Glenn Wilson Ross Draft
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AP US History
19 May 2008
Glenn Wilson Ross: A Story of Survival and Success
Drafted in 1943, Ross’s life was fated to change dramatically. At the tender age of twenty-three he was placed as a radioman in the 106th Infantry Division and was absolutely terrified (Ross). Those in the 106th infantry division were called the “Golden Lions, an emblem of courage and honor. Fated to fight in the Ardennes in the Battle of the Bulge, the division’s future was bleak, but it came to be known for its heroism and dogged preseverance (Stroh). Before being shipped overseas, Ross was in several camps stationed around the Midwest and eastern side of the U.S. Around the middle of October 1944, he was shipped from Boston to England, then in late November/early December 1944 was sent across the English Channel to France (Ross).
Like everyone enlisted at that tumultuous time in history, Mr. Ross was extremely horrified and had no clue what war was like or what was in store for his life. Having to leave the love of his life also weighed heavily on his heart. While he was away from his wife, Phyllis, he wrote many letters home. In them he asked for more letters to be sent (Ross); soldiers really needed a taste of their former life—to be able to hold on to it long enough until the next letter came. The war was so gruesome that it probably did not even seem completely real—more blurred like some horrible nightmare. He needed to daydream about his life with his wife. Young Mrs. Ross and he also wrote about their plans after the war and what they would do with their scant savings. They really wanted to build a house and start a family—get on with what life is truly about (Ross).
When stationed in America, the conditions were not anything fancy, but livable. However when he got to France, in the middle of the world crumbling to pieces, the conditions worsened steadily (Ross). Hitting them more squarely was the monstrosity of the Nazis, and they loathed them and what they were doing to the world. At this time in history, Hitler and his band of Nazis were ruining the world; they were brutally invading other countries, stripping Jews of their rights and then committing inhuman, nightmarish acts on them, threatening everyone, and killing anyone who dared to disagree with them. The dictator, Hitler, was insane and determined to wipe out the “inferior” race, Jews. It was a time of constant air raids and total fear for all (“World War Two…”). The awful stories became a reality, and they had to fight to merely stay alive. Jack Ross (Glenn Ross’s son) wrote, “They slept wherever there was a roof they could get under, if they could find a roof. My dad and another soldier were put up in a French family’s home one night. He wrote to my mother about how wonderful it was to sleep in a feather bed.” A home to sleep in was a rare luxury; usually the soldiers had to sleep in sodden, muddy sleeping bags which hardly kept out the frigid snow. When reminiscing about the war, Mr. Ross would talk about having to camp in the snow in impossibly cold weather, about how his unit had to hold up in an abandoned schoolhouse once, and how once they had to shoot a cow for dinner and how tough the meat was (Ross). They were continually dirty, never got a real meal, and forced to keep moving into dangerous territory—never knowing if they would ever make it back home, or even long enough to feel the warmth of the sun once more.
“Somewhere in Germany” and Battle of the Bulge
Racing on day and night, never getting rested or full, entering any battle on those conditions would be seemingly lost. But these young men of the 106th Infantry Division also had the disadvantage of being fresh from the States and had never been in a battle before. Jack Ross said he had a letter his father wrote his mother dated December 13, 1944—three days before the Battle of the Bulge erupted. Scrawled on the top was the note “Somewhere in Germany,” as the soldiers were not allowed to give away their location in case the letter was intercepted by the enemy. Untested and unawares, the young men were suddenly attacked by a hoard of crazy, madly desperate, and ferocious German troops (Ross). The Battle of the Bulge started December 16, 1944 and was Hitler’s last ditch attempt to split the Allies in two, stop their drive into Germany, and cut them off from supplies they got through Antwerp (a port). Since it was the German’s last ditch effort, they were very desperate and consumed with winning. Hitler ordered the attack on American troops; because the initial attack of the Germans created a bulge in the allied lines, the battle is commonly referred to as “Battle of the Bulge.” At first the Germans were winning—somewhat due to sneaky, immoral tactics—but their winning streak in the Battle of the Bulge did not last long. It was the biggest battle fought by American in WWII. Eventually the Allies won, but the Americans lost many men, and in the beginning (December 16, 1944), it was a complete massacre by the Germans (“The Battle…”). The naive Americans were caught completely off-guard by the weathered German soldiers and many ran “like hell” to back away from the frenzy. Jack Ross told his dad’s escape story:
My dad told me of desperately driving a Jeep through the Ardennes Forest, in the dark, with no map, and having no idea where he was going, just trying to find his way back to safety behind the Allied lines. Another Jeep carrying one of his superiors ran over a tank mine and was blown to pieces in front of my dad’s eyes. The officer was killed. My dad retrieved his pipe to remember him by. I have it.
