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Family, friends bury Ashland man killed during World War II

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After being killed in action 76 years ago during World War II on bloody Guadalcanal, the remains of an Army soldier from Ashland finally came home Saturday to the Rogue Valley.

Amid a 7-gun salute, presentation of the American flag and awarding of the Bronze Star for bravery, former Pvt. 1st Class Dale Ross was buried beside his mother and brother at Memory Gardens near Jacksonville.

Almost no living person remembers Ross, who would be 99 if he hadn’t volunteered as a runner because his company was in close battle with the Japanese, and the normal runner had a wife and children — so Ross volunteered to take his place.

This led the Army to award him the Bronze Star earlier this year.

After many failed searches during and after the war, Ross’ dog tags and canteen, engraved with his name, were found by an 11-year old native boy, Willy Bessi Davis, who was flown in and attended Saturday’s funeral. In March 2017, he’d spotted the dog tags reflecting beside a trail between his village and a waterfall.

A small amount of Ross’ bones were found near the tags and, using DNA analysis, the Army confirmed they were his remains, which fit into a small, 2-foot-long casket that sat on an altar Saturday before a crowd of 200 — to be lowered into the ground by Oregon National Guardsmen. Next to it, stuck in the ground by its bayonet, stood an M-1 rifle, boots and helmet of an Army infantryman.

The funeral proved a spirited occasion for Ross’ descendants to sort out their tangled family tree and reflect on a sense of relief, knowing Dale was not captured and tortured, as many kin feared, said his niece, Vicki Plankenhorn of Talent

“It’s a relief, and it feels good — the closure,” she said. “Now is the time to sit back and enjoy that Uncle Dale was a hero and didn’t suffer. This has been such a jumble of up-and-down, with the Army taking a couple years and so much effort to resolve it all. It’s amazing the extent the military went to — to honor him properly.”

Ross in-law Bill Welch of Medford knew Dale’s many brothers, but was too young to know the missing soldier. He notes, “It’s a closure so many MIA families don’t get. I was there with his mother when the telegram came that he was MIA. It was a big impact. There were all kinds of worries, like maybe he fell in a camouflage pit with sharp sticks pointing up or got tortured. It was a lot to deal with.”

As he presented half a dozen medals to the family, Army 1st Sgt. Travis Parker read the Bronze Star citation, “For meritorious achievement in active ground combat against an armed enemy of the United States (his) exemplary performance of duty, dauntless efforts and unwavering courage reflect great credit upon himself and the Army.”

Ross was awarded the Purple Heart for “wounds received in action, resulting in his death.” He also received unit citations, a Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

On the altar was a citation signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressing gratitude, as he “stands in an unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die, that freedom might live and grow and increase its blessings. Freedom lives — and through it, he lives in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”

The soldier’s nephew and namesake, Dale Ross of Ashland, said, “My feelings are hard to describe. There were lots of family stories, and that’s the only way we knew him, by the event that killed him. He was sent as a messenger in battle. He was a great runner, and when the family would go to Squaw Lake (in the Applegate area), Uncle Dale would run over the Siskiyous and be waiting for them when they got there.

“He was a good artist and inscribed a horse on his canteen. He left a girlfriend behind. She’s dead now, but her sister is here. It’s amazing, all the people here from all over — Portland, the coast, Guadalcanal — and all these awards that he was never awarded.”

The soldier’s niece, Peggy Freitas of Ashland, weepingly said, “My dad Clifford Ross talked about his brother a lot. He was very upset the word never came about the fate of this MIA. His biggest fear was he was captured and tortured — and they were renowned for horrible torture. Till the day he died, dad felt they captured him, but it’s so neat the whole family gets closure.”

Nephew Jerry Ross of Grants Pass noted Dale has been with his mom, Mabel Ross for half a century, as she died in 1970, “but it’s real touching to see this turnout and to see people stand up and respect the flag and the military.”

Donna Warren Green of Brookings said her dad and Ross’ dad were brothers ,and “I’m so delighted they found him and the family has closure knowing for sure what happened to him, because we’re all connected and part of the family.”

Scores of Old Guard Riders on big motorcycles showed up to honor Ross and give a short ride to young Willy of Guadalcanal. They support vets most days of the week with food, barbecues and attend burials, said President Pat “Spanky” Allen of Eagle Point. “It’s really important to us to honor a man who gave his life to our country and his remains lay undiscovered for 76 years,” he said.

Justin Taylan of Pacific Wrecks in New York put a lot of work into identifying and repatriating the remains of Ross. “When Willie saw those dog tags and pressed-penny and bones, it meant he never got home and we had to spring into action. Usually the U.S. government funds it, but it was the efforts of an 11-year old boy and his family that got it going and gave the remains to the government for forensics identification,” Taylan said.

The altar displayed a September 1942 letter from Dale to his brother, Irvin, who was serving in the Navy. It told of a fun liberty in town, and Dale joked, “I am okay and dang-nigh as happy as if I had good sense.”

Plankenhorn said she will keep the medals and memorabilia, seeing they are passed on to the next generation.

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFamily of WWII vet Dale W. Ross receive a purple heart in his honor at Memory Gardens in Medford.
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneWWII vet Dale W. Ross came home to his final resting place at Memory Gardens in Medford Saturday.
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFamily of WWII vet Dale W. Ross look at his final resting place Saturday at Memory Gardens in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFamily of WWII vet Dale W. Ross receive a purple heart in his honor at Memory Gardens in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFamily of WWII vet Dale W. Ross receive a purple heart in his honor at Memory Gardens in Medford.
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
World War II soldier Dale W. Ross of Ashland was honored and buried at Memory Gardens Saturday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune