‘Jap had me in his sight’
Hal Ross of Port Charlotte, Fla. was trained as a member of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, but ended up fighting the Japanese in the jungle islands of the South Pacific.
‘The 19-year-old son of a New York State Baptist minister knew he was a long way from home when he became part of the Americal Division, the 182nd Infantry Division on Guadalcanal. His unit arrived at the ‘canal late. They were used as mop-up troops. The Marines, who were there first, stopped the Japanese’s westward offensive for the first time during the war at Guadalcanal.
After three months of clean-up duty the 182nd was shipped to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands 500 miles away.
“We took the landing at Bougainville pretty easily,” he recalled. “It wasn’t long before we owned half the island and the Japanese held the other half.”
His unit was ordered on a mission to capture Japanese prisoners.
“The lieutenant in charge of this patrol pointed to me and said, ‘tomorrow morning you’re gonna be first scout.’
“That put him out front at the head of a patrol. It was not a good place to be.
“I said, ‘Sir, I haven’t seen any hand-to-hand combat yet.
“’You’re a little guy. You won’t be much of a target,’ the lieutenant replied.”
Bougainville was covered with impenetrable jungle. The only way to make it through the forest was along native trails that had been used for eons by the indigenous people of the islands.
“Our 25-man patrol walked half a day along a trail, with me out front as first scout and saw nothing of the enemy. About 3 p.m. the lieutenant said, ‘There ain’t no Japanese around here. We’re going back. Lead us back’ he said to me.
“As we got closer to our lines I was still in the lead. My Thompson submachine-gun was slung over my shoulder with the barrel pointed down. I came around an outcropping of rock along the trail.
“A Japanese soldier was standing there with his rifle pointed right at me. He had a big grin on his face because he knew he had me,” Ross said. “He pulled the trigger and nothing happened. He had a misfire.
“I jerked my Thompson up and emptied my 50-round drum into him at point-blank range,” Ross said. “I was only 19 at the time and my knees had turned to Jell-O.”
Because of all the shooting his lieutenant said the rest of the men in the patrol thought Ross had been ambushed by the enemy. They hit the dirt behind him and waited.
A couple of minutes later, the lieutenant crawled on his belly up to Ross to find out what was going on with his point man. When Ross told the young officer how close he had come to being shot, the lieutenant asked if there was anything he wanted that the dead Japanese soldier possessed.
“’I want his rifle,’ I said.”
Almost 60 years later that 7.7 millimeter, standard Japanese infantry rifle has a place of honor on the living room wall of his Port Charlotte home. It’s a war souvenir he’ll never forget.
“Over the years if I ever get down on myself, I just look at that rifle and think, ‘Hey, you’ve had a lot of good years you might not have ever had.’”
By the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in October 1944, Ross was an old hand at war. By then he was a platoon sergeant coping with new recruits.
“His name was Randy Ligowitz form Ohio. He was a big 220-pound kid who played tackle in school. He was gung-ho,” Ross said.
When he came up, the division was out of the line taking a three day rest.
“After a couple of days we went back up to the front line. Because I liked him, I took Randy in my foxhole,” he said. “As it was getting dark I explained to him that I would take the first hour’s watch and he would have the second and so on hour-after-hour throughout the night.
“’Sarge, I’ll take four or five hours at a time. I’m young,’ Randy said to me. ‘No, you can fall asleep too easy that way. And if you fall asleep, we’re dead,’ I told Randy.
“He took over the watch about midnight and I laid down in the hole. Something told me to take out my .45 caliber pistol and put it in my lap. It seemed like I had just gotten to sleep and I heard the most awful scream I ever heard in my life,” Ross said.
“I woke up and saw a Japanese soldier with his bayonet driven right through Randy’s chest. He had apparently fallen asleep and the Japanese snuck up on him. The enemy soldier was standing on his chest trying to pull his bayonet out of Randy who was pinned to the ground. It wouldn’t come out.
“I jumped up, put my pistol to the guy’s head and blew him away.
“I called for a medic. The two of us had to stand on Randy and pull as hard as we could to get the bayonet out of him. He passed out in the process.
“The next morning he was airlifted out of there and 48 hours later was recovering in a San Francisco hospital. A month later I got a card from him.
“”Thanks Sarge, I made it. I’m going home in a month,’ it read.
“It was a strange story with a happy ending. Randy was so gung-ho and wanted to fight so bad. But he never saw a Japanese soldier.”
After Leyte, Ross and the 182nd moved on to Cebu in the Philippines.
“This is where our outfit took the worst beating in the war,” he said. “We were in the first wave that hit the beach at Cebu.
“The Japanese had everything waiting for us. The island had a beach all the way around. Almost immediately cliffs rose steeply from the beach. The enemy had machine-guns and cannons on top of the cliff and fortified caves half way up the side of the hill.
“It was a tough, tough beach-head. We lost a lot of men,” Ross remembered.
“I crawled into a foxhole with a couple of rookies who were firing a machine-gun. I got in between them and took over the machine-gun,” he said.
As Ross was firing at the Japanese dug in on the side of the mountain in front of them, a tank rolled off an LST and unleashed round-after-round on the enemy defenders. After about 100 rounds from the tank, one of the shells hit an enemy ammunition dump. The mountain erupted.