A raw fight for survival, a story like that is enough to draw chills up one’s spine, but fighting hopelessly in the Battle of the Bulge is an entirely different tale. With bloody fighting raging around young Ross, and smoke and sickening stenches enveloping him, he (and all the young soldiers) were petrified and had to fight hard to muster up enough energy to stealthily escape and not run madly into the crushing enemy (Ross). In an interview, Glenn Ross said there were dead bodies strewn all around him, and more piling on by the minute. Everyone in his division kept dying, and he was trying desperately to get out of it. The Battle of the Bulge was a horrendous battle—very few survived. Sadly, many of the 106th Infantry Division were captured by the ruthless enemy and shipped off to German P.O.W. camps. Thankfully, Mr. Ross was not among them, and managed to save his life and escape (Ross).
The German P.O.W.
By the end of the war, Glenn and his unit were assigned to be guards of a P.O.W. camp. Lifted off their shoulders was the never-ceasing threat of battle, and the young soldiers were eager to return home. Being in an American P.O.W. camp was nothing like being in a German camp, so the Germans P.O.W.’s were treated nicely and even befriended some of their keepers. If a prisoner acted out of order, he was disciplined by the other prisoners. Mr. Ross told of a time when a German prisoner was caught stealing some bread and was harshly beaten by the other prisoners as punishment. During this time, Ross befriended a German artist who drew a picture of Ross’s wife off of a photo Ross carried around in his pocket. With gestures or translators, the two made a trade-off; Ross gave the German P.O.W. a pack of cigarettes in exchange for the beautiful drawing. Entitled “Bub” (the pet name used by Mr. Ross and his wife for one another during the war), the picture is crafted from plain black pencil and has a few touches of red for the lips and cheeks. Held dear by the Ross Family, the picture is kept in a safe now and coveted by Jack Ross. By this closing time of the war, German and American alike were just elated that the war was over and ready to start rebuilding their lives (Ross).
Returning to the States
When Ross came back home to the U.S. in the summer of 1945, he was not instantly discharged. He was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where the troops were readying to be sent to the Pacific to invade Japan. After the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war ended in August 1945, and Mr. Ross was discharged in November 1945. Jack Ross said his mother told him that for a time after the war, young Ross was shell-shocked. Regardless of how brave the young soldiers were, it is impossible for one to be fearless, and WWII—especially being in the Battle of the Bulge—was bound to impact their lives. Once, when Mr. and Mrs. Ross were strolling down a street in Marion, a car backfired, and Ross, thinking they were being shot at, dove into a ditch for protection. Another time, when they were sleeping, a part of the bed holding up the mattress clattered to the floor; it stirred Ross out of sound sleep, and he crept to the corner and curled up, shaking with fear. In war, Mr. Ross and his fellow soldiers were incredibly courageous—not without fear, but did what had to be done (Ross). The effects war has on a human, especially terribly young, inexperienced soldiers who wanted nothing to do with a war, is absolutely mind-boggling and cannot be fully comprehended unless one has experienced it.
Ross Supply Company
In the late1940s, Mr. Ross started “Ross Supply Company”, which sold wholesale heating and plumbing supplies. He started it after a business he had bought and was running burnt down one night. Turning that ill-fated event into something in his favor, he started this next business on Adams Street. At first, he had no employees and did it all by himself—playing owner, stock boy, janitor, salesman…everything. He retired thirty-eight years later with a large warehouse on South Valley Avenue and sixteen employees. Even though he sold the business to some local businessmen, the business retained his name and he will always have the honor of his self-made business being a success (Ross).
I interviewed Glenn Wilson Ross on May 7, 2008 in his room at Rolling Meadows. Though he was stricken with Alzheimer’s several years ago, he was able to remember a little, and talked enthusiastically about his son. Remembering only the huge things in his life, like his family, he was not able to go into detail about the war, but he told of people dying all around him and the fear that was in his heart. After shaking his hand, I glanced around at the pictures on his wall. The portrait of his wife caught my eye, and I saw a picture of all his medals; he also had an “Ardennes Forest” baseball cap probably gotten at an army alumni meeting. When my dad and I were talking to him, he talked lovingly of his wife and son, and when asked about the war, got slightly choked up, trailed off, and changed the subject. He also told of a time when he (at twelve years) was fishing with his father and his father got struck with lightning and fell dead to the ground right in front of his eyes. Surfacing from his memory were only the major events in his life—ones with powerful emotions tied in. While we were there, Mr. Ross kept repeating two things. One was, “My son, Jack Winfield Ross, lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his dog, Hobo, are in that picture there.” Whenever the war was brought up, he kept repeating over and over, “I’m so thankful I survived that war that I was in. I am so very thankful I survived that war.”
Ross, Jack. “Glenn Wilson Ross and WWII.” E-mail to the author. 29 Apr. 2008.
Stroh, Donald A., Commanding General. “The History of the 106th Infantry Division.” 106th Infantry Division. 21 November 2007. 17 May 2008 <http://www.indianamilitary.org/106ID/SoThinkMenu/106thSTART.htm>.
“The Battle of the Bulge.” History Learning Site. 17 May 2008 <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_of_the_bulge.htm>.
“World War Two in Europe.” The History Place. 1996. 17 May 2008 <http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/ww2time.htm>.
All pictures used courtesy of and by permission of the Ross Family. E-mailed to author. 6 May 2008.