This Is Why We Stand: Wilburn K. Ross
America has lost another one of its heroes. On the morning of May 9, 2017, Wilburn K. Ross passed away at the age of 94. Ross was one of 464 Americans to earn the Medal of Honor during the Second World War. He embodied the American spirit in every single way. His story must be told and remembered.
On October 30, 1944, Private Ross was operating near St. Jacques, France, while serving with Company G, 350th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division, U.S. Army. According to his Medal of Honor Citation, “His company had lost 55 out of 88 men in an attack on an entrenched, full-strength German company of elite mountain troops.” Ross positioned his light machinegun 10 yards ahead of his company to absorb the brunt of the assaults launched by the enemy. His citation adds, “Despite the hail of automatic fire and explosion of rifle grenades within a stone’s throw of his position, he continued to man his machinegun alone, holding off 6 more German attacks.” Private Ross was interviewed back in 2013 by Tim Lucas for Militaryvaloan.com. As he endured wave after wave of German assaults, Ross recalled that his machinegun would get so hot from constantly being fired that he had to pause whenever he could to let the barrel cool down. Ross’ supporting riflemen did what they could to help repulse the Germans, but by the eighth attack, they were out of ammunition. Pvt. Ross was soon out of ammunition himself. After his ammo was dry, Ross was, “Advised to withdraw to the company command post, together with 8 surviving riflemen, but as more ammo was expected, he declined to do so.” The Germans launched their final attack when the Americans were at their breaking point, but Ross held firm and received the ammunition he needed. He opened fire and killed 40 of the enemy while wounding another 10. With its latest wave crushed, the Germans were forced to withdraw. Private Ross had saved his company from destruction.
Wilburn K. Ross (Photo: Medal of Honor Society)
In more than five hours of continuous combat, Pvt. Ross is estimated to have killed or wounded at least 58 Germans. After the fighting had ended, he remained at his post into the night as well as the following day for a total of 36 hours. Ross was asked how he managed to put his fears to rest during this intense fight. He answered, “I had to do something. If I didn’t do something they’d kill me.”
Ross recalling the story that earned him the Medal of Honor during an interview. (Photo: The Seattle Times)
In April, 1945, Private. Wilburn K. Ross was awarded the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant. General. Alexander M. Patch III at Zepman Stadium, Nuremburg, Germany. He remained in the Army for the next 20 years and also fought in the Korean War. Ross was injured a total of four times across World War II and the Korean War. In 1964, he retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant. A park in the town of Dupont, Washington proudly displays a monument with his Medal of Honor citation inscribed on a plaque.
Pvt. Wilburn K. Ross and four other soldiers of the 3d Division being awarded the Medal of Honor. Ross is on the far right. (Photo: militaryvaloan.com)
President Ronald Reagan once said, "No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and and moral courage of free men and women." When Reagan spoke those eloquent words, he had men like Wilburn Ross in mind. The story of Ross' Medal of Honor is another constant reminder of why we have so very much to be proud of as Americans. His memory will live on forever in the form of our flag. We must never forget him.
Wilburn K. Ross pictured with his Medal of Honor. (Photo: alchetron.com)
Full Medal of Honor Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty near St. Jacques, France. At 11:30 a.m. on 30 October 1944, after his company had lost 55 out of 88 men in an attack on an entrenched, full-strength German company of elite mountain troops, Pvt. Ross placed his light machinegun 10 yards in advance of the foremost supporting riflemen in order to absorb the initial impact of an enemy counterattack. With machinegun and small-arms fire striking the earth near him, he fired with deadly effect on the assaulting force and repelled it. Despite the hail of automatic fire and the explosion of rifle grenades within a stone’s throw of his position, he continued to man his machinegun alone, holding off 6 more German attacks. When the eighth assault was launched, most of his supporting riflemen were out of ammunition. They took positions in echelon behind Pvt. Ross and crawled up, during the attack, to extract a few rounds of ammunition from his machinegun ammunition belt. Pvt. Ross fought on virtually without assistance and, despite the fact that enemy grenadiers crawled to within 4 yards of his position in an effort to kill him with handgrenades, he again directed accurate and deadly fire on the hostile force and hurled it back. After expending his last rounds, Pvt. Ross was advised to withdraw to the company command post, together with 8 surviving riflemen, but as more ammunition was expected, he declined to do so. The Germans launched their last all-out attack, converging their fire on Pvt. Ross in a desperate attempt to destroy the machinegun which stood between them and a decisive breakthrough. As his supporting riflemen fixed bayonets for a last stand, fresh ammunition arrived and was brought to Pvt. Ross just as the advance assault elements were about to swarm over his position. He opened murderous fire on the oncoming enemy; killed 40 and wounded 10 of the attacking force; broke the assault single-handedly, and forced the Germans to withdraw. Having killed or wounded at least 58 Germans in more than 5 hours of continuous combat and saved the remnants of his company from destruction, Pvt. Ross remained at his post that night and the following day for a total of 36 hours. His actions throughout this engagement were an inspiration to his comrades and maintained the high traditions of the military service.”