Remembering Pfc. Dale Warren Ross on the 100th anniversary of his birth
Dale Warren Ross was born on June 30, 1920 in North Dakota to William H. Ross and Mabel Viola Warren Ross. Dale was the third of four brothers. His older brothers, Charles Irvin and Clifford, were born in 1915 and 1918, respectively. Younger brother Calvin was born in 1923. In 1925, the Ross family relocated to Ashland, Oregon. There the four brothers enjoyed the unspoiled countryside and stunning mountain views. Dale’s hobbies included horseback riding and cross-country running.
Dale attended Ashland High School, graduating in 1939. He registered for the draft on July 1, 1941 and was inducted into the U.S. Army on April 9, 1942, just four months after the U.S. entry into World War II. Older brother Clifford had already been serving in the U.S. Army since 1940. The other brothers followed suit, with Charles enlisting in the Navy in 1942 and youngest brother Calvin enlisting in the Navy in 1943. One can only imagine the worry – and pride – their mother Mabel must have felt to have all four of her sons serving. All four brothers ended up serving in the Pacific Theater.
After training in Monterey, California, Dale was assigned to Company E of the 35th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division as a Private First Class. With a stop in Hawaii for more training, Dale found himself headed for a place with an ominous name: Guadalcanal. It was on August 7, 1942 when U.S. Marines made the first amphibious landing of the war on that island which surely none of them had ever heard of before. After months of fighting, the beleaguered Marines were reinforced with the Army’s Americal and 25th Infantry Divisions, but the fight was far from over. The island would not be declared secure until February 9, 1943, after six full months of fighting.
On March 1, 1943, the unthinkable happened: Mabel received a telegram from the War Department informing her that Dale was missing in action on Guadalcanal. Dale had arrived there in December of 1942 and entered combat in January 1943. On January 14, 1943, he was participating in a patrol on the west slope of Hill 27 of Mt. Austin. They encountered a Japanese patrol and shots were fired. Dale was not seen again. A prolonged search was made for him when the engagement was concluded. Word of his disappearance spread across Iron Bottom Sound to the Island of Tulagi. His older brother Charles was serving in the Navy there as a Motor Machinist’s Mate at the P.T. boat base. Charles crossed the span of water to Guadalcanal and met up with Dale’s squad mates; they searched the area where he was lost again, but to no avail. The tall kunai grass made it impossible to find him. In July 1943, Pfc. Dale W. Ross was officially declared dead, one of 1,600 U.S. troops killed on the island.
It would not be until February of 1946 that Dale’s mother would finally have her other three sons all return home safely from the war. Still, good-natured Dale left a void that couldn’t be filled. Older brother Charles Irwin and his wife Lois, who served with the Red Cross during World War II, named their son in honor of Dale, and his memory lived on among the new generations.
After the war, the Army sent a team back to Guadalcanal to look for the missing-in-action there. They revisited the Hill 27 spot where Dale disappeared, but the grass was even taller and they found nothing.
Years passed and though Dale’s memory among his family never dimmed, it seemed like the chance of bringing him home was growing more and more remote. But then one day in the spring of 2017, an 8-year-old boy, Willie, who lived in Barana Village, was taking a jungle trail to play in his favorite waterfall. Something shiny caught his eye and he bent to investigate. It was a pair of dog tags! He raced back to the village to get his father. Together, the looked at the tags, still on their chain along with a pressed copper penny embossed with the image of King Kamehameha, a souvenir from Hawaii. There was something else, too: human bones. The name on the dog tags read “Dale W. Ross.” His next-of-kin was listed as “Mrs. Mabel Ross” of Ashland, Oregon.
In June of 2017, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Guadalcanal and toured the Mt. Austen battlefield, stopping to see the display of war relics in Barana Village. The day before I was set to leave, a friend of Willie’s father came to see me and told me about the dog tags and remains. He gave me a sheet of paper with a rubbing of the dog tag and penny. I promised to help. It turned into group undertaking involving the efforts of many people.
In August of 2017, I returned to Guadalcanal with Pfc. Ross’s namesake nephew Dale, niece Peggy, and MIA/wreck hunter Justin Taylan. In an emotional meeting, Willie’s family gave the tags and remains to Pfc. Ross’s family. They were turned over to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification, flying home on a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 from what was once Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.
The official identification was announced in April of 2019, and Dale Warren Ross finally came home to Oregon on September 5, 2019. Dale was laid to rest beside his brothers and mother on September 7, 2019 in a touching service with full military honors. It was an immense honor to be there to pay tribute to this young man who would never grow old, but will live on in the many lives he touched, and I’m grateful that mine has been one of them.
On your 100th birthday, thank you Dale Warren Ross for your sacrifice. It will not be forgotten.
From Guadalcanal back home to Oregon: