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Ronald Eugene Rosser
"I only wear the Medal of Honor for the men who were with me really. They earned it as much as I did. I accept medals on behalf of Love Company, 38th Infantry Regiment. We all fought together. This wasn’t a one-man thing. A lot of people were involved. Men died just keeping me alive."
- Ron Rosser
My name is Ronald Eugene Rosser of Roseville, Ohio. I was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 24, 1929, a son of John Milton and Edith Marie Riffle Rosser. Although I was born in Columbus, but I grew up in the Roseville/Crooksville area of Muskingum and Perry counties. I lived many years in Perry County and entered the military from there.
During the Depression my father worked as a carpenter building the big mansions in Columbus. But primarily he worked in underground coalmines. The coalmines are all gone around here now, but back then he worked for several mines owned by Earl J. Jones. My father worked his way up through the company on various bossing jobs until he became superintendent in charge. He worked in the mines until the late 1950s. During that time, coalmining started getting modern equipment like cutting machines. Before those came along, miners had to use a pick. They had to undercut the coal and shoot it down, and they didn't get much coal. When they started using a cutting machine to cut way back into the coal, the mines produced more coal. As I was growing up, everybody figured that I was going to be a mine boss someday. All my family were mine bosses. That’s just the way things were. But I decided early on that I didn’t want to be a boss. I wanted to be a soldier.
My mother didn't work outside of the home. She had 17 children—nine boys and eight girls. My siblings were Evelyn, Eleanor, Richard (KIA, Korea), Jimmy (who died as a child), Reta Patricia (known to us as Patsy), Joanna (who has passed away), John, William or Bill, Shirley, Donald or Donnie, Sandra, Judy, Diane, Roger, and the twins Larry and Gary (KIA, Vietnam). My mother became pregnant in 1928 and she stayed pregnant until 1946. All of my mother's children were born at home. We moved back to this area when I was maybe six months old and we lived in a six bedroom house, which was as big as they get around here. My father always made reasonably good money, more so than other people around here, but he had a large family so it all balanced out. I’m sure we were poor during the Depression and didn’t know it. My father worked 12 hours a day. He didn’t have time to grow food for the family. He always put in a garden, but weeds always got it before we did.
None of us went to school in Columbus. We went to school in the Crooksville area. I went to the Crooksville and Roseville elementary schools. They’re all gone now. In fact, my brother Richard went to a school which was right across the street from where I live now. The building is gone and it is now a park.
When I got to be about 13 years old I had a paper route. The paper doesn't exist anymore. It was the Zanesville News. The gentleman who owned the coalmines where my dad worked owned the Zanesville News. He wanted to publish some statements in another local newspaper and they wouldn't let him, so he started his own newspaper. Earl Jones had a thousand people working for him in this one mine. He made the statement that the payroll of this mine made a big impression on the economy of Zanesville and some said that was a bunch of crap. To prove his point, Mr. Jones paid everybody in silver dollars for a while. A lot of the mining families shopped in Zanesville. The stores had to put big buckets on the counter to hold all the silver dollars that started coming in. Mr. Jones made his point. When he started the Zanesville News, he built a building, brought in printing presses, hired the newspaper people and the paperboys, the whole thing. He had the first issues of his paper on the street in 30 days. Because my father worked for Mr. Jones in the mines, I got a job as paper boy for the Zanesville News.
I was in junior high and high school during World War II. It was over 60 years ago, but I remember they used to have scrap drives to bring in this and that. My Uncle Carl Riffle was in the military and so was my Uncle Albert. Only Carl went overseas. He served in the Third Army and always said he was in Patton's Army. Something happened to Albert in the military. He was a T-4, they called it back in those days. He was hurt and after that he was discharged. I followed what was happening in the war by listening to the radio and reading newspapers. Everybody followed it. What was happening was common knowledge. The news was always a month late getting here, but everybody followed it.
I lived on a farm with my Grandfather Alonzo Riffle and Grandma Riffle a lot in the summer times. When I was 13/14 years old when school was out, I used to go out and live in the woods by myself. I liked to be able to go out and just make my own way. I put a little pack on my back with a half box of .22 shells, a little salt to put on the wild game I killed to eat, and a skillet about the size of my hand. I rolled up a little blanket and a piece of canvas and carried them with me. I also had a little .22 rifle with me. I grew up knowing how to shoot. I guess it was just natural. I hunted squirrels and I hunted rabbits during season when I was just a kid. I was a very good shot. I could shoot squirrels through the head with no problem with my .22. Not a shotgun. A little .22.
I traveled all over the area. I don’t think Mom missed me until I was gone about a week. Sometimes I’d be gone 30 miles from here to wherever it took me. I'd shoot my own game and cook it when I got hungry. Live off the land. Nobody went with me and I liked that. I was alone a lot. I was always gone from home. Even in my dreams I was gone from home. I wanted to go see the world. I think my greatest fear was growing up, working, getting married, having children, and dying in this area without a chance to see the world.
I left school when I was in the tenth grade. I got a job and went to work. I worked in a pottery factory in the china packing department. Ohio is famous for its pottery. Crooksville China was probably one of the best china companies in the United States. I packed the china by sets to get it ready for shipping. I worked in a couple of those places.
First Stint in Army
I joined the Army in 1946 as soon as I turned 17 years old. Nobody worried about me dropping out of school and joining the Army. I had reached that age where I wanted to do what I wanted to do, so I joined. At first I wanted to join the Army Air Corps (it was all the Army back in those days). I didn't want to go into the Navy and didn't particularly want to go into the Marine Corps, so the Army was it. I always have a joke I tell people about going into the military. My mother had 15 children and she was about to have another child, so my brother Richard and I were downtown just keeping out of the way. When we came back home, one of my sisters was out on the porch waving her arms saying when we got close, “Ron, Momma had twins.” I turned to my brother Richard, who later got killed in the Korean War, and said, “Well, there goes my place at the table. I’m joining the Army.” But I was already going in. The twins were Larry and Gary. Gary was later killed in Vietnam.
To join I went to Ft. Hayes, Columbus. They sent me from out of Zanesville to Ft. Hayes and then from there to Camp Atteberry, Indiana. From there I went to Ft. McClellan, Alabama, and then I went to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to parachute school. From there I went to the 82nd Airborne. I think I left Ohio by train. There were people out of the Zanesville area that went into the Army at that same time, but they were not friends of mine. I didn't make friends very easily. I still don't.
I had no problems at all in basic training. Some people did. Some didn't like being away from home. Some got sick. There were a lot of reasons why people fell to the wayside. Our days in basic training were regimented--we got up early and we went to bed late. Back at home I always slept in a bed with my brother, but in basic I had my own bed. They fed us well. It wasn't like Momma cooked, but it was okay. I was an expert rifleman from Day One.
After basic I volunteered for parachute school. It sounded good to me and I've always been a risk-taker. Training was tougher than hell. It was physically tough and mentally tough. They kept the pressure on us. We never walked anywhere--never. We double-timed everywhere, even to the bathroom. We were lucky if they let us sit down. Every time we blinked our eyes, we had to do 10, 20, 30 push-ups. We were constantly doing exercises.
There was no classroom training. We had a series of different types of training taught by other parachuters. They had been at Ft. Benning for a while and most of them had been in wars. Some of them were in the original test parachute platoon from 1939. (Later on when I became an instructor at parachute school, some of those same people were there.) We had to learn to pack our own parachute, which we jumped. We had to learn about gliders and how to tie knots--the different kinds of knots to tie jeeps and howitzers and stuff inside of gliders. We also had to learn how to maneuver parachutes and so forth. Then we went up and jumped.
They had a 34-foot tower that we jumped out of and slid down a cable. It was really just to give us confidence in getting out the door. Then we went to a 250-foot tower where they pulled us up and dropped us by parachute. That was to get us used to having nothing under our feet. It was a funny feeling when we were hanging up there (and then on the way down) with nothing under our feet for the first time in our life. From there we started jumping out of C-46s and C-47s. They were called "Gooneybirds." The first time I jumped, I was ready to roll. In fact, I led the stick. There were eight of us and I was the lead man.
After leaving Ft. Benning, I was sent to the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. They put me in a heavy weapons platoon of what they called a support company, and I became a mortar man in 4.2 mortars. The 4.2 mortar was the biggest mortar we had at that time. The base plate alone weighed 150 pounds. It took a minimum of two people to carry it, and they couldn't carry it very far. It had a tube and a fork in front. In airborne we put it on a two-wheeled cart to transport it and we dropped it by parachute while it was still on the cart.
All we did all day long was gun drill. They trained us to be forward observers, radio operators, and everything that had to do with 4.2 mortars. I was in airborne the first time for the better part of two and a half years. Off and on I was in the airborne for over 20 years. I liked it, although I found it restrictive. We had a tight schedule and were told when to eat, when to go to bed, when to do this, when to do that. At the end of my enlistment I got out. I wanted to find something else.
Finishing My Brother's Tour
I got out of the Army in 1949 and did a lot of running around and having a good time. My father thought that I had had a good time long enough and it was time for me to go to work. He said to me, “Ron, when are you going to get a job?” I told him that I was looking--which I wasn’t. He said, “Well, you can stop looking. You’ve got a job.” When I asked him where, he said, "In the mines with me." He said I was to start the next day. I went to work the next morning and remained in the mines for a year and a half, doing the most basic labor a person could do. I worked on the machines that were used to cut the coal. They made a big cut of coal and then they took a joy loader to get it all out. They dumped the coal on pans that carried it out to the belt. We had to put on extra pans. They were very, very heavy, weighing in the neighborhood of probably 300 pounds. Because they were so heavy, we had to drag them over, bolt them up, and put on the tail start. Those tail starts weighed 150 pounds.
I shoveled a lot of coal in the Misco Mine. It had low top, which meant that we were always bent over a little bit. Sometimes we were bent over very low, depending on the seam of coal. There is always water in a coalmine, but there was not really much in the Misco. Once in a while they ran into water, but if they did, they had sump pumps that pumped it out. I didn't hate the job and I made good money. But I didn't want coalmining to be my career. I was looking at other things. I had a friend who was in high steel (building skyscrapers) and he thought I would be real good in that job. I was thinking about, but my kid brother Richard went into the Army and got killed in Korea, so I decided to re-enlist.
Richard enlisted when he was 18 years old. I was out of the service by that time and working in the mine. Richard was next to me in age. When he entered the service, none of the family members were concerned about it because it was peacetime. There were things going on around the world, but nobody worried about that. He was in the regular army and was in the 3rd Division down at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was home on leave when the Korean War broke out. He got a telegram telling him to report straight to Korea. He got there in early July of 1950. He was in the 24th Division originally.
He was wounded at a place called Taejon. Actually, he was pretty lucky that time because he got wounded early in the battle. They evacuated him out before the division got overrun. Even the commanding general was captured. I remember the family getting the telegram saying that he had been hurt. My mother and father were concerned, but I don't think I was because I had been around the army. I knew that if you got wounded and you got evacuated out, they took care of you. Richard called my mother from Japan when he was in the hospital and told her that he was okay. If he was in good enough shape to call home, we figured there was nothing to be concerned about. But then they sent him back into combat. He actually wasn't well enough to go back. His forearm was in a cast and he had fingers gone off of both hands, but they needed soldiers to fight.
He was in the 1st Cavalry Division when he went back on line and was killed in a tank/infantry assault trying to break through to the 2nd Division, which was trapped at Chipyong-ni. He got killed on the 10th of February 1951, but we didn't get notified until a few days later. They called my mother from the telegraph office and said, "You've got a telegram." She and my father went down there and got the telegram saying that he had been killed. The whole family was pretty shook up over it. We were a close knit family. I sat around trying to think about what to do. I was the oldest son. When somebody bothered my family, I punched their lights out, so to speak. If someone bothered one of my sisters, they'd better leave town. That's the way I grew up.
