Kay Russell was born on September 19, 1934, in Stephenville, Texas. He was commissioned an Ensign through the Navy ROTC program at Rice University in Houston, Texas, on June 1, 1956, and then served as an Analysis Officer with the Bureau of Aeronautics General Representative, Central District, at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, from July 1956 to January 1957. ENS Russell entered the U.S. Naval School of Pre-Flight at NAS Pensacola, Florida, in February 1957, and was designated a Naval Aviator in June 1958. He then served as an F4D Skyray pilot with VF(AW)-3 at NAS North Island, California, from July 1958 to March 1959, followed by service as an FJ Fury and later F8U Crusader pilot with VU-7 at NAAS Brown Field, California, from March 1959 to September 1961. LT Russell's next assignment was as an instructor pilot with VT-7 at NAAS Meridian, Mississippi, from October 1961 to February 1963. He then attended U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, where he received his Master's degree in Operations Research in May 1965. LCDR Russell joined VF-124 at NAS Miramar, California, for F-8 Replacement Air Group training in June 1965, and then served as an F-8 pilot with VF-211 at NAS Miramar and later aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) from January 1966 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on May 19, 1967. After spending 2,117 days in captivity, CDR Russell was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, and then served as a SERE Advisor with the Fleet Aviation Specialized Operational Training Group, Pacific, at NAS North Island from September 1973 to August 1975. His next assignment was as Commanding Officer of VF-126 at NAS Miramar from October 1975 to October 1976, followed by service on the faculty of the Naval War College from November 1976 until his death on active duty on February 2, 1979.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from 19 to 23 May 1967. His captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.