“Tons of dirt rained down on the three of us and buried us in our foxhole,” he said. “Under the weight of the earth we passed out.
“Only my wrist and a silver identification bracelet my mother sent me were visible. A medic came rushing up and saw something flashing in the sunlight. It was my bracelet. He dug me out. I was unconscious.
“As soon as I came to, I said to him, ‘Did you get the other two?’
“’It was too late,’ the medic replied.”
They were still on Cebu, but the Japanese had been subdued. Ross and his buddies knew the worst was yet to come. The Allies were preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
One million American dead and wounded during the invasion of Japan was predicted by MacArthur’s headquarters staff. All the fighting in World War II claimed the lives of approximately 400,000 Americans.
After six months the 182nd just received its first pay. Soldiers were walking around with pockets full of bills and nothing to spend it on.
“We got a hell of a poker game going in one of these six-man tents,” he said. “Our company commander poked his head in our tent and said, ‘Sergeant, I’ve got some good news for you for a change.
“’The United States has invented some kind of new bomber. It dropped it on Japan.
‘Sergeant, the war is over!’”
“Jesus! Money went flying in the air from the poker game. We rolled on the ground crying and laughing.
“About an hour later I got word from the captain that he wanted me to march the men of my platoon down to the company headquarters in military fashion.
“’What the hell. The war is over,’ I thought.
“I did as I was told. With the men standing in ranks before the captain he said to me, ‘Sergeant, see that big mound over there covered with a canvass? Pull the canvass off and issue every man a case of beer.
“The beer was 100 degrees or more. But each of us got a case. We went back to our tents and got drunker than hell,” Ross said with a smile. “And I didn’t even drink then.”
Four months after he was drinking hot beer on a Pacific island halfway around the world, he was back in the States trying to figure out whether to play professional baseball or go to college.
He had been a jock in high school. The New York Giants made him an offer in 1946, even though he hadn’t played ball in years and was 22 years old.
“They offered me a Class D contract (the bottom rung in the minors) with the Florida Hummingbirds based in Miami,” he recalled. “My dad was still alive. He said, ‘You’re a little guy, who will probably never make it to the majors,’ My heart was set on becoming a big leaguer.”
He took his father’s advice and decided to forgo a shot at the majors and go to college. After graduation he became an American history teacher and a baseball and basketball coach for 35 years at Roneout Valley Central School in Kerkson, N.Y.
“In addition, for 25 years I had a crew of referees. We ref’ed the biggest high school championships in the state. Later in my career, we refereed for Ivy League football games in the Northeast,” he said.
But Ross’ biggest accomplishment may have been in the classroom. The thing he seems to be most proud of is. “During the 35 years I taught American History, I only had three failures.”
Name: Harold Ross
Age: 77 (at time of interview in 2002)
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 27 Feb. 1943
Discharged: 2 Feb. 1945
Rank: Technical Sergeant
Unit: Company A, 182nd Infantry Division (Americal Division)
Commendations: Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, American Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Four Battle Stars, World War Victory Medal.
Married: Lillian Saerman
Children: Randy Ross
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Wednesday, August 7, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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Harold C. Ross
27 January 1924 – 24 October 2009
Harold C. Ross of Punta Gorda, Fl., formerly of Kerhonkson, NY died Saturday, October 24th at Signature Health Care in Port Charlotte, Fl. He was 85 years old. Harold was born on January 27, 1924 in Boston, MA; he was the son of the late Harold C. and Ruth (Thomas) Ross.
Mr. Ross was a WWII Tech. Sergeant with Unit Co. A. 182nd Infantry (Americal Division) in the United States Army. He was awarded several medals including a Bronze Star. After being Honorably Discharged, Harold returned to school and graduated the New Paltz State Teachers College in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science and also a Masters Degree. He went on to teach American History for Walden High School, the Kerhonkson School District and later retired from the Rondout Valley School District in 1984 where he also coached varsity baseball.
Harold was a member of the VFW #5690 and Elks #2763 in Port Charlotte, Fl, a member of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America and was a NY State Officiating Referee for Basketball and Football.
On December 17, 1983 Harold married Lillian E. Shermas in Kerhonkson, NY.
In addition to his wife, Lillian at home, Harold is survived by his son; Randy C. Ross and his wife Anne of Buskirk, NY, 3 grandchildren; Matthew, Bonnie and Kristoffer and his step-grandson; John Lemay. Also surviving are Lillian’s daughters; Patricia May and her husband James of Lockport, NY and Kathleen Griffin and her husband John of Pine Bush, NY, Lillian’s grandchildren; Michelle, Jennifer, Brian, James, Christine and Thomas and Lillian’s great-granddaughter Brianna.
In lieu of flowers contributions may be made in Harold’s name to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 2600 Network Blvd., Suite 300, Frisco, TX 75034
Thursday, October 29th from 6-8 PM at HB Humiston Funeral Home, 30 42nd St., Kerhonkson, NY.
Friday, October 30th at 10 AM at the funeral home.
Whitfield Cemetery in Accord, NY