I finally decided in early May to re-enlist. Of course, my father didn't want me to go and talked to me about it, but I finally just said I was going and re-enlisted. I requested combat duty in Korea. I understood that my parents didn't want me to go. I also knew that I couldn't kill the person who had killed Richard. But I finally made up my mind that my brother didn't get a chance to finish his tour, so I was going to finish his tour for him as a combat soldier. So that’s what I did. I wanted to get even for him and finish his tour.
I re-enlisted in the middle of May 1951. I had to process again and go through various things. They sent me to get an issue of clothes and I had to meet one requirement of going through an infiltration course. They sent me to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, to meet the requirement. I had to crawl under barbed wire for five minutes with a machine gun shooting over my head. That's the only thing I had to do to be qualified for combat.
They shipped me out to the west coast and put me on a boat. I was still airborne. An airborne outfit over in Korea got hit real hard in a battle just before I got to Japan, so they pulled them back to Japan to get replacements. They couldn't just put regular infantry in an airborne, so they started grabbing every airborne guy that even got near that area. When my ship docked in Japan, they took me off the boat and sent me down to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team to support company. There, they put me into the 82nd's 4.2 mortars. We were in training, but got passes to go here and there. I went around to some of the cities that got hit by bombs in World War II. I didn't like the Japanese people. I remembered Wake Island, Bataan, and the things I grew up with--Guadalcanal and the Islands. I just didn't like the Japanese.
I asked the people in the 187th if they were going to Korea right away and they said it would be a while. I knew a lot of the people in support company because they came out of the 82nd support company. I was good friends with a soldier out of Alaska. (I called him Eskimo.) He retired as a command sergeant major and, in fact, he called me a couple of years ago just to get in touch with me in our later years.
Anyhow, when they told me they weren't going over to Korea any time soon, I told them I wanted out of the 187th. I told them, "I'm scheduled for combat duty in Korea." They said I couldn't get out, but I said, "Watch me." I had specifically enlisted for "combat duty Korea." When they stopped me at the 187th Airborne, they couldn't hold me because I had an option. I went up to them and told them, “You’ve got to turn me loose. I’ve got a combat assignment. You people aren’t combat. You’re violating my enlistment option.” They said okay and put me in with a bunch of other people that were trying to get back to Korea. Within two weeks I went over to Korea in a replacement packet of 101 replacements.
We were originally scheduled for the 7th Division, but the 2nd Division was around the Punchbowl and was hit real hard, so they changed us from the 7th Division to the 2nd Division. I was put in the 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. First they wanted some volunteers for the I&R platoon. I didn’t think I’d like that, so I didn’t take that. Then they said, “Are there any people here with experience in 4.2 mortars?” I had spent quite a bit of time with the Four Deuces, so they sent me up to heavy mortar company. They took all the rest of the guys and broke them down into three battalions. Only a couple of those guys made it through the whole thing. They weren’t all killed, but they were either all killed or wounded and evacuated. Only a handful stayed in the regiment.
My first impression of Korea was that it smelled bad. Everything smelled--the country and the people. Those people didn’t take a bath. They had no food. Their homes were gone. There were refugees everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of refugees everywhere. Children without families starving to death. The closer I got to the front, the bodies weren’t buried and I could smell them. Everything smelled bad. In fact, on the way up to the 38th Infantry, we were going real slow around the road and I looked down and saw a truck upset. I could see the bodies sticking out underneath of it. I don't know if they were American bodies. Nobody seemed to care. We were heading into the front and we could hear the firing and knew that it was going to get worse. By the time I left Korea a year later, I had seen flies above the heads of thousands of Korean War dead. There were so many of them they looked like a black cloud--flies and honey bees.
I'm not sure if I was apprehensive or if I looked forward to being in combat. I thought about Richard. The artillery was back quite a ways and although we could hear the firing up ahead of us, we weren't even to the artillery. There were long lines of ambulances and litter jeeps coming back with wounded in them. I think my first impression of this was, "Everybody thinks they're lucky and here is a whole bunch of folks who weren’t." I knew it wasn’t going to be like I thought. I thought it was going to be "bang, bang," you know. I wasn't worried about it one way or the other as long as I got my shot. They sent me up to Heavy Mortar Company. There are heavier mortars now, but it was the heavy mortar during the Korean War. It was like the 105 artillery piece. Very accurate.
The 38th Infantry was on the edge of the Punchbowl when I got there. The first place I went in on there was the final battle at 1179, the mountain overlooking the Punchbowl. It was strategic because it was high. It was commanding ground where whoever owned it could see the enemy below. When they sent me to the heavy mortar company, the company commander said, “Well, Ron, you’re an experienced mortar man. I’ll put you down in the third platoon as a first gunner.” We had a very strong disagreement about that. I told him that I wasn't going to the third platoon, I was going up on line. He said, “You’re going to the third platoon, Rosser.” Then I said, “No I’m not Captain. I’m going on line.” I remember that he told me he was running the company and that I was going to the third platoon. I walked right up to his face, stuck my nose right in his eye, and said, “Captain, I’m not going to third platoon or any other platoon. I’m going on the line.” He was kind of taken aback by that because he wasn't used to that kind of back talk.
The Heavy Mortar Company with its heavy weapons was the main support for the 38th Infantry Regiment. Its various platoons--first, second, third, and so forth, each had their own sector of fire. They were all lined up behind the 38th Infantry. That way one forward observer could call fire from all of them. The Captain told me, “The only people we have on line are forward observers and radio men.” I told him, “I’m the best forward observer you’ve ever seen, Captain.” And he said, “We don’t need any forward observers.” When one of the people spoke up and said, “Hey, Fridel just lost another radio man,” I said, “I’m also the best radio man you’ve ever seen.” The captain said, “Okay. You’re on the line.”
