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Actions that led to the Medal of Honor

Actions that led to the Medal of Honor continued...


Wilburn K. Ross grew up in Strunk, Kentucky. He worked on a farm until he was 18 then went to work in a coal mine but quit shortly after. After that he went to welding school. He was sent to Norfolk, Virginia to work in a shipyard to weld. After he received his notice that he was going to be drafted he went to Cincinnati to be sworn in. He was then sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia for basic training then in 1943 he was sent to Casablanca. Ross took part in rounding up Germans that were left behind in Tunisia. They trained on the ships in Africa for an eventual landing in Sicily. Ross landed in Sicily on 10 July 1943 then took part in the capture of Salerno, Italy. He took Monte Cassino as well. Ross was wounded at Monte Cassino. They were pulled off of the line and trained for the landing at Anzio. When they landed on Anzio there was not much resistance but they did not have enough troops to hold. The German artillery was very accurate. Ross had to go back to the hospital at one point for frozen feet. When he got back to the line they advanced and made up a lot of ground. They took Rome on 5 June 1944. The Normandy invasion took place on 6 June. They were initially given garrison duty in Rome then went back to Naples for more training. They then landed in Southern France. Ross was wounded in France. He went back to the front line within ten days of being wounded. He had taken a hill, but the Germans wanted it back. He and his men had to defend the hill. The Germans would launch smoke grenades before an attack. They did this nine times, and all nine times Ross and his men held them back. He stayed there for 36 hours before he was relieved. Company F [Annotators Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division] attacked the hill and got it back while Ross and his company were resting. Ross was put on break for a little bit. When he got back he found out he was being put in for the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the Medal of Honor at Hitler Stadium in Nuremburg on 23 April 1945. He was then sent to Paris and then back to the United States.


Wilburn K. Ross was on a ship heading through the Straits of Gibraltar when an announcement was made that Germany had surrendered. He got home in June of 1945. Sgt. York [Annotators Note: US Army Sergeant Alvin C. York was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in combat during World War 1] spent a few days with him when he got back. Ross became a state police officer but did not like it so he went back to the service. He spent about 20 years in with the military and retired in Hawaii after President Kennedy was assassinated. Ross felt like he received good training in Georgia. When he was growing up he did a lot of hunting so that he could eat. He felt as if he did not need much training. Ross made it through the 13 weeks with no problem. They went to New Jersey and loaded up. They went to Europe with a big convoy. During the trip balloons were launched inton the air to spot submarines. Ross welcomed the journey. He felt that if everyone else was doing it so could he. The first time he saw people being killed it affected him but as he kept witnessing death he became more and more used to it. The first time he saw men being killed was in Sicily. Ross was with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division when he shipped out. When he went ashore at Casablanca the landing was not bad at all. When they were coming ashore their landing craft hit a mine and killed a lot of men in the front of their ship. Ross and his men kept heading inland when they landed at Casablanca. The artillery was a big help for Ross and his men. They captured a hill using artillery fire to take it. One guy tried to surrender who he almost shot, but some men did shoot the Germans who were trying to surrender. Most of the men that Ross fought against in Tunisia were Germans. The fighting in Africa was not tough. Ross and his men mainly spent their time rounding up German soldiers.


When Wilburn K. Ross landed on Sicily he landed from a Higgins boat. The beach being laden with obstacles and barbed wire. They used Bangalore torpedoes to clear some of the obstacles. During the invasion Ross saw the battleship Missouri [Annotators Note: USS Missouri (BB-63)]. At one point the Missouri almost shelled some of the men who were on shore. In Italy, flights of American fighters would accidentally strafe American troops on the ground. The troops had yellow smoke grenades to mark friendly troops. Sicily was not that memorable for Ross, however, when they got into Italy they faced heavier resistance. They loaded up their LST's [Annotators Note: Landing Ship Tank] and went in behind the 45th Infantry Division. When they needed help, the 3rd Infantry Division landed. The fighting around Naples was not bad. Once they passed Naples and got near the Volturno River the fighting intensified. From Naples, Ross went to Monte Cassino. He was there for three or four months. He spent Christmas in and around Monte Cassino. The German troops had a good vantage point at Cassino and were able to stall the American advance. When they decided to push on all of the fronts the Germans were pushed back. He recalls the big Abbey that was on Monte Cassino. When Ross landed at Anzio there was not much action, yet they were not able to get enough men on the beach to head inland. The Germans had the high ground and were able to rain down whatever they wanted on the troops. The Germans had a railroad gun they could only fire once or twice an hour. That gun made a big impression on Ross. During one attack the 45th Division was on Ross’s right. Then they went on the attack. They were supposed to have it coordinated with who they thought was the 45th Infantry Division. The confusion that followed got a number of the men captured. The Germans ended up being on the right.


