On April 14, 1945, Wilburn K. Ross (1922-2017) is awarded the Medal of Honor. During World War II, in a 1944 battle in France, with a light machine gun, Ross held back nine German counterattacks. Facing deadly fire and remaining in his forward position after running out of ammunition, he kept the counterattacks from reaching his company. His Third Infantry Division unit had been greatly weakened by earlier attacks. Private Ross's heroic acts broke the counterattacks and saved his unit. After the war, Ross became a career soldier. He retired from the army in 1964 to DuPont, in south Pierce County, where he lived the remainder of his long life. A memorial plaza in DuPont honors his valor and service to the nation.
From Farm to Battlefield
Wilburn Ross grew up on a farm near Strunk, Kentucky. He worked in the coal mines and then with the coming of World War II became a welder at a shipyard. In November 1942 he was drafted into the United State Army.
Following stateside training, Private Ross went overseas. He served in the Third Infantry Division and had his first combat action in North Africa in March 1943. During the war, he spent 26 months in combat and was in five campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany.
Ross was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on October 30, 1944, near St. Jacques, France. At 11:30 that morning, his company came under intense German counterattacks. They had already lost 55 of their 88 men in their attacks on a well-entrenched German position held by an elite unit. Going on the defense, his company established positions in anticipation of German counterattacks.
Private Ross placed his light machine gun 10 yards in front of his company’s riflemen. He was forward to absorb the initial impact of the enemy counterattack. As the counterattack arrived Private Ross came under heavy fire. He maintained his position, holding back seven counterattacks. By the eighth counterattack the defending riflemen had nearly exhausted their ammunition. Eight riflemen crawled to Ross’ position and got from him some ammunition. The German troops had also crawled toward Private Ross and hurled hand grenades at his position.
Private Ross stopped the enemy with accurate and deadly fire until his ammunition ran out. He was told to withdraw, but ammunition resupply was expected, so remained. Fresh ammunition arrived just as the German forces prepared to overrun the defenses. Ross loaded his machine gun and laid deadly fire on the Germans as they hit his position. During the counterattacks he killed or wounded 58 Germans, breaking their assault. Private Ross remained at his position through the night and the next day, spending 36 hours in defense. His actions throughout this engagement were an inspiration to his comrades.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at a former German memorial stadium in Nuremberg, Germany, on April 14, 1945. In the ceremony five Third Infantry Division soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. During the war Private Ross was wounded three times. His other medals include the Purple Heart, awarded three times; Distinguished Unit Citation; and distinguished French decoration.
Ross was discharged on June 1, 1945, and returned to Kentucky. He worked for the Kentucky Highway Authority, but after two years as a civilian rejoined the military. He would make the army his career, serving at various posts. He would fight in another war, the Korean War.
Korean War and Cold War Duties
While stationed at Fort Lewis, Master Sergeant Ross married Monica J. Belford (1927-2011) of nearby DuPont. Ross was assigned to the Second Infantry Division, which by July 1950 was preparing for combat in Korea. That month, while on maneuvers, he was injured by an explosive device that simulated shell blasts. He received burns that required a week’s recovery.
He returned to duty just as the division deployed to Korea. He was in Korea only nine days and then on his first day of combat on the Pusan perimeter he was hit by machine gun fire and received a serious leg wound. He was treated in a hospital in Japan and then returned to the United States for extensive medical treatment.
Master Sergeant Ross arrived at Madigan Army Hospital on October 11, 1950. Once he had healed, he was assigned instructor duties at the Fort Benning, Georgia, infantry center. He also served in Germany, Hawaii, and at Fort Lewis.
Master Sergeant Wilburn Ross was honored at many events. In one of the most notable, in May 1963 he was flown from his Hawaii base to a White House reception given by President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).
Willburn and Monica Ross called DuPont home and raised five children.
On February 1, 1964, Ross retired from the army with 20 years of service. He took several jobs before becoming a patient van driver at the American Lake Veterans Hospital.
He remained been active in veterans' support and Medal of Honor activities. On July 14, 1983, he participated in a ceremony at Fort Lewis for the release of a stamp honoring those who have received the highest award for valor.
In 2013 he and another surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient attended a November 11, 2013, Veterans Day dedication at the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., to unveil a new Medal of Honor stamp. The stamp had the images of 12 World War II recipients of the medal living in January 2012. By the time of the event at Washington D.C. the number was down to eight.
Wilburn K. Ross died in May 2017 at the age of 94. A monument with a plaque recalling his heroism is located at the Ross Plaza in DuPont. The plaza is on the corner of Ross Loop and Ross Avenue. These streets are named, not for Master Sergeant Ross but to honor a former DuPont police officer. A section of Highway 92 West near Strunk, Kentucky, is named the Private Wilburn K. Ross Highway. A nature trail in DuPont is also named in his honor.