I wanted to be on line because that's where the killing was. I was going to do my part. I wasn’t going to sit there and pound them with mortar fire. I wanted to look at them. So I went up on line. I went onto 1179 into what they called the Bloody Ridge with Richard Fridel. He went down within a few days wounded and I became the forward observer. They sent a radio man up to me who I don’t even remember. From July of 1951 until the first of May 1952, I had eight radio operators and lost seven of them killed or wounded I tried to get this one guy in the company to be one of my radio men, but he said he stuttered. (The one thing a forward observer couldn't have in a radio man was a guy who stuttered.) He had arrived at the company before me and was right there when I reported in and told his company commander that I was going on the line. He told some people, “This guy thinks he’s an Audie Murphy." Later on he joined the 2nd Division Association, and when he was at the association meeting filling out his papers stating that he was from Heavy Mortars company, they told him there was a guy from heavy mortars who got the Medal of Honor. He said, “You’re kidding me,” and asked if they knew who he was. When they said they weren't sure what his name was he said, “I’ll bet I know who it was. I’ll bet it was that crazy guy that wanted to go up on the line. He was crazy.”
A forward observer was up with the forward elements of the infantry. My job was to call in mortar fire on the enemy whenever they exposed themselves or wherever I thought they were--both offensive and defensive fires. A forward observer looked out over the terrain, and if, for instance, I saw 500 enemy out in the enemy, I said, "Fire mission. Enemy troops in the open." The FO had to decide what type of fire he wanted. For instance, if I caught them in the open, I hit them with heavy explosions--right on. And normally if there were a lot of them, I used all three platoons. If there was just a little bit, I only used one platoon, depending on what the target was. As soon as I hit them with heavy explosives, they would go to ground (get under cover). So then I changed to white phosphorus and it would explode and go down on them like rain. It would set them on fire and they would jump up to run again. Then I would hit them with the meat grinder. White phosphorus was a chemical that burned as long as it had air. It could not only set someone on fire, it could burn right through him.
An FO was right on the front line. Actually when I was there, there was no front line. We were assaulting every day and defending every night. They hit us every night and we assaulted them every day. They hit us mostly under cover of darkness, although they hit us in the daytime too. When it was dark, our Air Force couldn't get to them. At night we lost our Air Force as a defensive weapon. Then we only had artillery and mortar fire to protect us, plus the infantry weapons. The enemy stormed in by the hundreds, sometimes thousands. They would hit one place and just overrun us. Sometimes we had warning they were coming. They communicated with each other by blowing bugles and they used flares, pyrotechnics, and so forth. They used different noises to mean different things.
I never went into reserve. My unit pulled into reserve coming off Heartbreak Ridge and the whole regiment pulled out. As soon as they pulled the regiment off, they shipped heavy mortar company over behind the Turks and I went on line with the Turks as a forward observer. They were pretty good fighters. I didn’t trust them because I mostly didn’t understand what they said. Of course, it wasn't just the Turks--I didn’t trust anybody. I was always a loner. I never knew anybody. During the war I very seldom knew anybody’s name. They’d say, “Ron, you’re to report into I Company at the such and such grid coordinates. They’re jumping off in the morning. Go across country and catch up with them and jump off with them."
I had radios, a compass, binoculars, and maps to help me plot concentrations and call fire in on the enemy. If my platoon was here and the enemy was up there, I could be off to the side. When I called fire in, I called it from a certain azimuth. My platoon or company never knew exactly where I was at, but they knew I was on that line from that azimuth to the enemy. When I directed my fire, I went left or right of that particular azimuth and changed not from the platoon, but from my azimuth. I could give a group of coordinates or march into a sector. There were lots of different ways I could get fire out there. A lot of times when I was using artillery or tank fire or something like that, I liked for them to mark the center of a sector and I went from there.
From July to about the first of August or to the middle of September, we were on Bloody Ridge. From Bloody Ridge we went over to Heartbreak Ridge. We had a one-day truck ride to move everything over there. During the battle for Bloody Ridge, there was fighting and being attacked night after night. At the same time, peace talks were going on. That’s the nature of war, I guess. In my time, nobody believed that the peace talks were worth a damn. One of the humorous things I remember about Korea was when a lieutenant came up to the OP to check everything out before the Turks moved out and we moved in. Just before he got there we went out to the barbed wire in front of the outpost and brought back the body of a mangled, twisted Chinaman who had been killed a long time ago. His body and those of a lot of other Chinese had frozen right onto the wire and we had just left them there. We set him up around the table where we were playing cards and when this lieutenant came up and asked if we thought the peace talks were going to end, we turned to the dead Chinaman and said, "What do you think, Joe?" The lieutenant said, "Christ! How long has this guy been out here?" It was funny.
We had objectives while the peace talks were going on. We wanted to get the controlling ground in our sector, which was the central sector. We wanted it so we could control both sections of the line and straighten the line out. The line was kind of like a saw tooth. We straightened the line out the best we could and took out the big dips in it. That’s what we were doing over in the Bloody and Heartbreak Ridge area--just moving up to the lines at the narrowest part across Korea where it was easiest to hold.
After Heartbreak Ridge fell, I then moved up with the Turkish Brigade. This was in November of 1951. The reason I moved up with them was because, when it got up to strength again, my regiment was going to relieve the Turkish Brigade up in the Kumwha Valley. My job was to set up concentrations across the entire regimental front so that my regiment could replace the Turkish Brigade with very few casualties about mid-December. My job was to protect the soldiers and to know ahead of time what was happening before my regiment came up. I knew who was coming up and where they were going. They were going to replace the whole Turkish Brigade, so I put out intensive fire wherever the enemy could possibly hit us. I had concentrations clear across the regimental front. If they came 50 yards away from the concentration, I could move it and fire would be on them. In reality the regiment relieved the Turkish Brigade without incident. They came in at night, the Turks pulled out, and we moved in right above them.
