in Military Science, and achieved the leadership position of Unit Commander. He graduated with honors in 1968 and was soon married to Mary Anne Erwin. On August 28, 1968, he achieved a major goal in his young life; he proudly entered the United States Army as an officer, a 2nd Lieutenant just like his dad. His first duty station was Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he received intensive training in newly developed tactics adapted for use in Vietnam, a new style of warfare that combined infantry and armored vehicles. His next tour of duty took him to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he volunteered for Ranger training and earned his wings as a paratrooper. Not only was he smart, but those wings on his chest proved that he was tough as well. They don’t give Ranger Wings away; they have to be earned.
Once again he volunteered, this time for duty in Vietnam, the year 1969, deadliest of the seven-year war. Now 1st Lieutenant, Russell planned on making the Army his career and combat experience was essential for an ambitious young officer. Mary Anne was pregnant and he thought he should go ahead and get his twelve-month tour of duty over, sooner than later, which would leave him more time with his growing family when he came back home. Just over a month after his twenty-third birthday he kissed his wife for the last time and left for the war.
First Lieutenant Russell A. Steindam, was assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. B Troop served as the reconnaissance unit for the 25th Infantry Division based at Cu Chi, to the northwest of Saigon, in Tay Ninh Province. Being the reconnaissance force for the division, they were usually the first ones to make contact with the enemy.
Third Squadron, as a unit, had participated in many campaigns since being activated in Vietnam in March of 1966. They had received the Presidential Unit Citation for a magnificent defense of Tan Son Nhut Airbase outside of Saigon during the 1968 Tet Counteroffensive and various other unit awards for battles fought in the Fishhook area of the Cambodian border. The squadron contained just fewer than eight hundred men.
First Lieutenant Russell Steindam arrived in the Republic of Vietnam on Wednesday, October 1, 1969, and became one of those famed Mackenzie’s Raiders. They were one of the first outfits in the war zone to receive the brand new M551 Sheridan Armed Reconnaissance Assault Vehicles. Their area of operation consisted of mostly flatland type terrain, made up of rice paddies, dikes, and the infamous rubber plantations. Their area of operation stretched from around Saigon, all the way west to the border of Cambodia. Some of the most infamous battles of the war were fought in their sector: Ho Bo Woods, the Bo Loi Woods, the Iron Triangle, the Ben Cui and Michelin rubber plantations, and the Parrot’s Beak.
Russell’s unit spent an average of sixty to ninety days out in the field. They would then come back to the base camp for a three day stand-down, where they would actually sleep on a real mattress, eat hot meals with ice cream for dessert, maybe see a movie or a Filipino rock and roll band, and have a beer or two. Sometimes the beer was even cold. It wasn’t all time off though. They also spent the down time repairing equipment, healing wounds, dodging incoming NVA mortars and rockets, and getting ready for the next operation.
Jack Nobel, a member of 1st Squadron: “Lt. Steindam was a good young officer. I was young at the time myself. He was our platoon leader who was responsible for three tanks and six personnel carriers. Our troop strength varied day by day. The Platoon Sergeant rode tank 35, and the Lieutenant was on personnel carrier 30. His day usually began at first light, with chow, and then he would meet with the troop commander and get out assignments for the day. The assignments would vary due to the weather and of course the tactical situation. Our assignments included escorting convoys, search and destroy missions, blocking force, or whatever the Division had in mind. Lt. Steindam would give us our orders and place the vehicles in order and then move out and carry out our mission for the day. Upon completion of the mission we would lager at night and put our tracks in a circle and dig in. The Lieutenant would then meet with the Troop Commander and see what our assignment was for the night. We were always on the fifty- percent rule, half asleep, half awake. He would pick the personnel who would go out either on a listening post at night, or ambush patrol. The night he died, he picked himself for such a mission. He always took good care of his troops and he died doing just that.”
Exactly four months after he had arrived in country, the night of February 1, 1970 found Russell in charge of a fifteen-man squad with the mission of establishing a night ambush. The night ambush patrol was not necessarily a job that anyone would volunteer for, nor look forward to, especially an officer who was an Armored Reconnaissance Unit Commander. He felt more at home inside an armored assault vehicle, but he also wore the hard earned wings of an Army Ranger. The squadron commander called him up, and Lt. Steindam was assigned to take charge of the mission. He was good at taking charge. It was reported that the enemy was moving in from Cambodia. They were in a dangerous situation and his Ranger training was needed.
He was due to leave on R&R in a couple of days to be with Mary Anne. In the last letter he wrote to her that evening, he said that he had a bad feeling, and for the first time was frightened of what was to come. Sergeant David C. Finzel, platoon commander in a tank company, remembered talking to him that day and how his face lit up when he talked about his wife back in TX, who was pregnant at the time.
Before the mission had started, the members of the patrol had been called together. Lt. Steindam went over the details of the upcoming mission such as, amount of ammo anticipated that may be needed, local intelligence available, radio and map coordinates, landmarks to use if they became lost and passwords. When the briefing was over, the men cleaned and double checked their weapons and gear, had chow, and relaxed for a while writing letters, playing poker, or taking a nap.
It was already dark when they jumped off the convoy and quickly assembled as quietly as possible. The point man moved out with every man following in single file about three feet apart. The point’s job is to watch the front. He has to be aware of such things as booby traps, trip wires, and ambushes. The second man’s job is to watch the front, as well as the point man’s back. The rest of the men alternated down the line as to who watched the left and right flanks. The last man in any patrol, tail end Charlie, watched the rear. Russell’s position was in the middle and he had to watch everything as well as take compass readings and count his steps. When it gets dark in the jungle, it really gets dark. The only way to navigate is to have the coordinates to the pre-planned ambush site in advance and plotted as to the directions and number of steps between checkpoints, and then hope you don’t lose count. Usually two or three guys would count and at intervals they would check their counts. The patrol made frequent stops where they stood still and listened for any unnatural sounds and made sure they weren’t being tailed. The patrol slowly worked their way to the ambush site. They never got that far. The Congressional Medal of Honor citation tells the story of 1st Lieutenant Russell Steindam’s incredible feat of courage and unselfishness on that fateful night.
The armored convoy that had dropped them off heard the fire as soon as it started, and turned around. The firefight was extremely intense and lasted about fifteen minutes. It was too late for Russell, but many lives were saved because of his unbelievably heroic action.
Mrs. Steindam: “I believe that my son did what he did because he felt responsible for those men who served under him, and did the only thing he could do to save their lives. That’s just how he was. He always accepted full responsibility for everything he did.”