Russell in Army uniform 1944.
Russell's relationship with Byrnes became very important over the following years as Byrnes took on increasingly prominent positions in the Roosevelt administration. Russell went to Washington to work for the War Department in January 1942. Byrnes was appointed director of the Office of Economic Stabilization in October 1942 and took Russell as his assistant. In May 1943, Russell followed Byrnes to the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, which Byrnes had been appointed to direct. In October 1944 Russell went on active duty serving at the Army's Supreme Allied Headquarters in Europe. He was discharged later that year.
Donald and Virginia Russell
returning from Europe, 1946.
In early 1945, Russell served as Deputy Director of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, then as Assistant Secretary of State for Administration, under Byrnes, from August 1945 to January 1947. He implemented plans for the reorganization of the Foreign Service and developed the first series of continual regional foreign policy statements, which was later to become standard practice. His interest in the foreign service later led to his involvement on several federal committees. As the assistant to Byrnes, Russell attended the Potsdam Conference with President Harry Truman and Byrnes and took part in the decision to drop the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Byrnes and Russell left the administration shortly after the war ended and joined Hogan & Hartson, a Washington, D.C., law firm.
James F. Byrnes (left) and Donald Russell, 1950.
Byrnes and Russell enjoyed a close relationship for many years following their service together in Washington. In 1956, a set of bridges connecting Hilton Head Island to mainland South Carolina were officially named the "James F. Byrnes Crossing." Russell was chosen to deliver the dedicatory address at a ceremony attended by numerous dignitaries. Russell remarked on Byrnes' long career of public service, calling him "Mr. South Carolina." Responding to Russell's speech, Byrnes wrote him, "That you could, after long association with me say so many kind things about my career makes me very happy and very grateful. No other man could make the speech you made Saturday. Truth is, the same speech by any other man would not make me so happy." [21 May 1956]