At this time I was doing what I wanted to do. I was looking the enemy in the eye. They were the regular army of the North Koreans. Many of those people were hardened combat soldiers. Some of them had years and years of combat experience. They had fought with the Communist Chinese against the Japs that had fought against the nationalist Chinese. They were as well-equipped as we were. We had World War II weapons and so did they. All day long we assaulted their positions in a particular sector in the mountains. Sometimes I was maybe on my third company before we took the objective. I started out with A Company. When A Company was down to 15 men, they held and B Company pushed through. I went with B Company until they were down to a handful of men, and then C Company pushed through and we continued to assault the top. We just kept going until we literally chewed the enemy up. They counterattacked us and actually we were fighting very close--sometimes hand-to-hand.
Nobody is actually trained for hand-to-hand combat. Oh, they gave us bayonet training and they gave us training in jujitsu and that kind of thing, but nobody ever dreams of doing that kind of stuff. It’s one thing to shoot a guy and it’s another thing to stick a bayonet through him or beat him to death with a rifle. I’ve done both of those. I never felt like I was killing a human being. It felt more like I was killing a rat. I didn't have any conscience about it. I think we were just better at it than they were. We could throw a hand grenade further than they could. We could do a lot of things better than they could.
At first, thoughts of my brother Richard who had been KIA was my guiding light, so to speak. That's what got me to Korea. But after I got there, I did it because it was my responsibility to do it. My job as a forward observer was to protect those people that were there and to cover them during their assaulting or defending. My job was to put out defensive fire when they were being attacked. I had a responsibility to those people to make sure I kept them alive and to help them hold whatever they had. My driving force was responsibility. Thoughts of my brother were always there and I remembered, but I had all those other kids too. I never knew any of their names, but I felt responsibility for them. For the most part I was older than them. Sometimes they were ten years older than me, but they were still "kids" because I had more combat time than they had. After they were there three or four days, they were as old as me.
I lived in a hole in the ground. During the assault during the summer, I lived in a shell hole or a trench or anywhere I could get below level ground to get some protection from incoming enemy fire. Very seldom did I ever get in any bunker, although I did up on Heartbreak Ridge. I got into the bunkers there because the fighting was pretty intense--more so there than on Bloody Ridge. On Heartbreak Ridge the enemy threw everything they had in there trying to hold it. They knew that if we took that area, they would lose a whole section of the ground behind them and they would have to pull back. If we had the high ground we could see them whether they were. The enemy always knew where we were at, too. They could see us. Sometimes we were only a few yards apart. They could hear us breathing. Hell, I knew where they were too. I could smell them.
I don’t remember any lulls in the fighting in the summertime. It seemed like we were never out of a fire fight--we were always knee deep in it. I called in fire day and night. It's hard to remember one particular battle because it was all a battle. Day and night, week after week. I got hungry and thirsty and I was dead tired, but so was everybody else, so I didn’t worry about it.
In the summertime and early fall when we were able and moving, if we passed a stream we washed our feet and whatever else we could. Baths were almost non-existence. If we had a chance and we were reasonably safe, we could take off our clothes (which were pretty battered), get some water in a helmet, and just rinse ourselves or wash ourselves off as best as we could. But in the wintertime there were no baths. We were covered with lice and fleas and there was nothing we could do about it.
I almost never got mail and things at that time. I wrote and asked my mother to send me some sardines. She thought I loved them. I did, but not for the reason she thought. I opened them and let them sit out until they rotted. Then I put my extra bullets down in them. If the bullet didn't kill the enemy, the infection would. I had a mean streak. One guy used to call me the "gunfighter" all the time because I shot from the hip in close combat and notched my carbine after I killed someone. I just did it to be "colorful."
I had been in Korea for a long time. I knew what I was doing. Nothing excited me very much. But the kids (when I say kids, some were older than me and some were younger) got scared and I had to talk to them kind of soft and easy. For example, there was a medic that I knew real well. These kids knew they were probably going to get killed or wounded in these assaults and this medic used to tell them, “If they don’t kill you instantly through the head or the heart, there’s nothing they can do to you that I can’t fix.” He said this to give the kids confidence. Being quiet and calm and everything gave the kids confidence in us. These kids knew that wherever I was at I wasn’t going to run, and they felt they would be safe.
Up on the Heartbreak Ridge we got some replacements in one time. They sent them up to the company commander but he didn’t need them right then and didn’t have time to fill them in and tell them what to do. He said, “You go back over to that guy over there, Rosser. He'll take care of you and keep you alive until I need you.” They came over and reported to me. One of them was a Staff Sergeant and he asked what he should do. I said, “Get your people into that big bunker over there and stay there. Don’t come out unless I tell you to come out. If the enemy gets close, get out here and get in the trench where you can fight. Keep your weapons handy, but don’t worry. You’re perfectly safe there as long as you stay there. They’re not going to get back here any more. We’ll keep them off of you.” That staff sergeant survived Korea. I ran into him several years later down at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was a master sergeant then. We were good friends. He thought that I was just about the meanest guy that ever lived--and at that time, I was. I wasn't afraid of anybody--or if I was, I never showed it.
Sometimes I got a little apprehensive. One time I dove for cover to get away from a mortar round. I dove over this ridge and as I was coming down I saw that I was going to land on a shoe mine. Rain had washed the dirt away from it and that's why I could see it. I knew that I was going to get blown all to hell and back. I hit screaming, but not a word ever came out of my mouth. I screamed in my mind. I landed right on it, but it was a dud. Apparently the water had done something to the fuse and it didn't go off.
I got nicked a few times in Korea. I got the Purple Heart for one of the wounds. I got hit on the Bloody Ridge in the foot and I got hit in the leg on the Heartbreak Ridge. When a person got a cut on his foot he didn't run down and say, "Hey, I got a Purple Heart." If someone got nicked, maybe later on some guy would say, “Hey, I got hit up there. Here’s where I got hit.” They would say okay and mark them down for a Purple Heart. That took care of it. But I would have been ashamed to go down there where they had all the dead and wounded, trying to take care of them, and then say, “Hey, I’ve got a cut on my foot.”
