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Fallen World War II soldier honored in Gold Hill

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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneGold Hill IOOF Cemetery caretaker Pat Coniff hands Bill Rosecrans a replacement Purple Heart earned by his brother Robert Edwin Rosecrans in World War II, at a Saturday ceremony at the cemetery.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneBill Rosecrans shares stories of his brother Robert E. Rosecrans who died in World War II after a Saturday Veterans of Foreign Wars ceremony in Gold Hill honoring his brother’s B-29 bomber squadron.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneVeterans of Foreign Wars Post 4116 raises the flag for a ceremony dedicating a new memorial to a fallen World War II soldier who grew up in Gold Hill, and the soldier’s B-29 bomber squadron.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneKaren Ricks reads the names of a B-29 bomber squadron killed during World War II at a ceremony in Gold Hill Saturday.

A soldier who grew up in Gold Hill but never returned home from World War II was honored in his hometown Saturday with a ceremony that also recognized the soldier’s brother, as well as his fallen brothers-in-arms.

Bill Rosecrans, the last survivor of his family, was the guest of honor Saturday at a Veterans of Foreign Wars ceremony at the Gold Hill IOOF Cemetery that honored the sacrifice of Rosecrans’ brother, Robert Edwin Rosecrans in 1945 and those of the rest of Robert Rosecrans’ B-29 bomber squadron.

A crowd in the dozens gathered for the ceremony as Rosecrans received a replacement Purple Heart that his brother earned in the war.

The ceremony included a 15-gun salute to dedicate the newly built memorial honoring the 760 Bomber Squadron 497 Bomb Group — of which Rosecrans was one of the 11 souls aboard — when the aircraft was shot down on Jan. 14, 1945, during a flight from Saipan to Nagoya, Japan.

Engineer Gunner Sgt. Rosecrans was 22 years old when the plane went down. The other 10 men were between the ages of 20 and 28.

Memories flooded for the last surviving member of the Rosecrans family after the ceremony, with Rosecrans describing how his father didn’t want his brother joining what was then the Army Air Corps.

His brother, however, wanted to fly.

“He said, ’Dad, that’s what I want,’” Rosecrans recalled. “He loved it.”

Cemetery caretaker Pat Coniff, who helped arrange the memorial and the ceremony, said he was overwhelmed by the turnout.

“I’m just blown away — it’s all for the veterans,” Coniff said. “Every bit of it warms your heart.”

There are 82 veterans in the cemetery, plus the 11 MIA men from Rosecrans’ squadron, according to Coniff.

If not for the efforts of a local genealogy researcher, Robert Rosecrans would have slipped through the pages of Southern Oregon history books.

The Army considered Rosecrans a Californian when he died because he’d been staying with his mother in San Francisco just before enlisting, according to Gerald Wayne Gobel, whose wife, a cousin of Rosecrans, is buried at the cemetery.

“Nobody knew that he was from here,” Gobel said.

Behind the memorial was months of research about Rosecrans’ squadron and reams of documentation, according to Gobel.

Although there were earlier memorials across the country dedicated to the squadron, Gobel wanted to do his own research focusing on where each of the men grew up rather than the town where they were born. The Air Force, and its predecessor during World War II the Army Air Corps, didn’t volunteer much information in his research, so instead Gobel focused on census and marriage records.

“It’s a harder dig,” Gobel said.

Gobel did all his research at local library computer labs — most of it prior to the pandemic, and all of it an hour a day at a time.

He said that he knows how to operate a computer, but he doesn’t own one because he's not familiar with how to maintain them. Instead, it made more sense to use the time allotted at one Jackson County Library Services branch, then he’d drive to another if he needed more time.

Robert Rosecrans devoted much of his off time during the war to becoming a commercial pilot, according to Gobel’s research. His drive was hardly unique among those in his squadron.

“The guys flying the plane, they were similarly motivated,” Gobel said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.