Steindam’s Sacrifice

Collin County Courthouse Renamed to Honor Hometown Hero

On Feb. 1, 1970 darkness fell in Tây Ninh Province, close to the Cambodian border. Army 1st Lt. Russell Steindam prepared to lead his platoon on an ambush operation. The Vietnam War would rage on for five more years, but for Steindam his war would end on that dark, crimson night.

Russell Albert Steindam was born on August 27, 1946 in Austin, TX. His family moved to Plano when he was five years old. An exceptional student, Russell was one of the few Plano High School ninth graders to receive a National Development Test Award in 1961. He graduated in 1964 as a National Honor Society member. Sandra Braden Coleman, who attended school with Steindam, remembers him as being an industrious young man working with other schoolmates on a ranch off Preston Road.

Plano High School Senior Class of 1964 Officers: Ruth Thompson, Treasurer; Russell Steindam, Vice-President; Richard Wiser, President; Sandra Arnold, Secretary; Martha Strange, Reporter // courtesy Genealogy Center of Plano Public Library

Not only was Russell an excellent student and hard worker, he also displayed the skills of encouragement and motivation at a young age. Margaret Ruth Erwin Stephens shared the following story.

“Russell was my brother-in-law. One of my first memories of him was when he and my sister asked me to join them to go to a play at the Dallas Music Hall. That was a big deal for me and I was so excited. I was a shy, awkward young girl with not much self-confidence. When Russell held the door for me to leave the house, he looked at me and said, ‘You look pretty, Margaret. Soon you will be a beautiful young woman.’ I will never forget how good that made me feel. That was just Russell. He was such an awesome guy, and always tried to make people around him feel good.”

After leaving Plano High School, Steinman returned to Austin and enrolled at The University of Texas, joining the ROTC. He received a two-year Army Reserve Officer Training Corps Scholarship which paid for tuition, textbooks, laboratory fees and a $50-per-month subsistence allowance.

Cadet Steindam // courtesy Jan. 10, 1968 Plano Star-Courier

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1968 he joined the United States Army and arrived in South Vietnam Oct. 1, 1969, leaving his pregnant wife, Mary, back in Texas. Steindam excelled as an Army Ranger and an armored vehicle commander.

As he led his men on that fateful February night, the darkness exploded in sound and fury. Steindam and his platoon came under a fierce Viet Cong fusillade of automatic weapons, small arms fire and hand and rocket launched grenades.

Steindam, out in the open and exposed to peril, ordered his troops to return fire. Then he directed the efforts to move the wounded soldiers to the cover of a bomb crater. Suddenly a fragmentation grenade was hurled into his area. In the blink of an eye Steindam shouted a warning to his platoon while flinging his body upon the grenade. Steindam took the full force of the explosion, sacrificing his life to save the lives of his comrades.

Cadet Steindam at Army Reserve Officers Training Corps summer camp // Aug. 4, 1967 McKinney Courier-Gazette

Steindam’s unparalleled act of valor and bravery resulted not only in a Purple Heart but also the Medal of Honor and two Bronze Stars. Steindam’s remains were buried in Dallas at Restland Park. “He was an interesting young man who loved his country and his family. He never saw his son. What a loss for us,” remarked Sandra.

Throughout the years, Steindam’s act of sacrifice and bravery has not been forgotten. In 1972 The University of Texas ROTC building was named Russell A. Steindam Hall. In 1993 the City of Plano named Lt. Russell Steindam Park in his honor.

Last November the Collin County Commissioners Court, in a unanimous 5-0 vote, chose to rename the county courthouse as the Russell A. Steindam Courts Building – a fitting memorial to a selfless hometown hero.

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