I was involved in one incident that were a closer call than I wanted it to be. I was up on the Bloody Ridge with George Company of the 38th Infantry. Each regiment had letter companies such as A, B, C, D. That particular day I was out with George Company. We were in kind of a company outpost way out in front of the main line when we got hit by what I would estimate to be a brigade of North Koreans--maybe a couple of thousand. Somewhere close to that. They were on us and only about half of us made it back to the main line. I barely got out. They were hot on me when I hit the line. We fought them off as best as we could and we killed a lot of them. They caught some of the guys that were 75 yards from us and we couldn’t get to them. They stood them up one at a time and made them holler. When they couldn’t or wouldn’t, they shot them and sent another guy up. They killed them all. We could see it, but we couldn't do anything about it. They had them. The North Koreans weren't out in the open, but the kids were.
Through the years a person's memory dims. Sometimes I have dreamed about something and haven't been sure whether it actually happened or not. I used to tell my wife about this particular incident. One day a kid came down from Columbus and wanted me to autograph a book for him. We were talking and got on the subject of prize fighters. It just so happened that in George Company there was a guy that had been the lightweight champion of the world. "Lew" Jenkins was one of the guys that made it back the day the North Koreans shot those kids in George Company. When he wrote his memoirs, Jenkins talked about that incident.
I never saw a live North Korean after that happened. I made sure they were dead. I killed them all. If their wounded were there, I shot their wounded. I shot everybody. I didn't even care. If we were in the assault and we had to go by an enemy wounded and there were grenades and weapons laying all over the place, I sure wasn't going to leave him laying there behind us where he could shoot us or throw a grenade at us or whatever. So when I went by him, I just shot him. He was the enemy and if he had the capability to continue to fight us, I killed him. And I killed him without mercy, too. I think one of the reasons why I didn't like the North Koreans was that they made me just like them--where I killed without mercy. We all did. Up on Heartbreak Ridge we actually got orders (I’m not sure who issued them) to take no prisoners. The regiment was shot all to pieces. We didn’t have people to handle prisoners, so we just killed everybody. They were there and we killed them.
There were guys in my company or my squad that were killed just because a dumb mistake was made. I think everybody got killed because of dumb mistakes actually. People did stupid things. They raised their head up when they shouldn’t. They just did certain things and they got killed. An example of this would be a patrol behind enemy lines moving from cover to cover. Suppose they got up to a stretch of 25 yards that they had to go down but there was no cover and the guys in front of them moved out. They ran through. Maybe four or five guys would make it and then one guy would get shot down. Then four or five other guys would make it and then another guy would get shot down. Then comes your turn to run. You know what I mean? Those who get shot are just unlucky. They're the ones late hitting the ground when they hear rounds coming in. The guy that gets to the ground the fastest lives the longest really. We learned to pick up that habit. Move until we heard something and then we ducked. We learned to tell the difference between a bird chirping and a flutter and a mortar round coming in. We only had a split second to live if we were wrong. A guy's senses are heightened when he is in combat. He sees better. He hears better. He thinks better. I fought the enemy in close combat and it was like they were in slow motion sometimes. I mean, I fought them in hand-to-hand combat fighting where I actually beat people to death with a rifle. I’ve had people turn on me shooting point back at me with sub machine guns just inches away and they never hit me. The point I want to make is that we learned to react a little faster than we normally would. We were constantly moving. We didn’t stay in one place. Maybe we only moved inches, but those inches made a difference sometimes.
I never actually stayed with my company. The company commander that was CO when I came into the company went home right after I came there. I had a couple of other company commanders, but I almost never knew them because I seldom went back to my company. I was always up at the line company. I was with a lot of different line companies all the time I was in Korea. I served in combat with every line company in my regiment plus every company in the Dutch battalion and the Turkish Brigade. I was never an integral part of any of these companies. I was just attached to them for a while. I loved being a forward observer because I could do a lot of damage and make a lot of noise. I could kill more people in my sleep than an average guy could kill in a lifetime.
Cablegram Roger 7
In December of 1951 and January of 1952, we were up in the Kumwha Valley running deep patrols into the enemy lines toward Pyongyang at the point of the Iron Triangle. We were also getting hit all up and down the line. The fighting involved not just one person or one company, but a lot of people and a lot of units. Around the 17th or 18th of December, the Chinese broke through the line. We got hit hard and a lot of people got killed. This went on for several days.
The day before Christmas I went out with a reinforced platoon of I Company on a combat patrol. Seventy-three of us went out and six of us made it back. I remember that day because we were wiped out. Every man was killed or wounded but me. I brought Fridel, my radioman, out because his leg was torn up. (Fridel was the guy who had been the forward observer before I took over.) He went back to the rear for a long time and when he came back he was crippled up. They didn't send him into combat anymore.
On the day of this patrol, we had penetrated probably close to three miles behind enemy lines before we were hit and came under a heavy mortar/artillery barrage out there. It was point blank fire really. As soon as the Chinese hit us, man, they swarmed in on us. I mean they hit us hard. Our platoon leader was killed. His assistant was a young lieutenant. He just panicked and said, “Let’s get out of here.” The guys started trying to get out, leaving their dead and wounded behind. I brought out my radioman.
They flushed us down to a river bank where we tried to fight them off. They cut us off between our lines at the riverbank so we couldn’t get down that way. I took a rifle and beat my way through the ice on the river’s edge. About 18 of us tried to cross the river and go down the other side. We started and got almost across when they caught us in the river. We had to swim. Only six of us got out. There was ice on both sides of the river and it was cold, but I don’t remember it being cold. I was just too busy. I was trying to carry Fridel and the radio when the radio took a burst. I just dumped it in the river. I was still carrying my radioman out. Actually, I wasn’t carrying him--he was just hanging on to me in the river while I was trying to fight. We finally got close enough to our line to where the people manning the outpost could take the enemy under fire. We came back up on the river bank and out of the water. One of the other wounded men helped Fridel into our line.