It was dark and they were trying to figure a way out [Annotators Note: after landing on Anzio]. They stumbled upon some German soldiers by accident and they were captured. During the day he could not move because the Germans had the high ground. Ross thought he was behind his own lines but it turned out to be Germans. He walked into them but he was able to recognize the situation and got into a ditch. He was hoping to just get out alive. Ross rejoined his unit in a big building where they had been before. From Anzio, he was part of the push to Rome. When they took Rome they had bagpipes and all sorts of fanfare accompanying the parade. He had frozen feet during Anzio. That was the toughest part. His foxhole would constantly fill up with water. When he was issued new socks his feet would swell up. It took Ross a month for his feet to heal. They wrapped them in oil and cotton. When Ross was healed they sent him back to his unit which was in Anzio at the time. The tanks were a big reason why the push to Rome was successful. The fighting at Anzio was intense. He saw German bodies in such numbers that they had to be pushed off the road with a bulldozer. Ross enjoyed his time in Rome. He ate at restaurants where it only cost ten cents to eat. He was a private at this point. After they left Rome they headed back down to Naples and trained for the invasion of Southern France. Ross was put onto an LCI [Annotators Note: Landing Craft, Infantry] with the rest of his company. The landing at Southern France was not bad except for the mine their LCI hit. They moved north rapidly and did not hit much resistance. When Ross got ashore they moved in and set up a perimeter for the night. Once they had the necessary equipment they proceeded to head north. When Ross was wounded in France he had two of his molars knocked out of his mouth.


Wilburn K. Ross had his molars knocked out in France by shrapnel. His company commander had sent him and about eight of his men to the right to draw fire. The company commander had had a few drinks. They were instructed to then go around to the left. A Frenchman had come out of the hole he was hiding in and said that the Germans were gone, yet he could clearly see the Germans. The company commander came over and Ross expressed his concerns with the unknown group of soldiers who were firing. The Germans fired mortars at that point and shrapnel from the mortar barrage wounded him. He faults the company commander. Ross was wounded in Sicily when they were behind the lines. He was on a hill and was hit by a rifle grenade. It wounded 14 guys and killed one other. Ross took shrapnel in the chest and in the arm. He was a machine gunner throughout the war. He manned a .30 caliber light machine gun. Ross altered his .30 caliber machinegun to make it shoot faster. It was a good weapon. Ross would dig a foxhole and with the gun on the tripod only his hand was vulnerable to getting shot. He had a carbine as well. His M1 carbine was shot in the stock so he had to throw it away. He would always wait until he could see the enemy so that he did not waste ammunition. He would shoot in six to eight shot bursts. Ross received his Medal of Honor for actions around St. Jacques, France. They took a hill, when they took the hill the Germans counterattacked. He barely had time to dig a hole. He had a guy with him for about an hour. He was digging while Ross shot. They would take turns digging in while the other one shot. The man he was with got shot in the helmet but it only grazed his scalp. Ross stayed in his position for 36 hours. Another machinegun on the line was knocked out so Ross took its ammunition. The few men he had left with him were pulling rounds out of the machinegun ammunition belts so they had something to shoot. The Germans got within 20 yards during the action. It was in the middle of the woods so they were able to get close.


Wilburn K. Ross stayed behind because he felt that he was able to stop the Germans. He had confidence in his ability to man the machinegun and stop them. He was never told that ammunition would be brought up to him. In the citation it states that the men fixed bayonets in preparation for the last charge. The men did not need to fix bayonets because he had it under control. The Germans charged eight or nine times. They would fire smoke grenades to mask their charge but Ross saw through their plan and kept fire discipline. His action saved the company. The Germans killed about 50 Americans. Ross received credit for killing 58 Germans. He knew what he had to do and just did it. He did not fool around. He shot first whenever he could. Bullets were hitting all around him. The riflemen were to the right and behind Ross. He had no line of sight with any men in his outfit. He could hear them yelling at him periodically. Company F [Annotators Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division] came up and relieved him and the men he was with. They were sent to Brussels, Belgium where they spent about three or four days resting. When he came back, he was informed that he was being put in for the Medal of Honor. Ross actually does not know who wrote him up for the Medal. He received the Medal of Honor six months later. They put him on a ship and sent him home. It took them about 14 days to get back to New York. From there he was taken to Camp Atterbury, Indiana where he was discharged. The news people from Louisville came and picked up Ross to bring him home and interview him. His ceremony was at Hitler Stadium in Nuremberg. After the ceremony they blew up a giant swastika with TNT. A piece of the swastika hit a man who was standing next to Ross and broke his leg. He was shipped to France after the ceremony and was then sent home. The 7th Army Commander, General Patch, was the man who pinned the Medal of Honor on him. The news people stayed with Ross when he got home for about three or four days. He wanted to sleep for a month. They gave him a 1000 dollar war bond. The governor and mayor came out to celebrate his achievement in a hometown parade. There was a flyover. Ross reenlisted in July of 1946. He retired from the Armed Services in 1964.


Wilburn K. Ross thinks a lot about the friends he had from home who were either injured or killed. He wishes he could go back. If he could do anything different he would have checked on his buddies a little bit more. It did not mean much to him at the time when he received the Medal of Honor. The main thing was that it allowed him to come home quicker. He does not like to break rules but the Medal of Honor has helped him out in a few situations. He does not do many speaking engagements about his experiences. He will attend barbeques and social engagements at local military bases. He thinks about his buddies quite a bit. He is good friends with a lot of the Medal of Honor recipients. Ross feels that the war did not change him much. The income was important and the medical treatment he received was top notch. He has had dreams about a lot of his experiences. Ross believes it is a good idea to have museums such as The National World War II Museum.

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