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Coming home at last

The U.S. Army has informed family members in the Rogue Valley that the remains of a U.S. soldier found two years ago on the World War II battlefield of Guadalcanal have been positively identified by DNA analysis as those of Dale W. Ross of Ashland.

Pfc. Ross, an Ashland High School graduate and experienced long-distance runner, was killed at age 22 while serving as a runner with an infantry unit. He was declared missing in action Jan. 14, 1943, on the hard-fought South Pacific island.

The positive identification opens the doors for an elaborate funeral, with color guard, family and World War II veterans, says the soldier’s niece, Vicki Plankenhorn of Talent. She was informed of the positive identification by the Army, with whom the family is arranging details.

A small ceremony will be held at the Medford airport when the soldier’s remains — some 50 bones — “come home” after 76 years, she says. The family is being offered burial at Eagle Point National Cemetery, but Plankenhorn said they likely will inter his remains or ashes beside his mother, the soldiers’ three brothers and their wives at Memory Gardens between Medford and Jacksonville.

Ross was engaged to an Ashland woman when the war came, but he left no children.

The soldier’s nephew and namesake, Dale Ross of Ashland, said, “This process takes forever. It’s pretty exciting to hear they finally verified the remains. We will meet next month with the people from the Army who do all that stuff, and we relatives will decide what to do. We have a family spot with his mother and brothers, and there’s one empty space for him.”

The Army used a swab of the nephew’s saliva to establish the DNA tie.

Ross and his cousin Peggy Freitas of Ashland went to Guadalcanal for a ceremony when the remains of their uncle were found and put on a plane to the U.S. Another of their cousins, Jerry Ross, lives in Grants Pass.

“We’ve been waiting for this confirmation,” says Plankenhorn. “The Army called Wednesday and explained what he needs to do. We will choose a date for the ceremony, on the weekend, when everyone can come. It’s kind of a huge thing, especially for someone from World War II. It doesn’t happen a lot because it was so long ago. The military does a big ceremony with lots of people.”

The verification came as no surprise, says Plankenhorn, because the remains were found with Ross’ dog tags, a flattened token penny and his canteen, which was engraved with his name, a flag and a horseshoe with a horse’s head inside it — as Ross “was an avid horse rider. It was his obsession.”

The soldier’s brother Irvin Ross was coincidentally serving on a Navy PT boat in waters near Guadalcanal and joined the unsuccessful search for him in following days. Dale Ross and his fate became an oft-mentioned family legend and, when his remains were found in 2017, the relatives expressed relief he died fighting and wasn’t captured and tortured.

The dog tags were discovered by an 8-year-old boy from a nearby village, near a trail used to get to a waterfall. They were repatriated with the help of Pacific Wrecks and the Empire State Aerosciences Museum, both of which aid in searches for missing military personnel.

Details of the battle, Ross’ life and discovery of his remains are at https://mailtribune.com/news/top-stories/missing-no-more.

Plankenhorn says the dog tags and canteen will be honored in a special box, passed along in the family, and will be brought to the funeral.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Dale Ross' damaged canteen is inscribed with D.W. Ross and a faint American flag. Photo by Denise Baratta
Missing WWII soldier Dale Ross' canteen, dog tags, and a commemorative flattened penny from Hawaii. Photo by Denise Baratta