I was pretty well messed up when I came out of the water, but I had to go back about 700-800 yards to the mortar platoon and get another radioman. I went back to the platoon that night, got a hot meal, and took a bath to get all the mud and stuff off of me. The next morning I had some breakfast at the mortar platoon and then headed back up to the line with my new radioman, a boy named Stanley Smith. It was Christmas Day, but all days were the same on the front line. A couple of weeks later, Smith was wounded.
From Christmas Day of 1951 until January 12 of 1952, I continued to call fire in on the enemy during the daytime. When there was activity in a certain concentration I called in fire missions on the enemy at night, too. The whole time I was in Korea I identified myself in fire missions as "Cablegram Roger 7." Those call numbers identified me in fire missions so the unit would know it was me. If the Chinese knew our call signs, they might call fire in on us. So we tried to come up with letter and number combinations that were hard for them to understand and pronounce.
During this time company commanders offered me the rank of Master Sergeant if I would take a platoon. I was a corporal at the time. My regimental commander was always trying to get me to take a battlefield commission because he knew that I fought without fear. I never got mentally messed up in Korea. I had too much responsibility. The commander thought that I was absolutely fearless because I was always grinning. But I turned their offers for higher rank down because I liked what I was doing as a forward observer. If I was in charge of a platoon, I would have had a whole bunch of people under my care. I would have been responsible for taking care of them (their food, their ammunition, getting them up, everything about them). And maybe every once in a while I might get to shoot at something. As a forward observer, I was always blowing something up, and I liked it.
I carried an M-2 carbine and I generally also carried at least a fragmentation and a white phosphorus grenade. I liked white phosphorus because putting white phosphorus on the enemy and setting them on fire took their mind off of us. I used a lot of white phosphorus. For the most part I got my ammunition when I got a chance to go back into my platoon for more maps or whatever I needed for my fire direction center. They had a mess tent down there and I would run down there to get some onions to chop up and put in C-rations to change the taste of them. I also always got two or three new batteries for my radios. I would get maybe one or two cases of hand grenades to take up to my bunker when the line was stable. I also always gathered up a box of 15 and 30-round magazines for my carbine. I liked a lot of ammunition on me. I liked to shoot a lot. If the enemy was around, I would shoot like hell--throw grenades like hell. The more I hit them, the less chance they had of hitting us.
Again, for me, being in combat was a responsibility. I was responsible for other men's lives--for protecting lives and for taking other lives. I didn't know the names of the young people I was trying to protect. They were just young soldiers. They knew me, though. This one guy come back one day after a real bad thing where the outpost got hit and he said, “Are you the forward observer, heavy mortar?” When I said yes, he grabbed me and kissed me. He said, “You saved me.” They had had a bad night that night. It was in the middle of December of ’51. The enemy hit us all along the line there. They hit the outpost, but I had concentrations around the platoon outpost and I killed a lot of them.
I told those people, "All you’ve got to do is remember that this is concentration so and so, concentration so and so, concentration so and so. If you hear a noise in that particular area, all you’ve got to do is get in touch with me and say, 'I’ve got something going on in concentration so and so.'" Within a minute I had fire on them. This one particular night, we had an ambush patrol way out there. It was so foggy we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces and we had a squad out. All of a sudden I could hear firing. We couldn’t tell where it was at. This kid called on the radio for somebody to help them. They were lost out there in the fog and the enemy was all around them. I could hear burp guns and grenades going off and burp guns ripping over the radio. This kid was crying. He was scared to death because they had gotten twisted around in the fog and they didn’t even know which way to go. When I asked him where he was at, he said he didn't know. I said, “I’m going to put a white phosphorus round way out." Then I said, “Did you see the flash?” When he said no, I dropped the coordinates a hundred yards and said, “Did you see the flash that time?” Again he said no, so I dropped another 50 yards and he saw it that time. I told him that I was going to drop another 50 yards, after which he said he heard it and saw it. I asked him how far out it was from him and he said he thought it looked like it was about 50 yards away. I told him that was on the enemy side and that he should come the other direction. Once he got all lined up, I told him to wait until I told him to move. "When I tell you to move, I want all of you out of there. If you’ve got wounded, bring them out because right where you’re at, folks, I’m going to put some rounds there. That way if the enemy tries to follow you, I’ll get them.” When I told him to start moving, they did. When they had gone about 25 yards he called in and told me. I got on my radio and said, “Drop 50.” When they got out of range, we dropped our coordinates to where they had just been. I just kept dropping 25 yards behind those guys so the enemy couldn’t close in behind them.
At the same time I was doing this, I got a call from the outpost. They said, “We’ve got noise around the outpost.” When they told me that it was at concentration so and so, I put a gun on it. The Chinese were firing up a storm, hitting the outpost hard. I had mortar rounds all over the place. The front line went straight across the valley and then there was a high ridge like a ringer sticking out toward the enemy. My observation post was way back and out on the end of the finger with a little outpost out in front of me. I was actually out in enemy territory. The high ground was my observation post. I thought to myself, “If they’re hitting them, they’re going to hit me,” so I slipped out. I could hear them coming through the barbed wire. I had my radio on and kept listening to what was going on around me. As I was listening, I could hear them coming through the barbed wire in front of me until all at once, I could hear them crawling around in front of me. They had gotten through the barbed wire. I started rolling hand grenades toward them, not much further than a couple of feet. Then I ducked down in the trench trying to get them away from me. I threw a couple of cases of grenades that night in between dropping fire on them, moving that lost squad back, and keeping the outpost covered. I was doing three different things at the same time. It was difficult keeping my head on that one. The guy who kissed me was one that came off the outpost. The Chinese had cut through the barbed wire right in front of him. That night I knew I made a difference. I made a difference most of the time. I was pretty well known. Everybody knew my name and that I was a forward observer.
