Russell Rosene has lived a remarkable life, working and traveling in more countries in his lifetime than most people begin to dream about.
From hitchhiking all over the country in 1948 on his “five-year honeymoon,” to working long periods in places such as Guatemala, Chile, the Gaza Strip and Mexico, it is dizzying to contemplate.
Born in Massachusetts in 1922, Rosene moved to the Los Angeles area as a teen. At 18, he got a job in Burbank washing out bottles used for coloring animated films by Walt Disney. After a strike and a stint at gold panning, he learned that the war had started.
It was December 1941, he left the “gold country” and headed back to Los Angeles to join the war effort. Rosene had polio when he was 2, and one foot was misshapen so he could not enlist as a recruit. But he took a class in Morse code and went on convoys all over the world as a radio man during World War II.
One of the convoys got stuck in terrible storms, during which some of the ships split in two from the giant waves lifting them, front and back.
Rosene survived that trip but on a convoy to England, 50 percent of the ships were torpedoed. Later, in the Bay of Bengal a nearby ship got torpedoed and he watched as rescue boats came but later learned that all of the boats were gunned down. Another time, a torpedo went under his ship as a wave lifted the vessel.
Rosene considers himself very fortunate to have survived. The war changed his view on life forever. He came home, married and embarked on a “five-year honeymoon” to see the world and enjoy life while he could.
He and his wife began by moving to a small cabin on an island on a lake in northern Wisconsin, which Rosene had bought sight unseen. For a harsh fall, winter (52 degrees below zero) and spring, they lived through deep ice and snow, making the trek weekly into town for supplies.
That spring, they began their transcontinental trip, hitchhiking through the Appalachian Mountains, across the United States, up to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and back to California in 1948. Rosene took 450 photographs of the trip, which were used in a 1948 Life magazine article featuring his adventures.
They hiked across the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim, climbed New England’s and California’s tallest mountains and camped or slept in their made-over station wagon (to include beds and shelves in the rear), cooking all their own food over campfires. When it was over, they had logged 11,000 miles through 21 states and two Canadian provinces.
Rosene later wrote in an article, “I doubt that all of Mr. Rockefeller’s dollars could have bought us more delight and satisfaction than we’d experienced …” on their cross country trip.
But that was only the beginning of the five-year honeymoon. They went on to travel to Alaska, Egypt, Italy, France, Chile, Brazil and more.
Then a new opportunity appeared: The American Friends Service Committee offered them service work in Palestine. They distributed rations to displaced Arabs trapped in the Gaza Strip.
The pregnancy and birth of their first child, finally running out of money and needing an actual job, terminated their wild “five-year honeymoon.” Rosene went on to serve in several U.S. agencies and the Peace Corps. He ran a volunteer program in Guatemala, was an associate director of the Peace Corps in Santiago, Chile, an archaeology photographer in Chihuahua, Mexico and served in U.N. disaster relief in Geneva.
He wrote articles about his travels, using his own photographs, which appeared in several publications, such as The American magazine, England’s The Geographical magazine and the Foreign Service Journal.
He decided to live in Avila Beach after sailing on an oil tanker in dense fog from San Francisco into beautiful sunshine at Port San Luis to the Avila pier.
He had gone “back to sea” for 10 years on Chevron tank ships to age 70 and his last day was exactly 50 years from his first day at sea during World War II.
Rosene, after experiencing so much destruction and death during the war, fulfilled his dream of a life of adventure, traveling and working all over the world.
He says that one adventure led to another and he was able to support his family through writing and photography about his trips, as well as administering programs for U.N. agencies.
The South County Beat appears every other week. Anyone with story ideas involving interesting people in the South County can reach Gayle Cuddy at 489-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.