John Roy Ross, Jr. – United States Army

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy:

John Roy Ross, Jr.
No. 13298  •  12 February 1918 – 29 February 1992
Died in Reston, Virginia, Virginia, aged 74 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia


John Roy Ross, Jr.  always had soldiering in his blood. His father, from a small town in Oregon, was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and a disabled soldier before John’s birth. John’s education was earned at 16 different grade schools before he spent four years at and graduated from Washington High in Portland, Oregon, in 1936. Always intent on being a soldier, he enlisted, attended the Fort Scott Prep School
for two years, and won an appointment from Senator McNary of Oregon.

Academics were not a special problem for John although foreign languages did not come easily. He worked the 100th Night Show for all four classes, ran track as a yearling, and was particularly proud of being on the Goat Football Team in a game that ended in a tie. On graduation he fulfilled his goal of being an infantry officer.

Bad health, possibly going back to an accident as a cadet, was to plague John’s career. After the usual schools, he joined the 413th Infantry Regiment of the 104th Division at Camp Adair, Oregon. Within two months, he became ill on field maneuvers, was hospitalized, and categorized Limited Service. It took sixteen months to gain General Service status, work through the replacement system, and rejoin the 413th at Aachen in Germany. Thirteen days later, he was wounded at Putzlohn, Germany, and air evacuated to the UK. By March 1945, he had worked his way back to the 413th where he rejoined D Company and then was made CO of the Service Company. In April, he won a Bronze Star for heroism at Illfeld, Germany. When the war ended, he had two Bronze Stars, the CIB, a Purple Heart, and a Commendation Ribbon.

In 1947, John was sent to the Canal Zone where his skill at working with young people first became evident. As the first PMS of the Balboa High School Junior ROTC, he had the satisfaction of seeing two lines on a War Department General Order become an Honor School within 18 months. In 1972, that ROTC unit made Honor School for the 23rd consecutive year. At the ceremony a speaker said, “The first PMS must have done something right.” Right on!

During the Korean War, John was trained by the Army Security Agency and left for Korea to become commander of two different recon security battalions. On the way to Korea, he stopped to see classmate Howard Wehrle and fell in love with Howard’s sister Alice. In 1954, they were married. The twins, John III and Janet, were born at
Fort Carson while John was with the 8th Infantry Division. They gyroed to Germany with the division. Subsequent assignments were with USAREUR Headquarters, Heidelberg, and X Corps at Fort Lawton, Washington.

In the early 1960s, John returned to Korea with the 1st Cavalry but was hit by illness  and frostbite, returning to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco. On recovery, his final tour was as battalion commander at Fort Jackson training young soldiers.

In June 1964, John retired, returned to Virginia, and started teaching high school math in Fairfax County. By 1967, he won his master’s (plus 30) in education from UVA. Despite increasing health problems, those were happy days for John and Alice. In 1976, Janet married an Honor Grad from VPI. A year later, John’s progressive health problems and first indication of multiple sclerosis forced his retirement from teaching. In 1982, their grandchild, Rachel, was born but their joy was shortly turned to sorrow when their son-in-law was killed in an accident in 1985.

From that point, John and Alice lived with his bad health and the prospect of a shortened lifespan. It was the devotion of Alice and John III that really kept him alive through progressive deterioration, often misdiagnosed. Their home in Vienna, Virginia, was specially designed by John III to allow for John’s health. Finally, on the last day of February, John was stricken by a heart attack at his home and died in the Reston Hospital. With a solder’s funeral he joined in Arlington those classmates who had predeceased him.

In our Howitzer repeated mention was made of John’s dogged determination. It was that quality which led him to fight back from the hospital bed so many times. Only in his later years did he question the road he had taken. In a paper written for the class files some years ago (after retirement) he said, “If the Medics offer you early retirement, take it! Duty is so demanding that poor or questionable health will hold a person back.” What John really meant was not his health but his determination to ignore bad health and do the finest possible job he could at any task assigned. He had a great effect upon the young and was particularly proud of the record of graduates of “his” ROTC detachment.

And we are equally proud of the record he set. John wanted to become an infantryman following the example of his father. He became a decorated combat infantryman. Again in the words of our Howitzer, he came to West Point a good soldier and left a better one. Completely void of affectation, John Ross worked efficiently and independently to make the Army and the world better places for the future. He truly merits the soldier’s “Well Done.”

— WAK and family

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