They sent another patrol out shortly after New Years Day 1952. That time out they were sent around a mountain called Old Papasan. So as not to weaken the line, they never sent people off the line on this type of patrol. Instead, a reinforced rifle platoon of Company B came up from reserve and went out to the right and behind the mountain. They were going to be in my area of responsibility and I was supposed to cover for them when they came out. The Chinese was trying to keep warm that winter just like we were, and behind Papasan they had built a winter installation of bunkers. The reinforced rifle platoon was sent out to hit quick, blow up those enemy bunkers, capture and kill the enemy, and do as much damage as they could. They got hit behind Old Papasan. We could hear the shooting, but there wasn't anything we could do about it. Nobody ever came out.
Soon after that I was assigned to Love Company of the 38th Infantry Regiment. On January 12, 1952, Love Company got the nod to form a raiding party to take Hill 472 (its elevation was 472 meters high) and destroy the winter installations there. They had moved up into my area the night before and the next day we were escorted out through our barbed wire into no man's land. Since I was the forward observer assigned to L Company, I went with them behind enemy lines. Instead of sneaking up on them at night, we did it in daylight. We were supposed to go out at night, but we were slowed down for various reasons and delays. Moving out in the early daylight was a screw-up as far as I was concerned. It was kind of stupid considering they could see us coming for miles. We dropped off a platoon in front of them to raise a lot of ruckus there and make them think we were coming up that way. The rest of the company swung around and hit the back of the mountain. It took us quite a while to get back there.
We had trouble right from the start. I had to go to the briefing and our S-2 said there was maybe a platoon of Chinese on the mountain--maybe less. I listened to him for a while and put up my hand. The regimental commander said, "What do you want, Rosser?" I told him, "What this colonel is saying isn't true, Sir. There's a lot of people up on Hill 472. That's a major fortification up there. It's at least in battalion strength up there. I was with I Company when it got tore up. They wiped us out and you know it. The Chinese came off of 472." I kept insisting that it was a large group until he finally told me to shut up. They didn't want to hear it. The regimental commander generally went with what his staff told him, but I knew better. His staff didn't go out there, I went out there. I knew what was out there, but he wouldn't listen to me.
So we went up there. Of the guys that hit the front of the mountain, nine men lived--and they were all wounded. The platoon sergeant was killed and they had to leave him laying right on the Chinese trench. I blew his body up later because we couldn't get to him. It was making everybody nervous seeing him lay out there frozen. The company commander asked me if I could do something about it and I told him I would take care of it. I blew up his body and scattered his remains all over about a hundred yards. Later I notified Graves Registration. They had him listed as missing, but I told them, "He isn't missing. He's just scattered everywhere."
By the time we started up the back of the mountain fighting our way through the trenches and bunkers, we had lost half the company. By the time we got within assaulting position of the top, there were only 35 of us left out of the 170 we had started with. All of the officers were down, including the artillery forward observer. He got hit in the shoulder. The company commander got hit in the face. All platoon leaders were gone. All the sergeants were gone. There was just a handful of this and that left. I had to fire all over the damned place. We were getting direct, point blank fire from 76 high velocities from all over. I hit them with mortar fire, but they just pulled back in a bunker. As soon as we stopped firing, they came out again and fired at us. We were getting heavy and light mortar fire all over us, as well as heavy machine gun fire at point blank range. I got on the damned radio and called back to the regimental commander on his frequency. I told him who I was--Cablegram Roger 7--and that Love Company was down to about 35 effectives, which meant that was how many were left that were still able to fight, counting the walking wounded. I also told him that we were running short on ammunition. “Request orders.”
He wanted to talk to an officer so I dragged my radio over to the company commander. It was 20 below zero and he had frozen blood all over him. I gave him my radio and told him that the colonel wanted to talk to him. The colonel told him to reorganize and make one final attempt to take our objective. The captain said, “Yes, Sir” and handed the mike back to me. He looked up the mountain and he got this real hopeless look on his face. I was laying right next to him in front of him watching him. I should have shut my mouth, but instead I said to him, “I’ll take them up for you, Captain.” He asked me how I was going to do it and I told him, “I’m going straight in shooting, Captain. That’s the only chance we’ve got.” He said to me, “You know you’re not going to make it, don’t you?” I told him, “Well, we’ll try.”
I went over and got all of his men that were left and told them, “We’re going to hit them. We’re going to go straight in shooting, get in the trenches, and give them hell. If we can get into the trenches, we’ve got a good chance. Are you all with me?” They said, “Yeh, we’re with you.” I told them what to do. “Remember, when I move, all you’ve got to do is follow me. When I move, you do what I do. You won’t have any trouble knowing which direction you’ve got to go because I’ll be leading you up.” I got up in front of them and said, “Okay, let’s go.” I jumped up shooting and they did the same. We threw some marching power out for two or three steps just to pin them down in front of us, and then we started running up the mountain through the crusty snow. We only had about 40 yards to go before we got to the enemy. I started running toward them, firing as I went--the old carbine just nicking at the top of the trench ahead of me. I never even looked back until I got to the dirt from the trench. While I was changing magazines, I stopped and looked back. That's when I realized that I was by myself. The other guys were laying all over the mountain where they had gotten hit. That machine gun and mortar fire had just cut them to pieces.
So there I was up on top of this mountain all by myself with the others wounded and the others who weren't wounded trying to break through to get to me. The enemy was only about five or six feet away from us. In the split second that thoughts go through your mind in a life or death situation, I got to thinking, “Well, Ron Rosser. You’ve come a long way to get here. You might as well make it pay.” So I let out a war whoop like a wild Apache Indian and jumped in the trench with the Chinese. I took out the first bunker with a burst of gunfire. There was a man in front of me and one behind me. I stuck my carbine in the ear of one of them and blew his other ear off. Then I spun around and got the guy behind me in the neck. He dropped his burp gun, grabbed me by the leg and tried to tackle me, but I beat him off of me and shot him in the chest. I think I got him in the heart. Anyhow, he was gone and I started going for more. I finally had gotten what I had always wanted. It was just me and the Chinese. My dream had come true. The thought of my brother crossed my mind. This was for him this time, but I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I remember thinking about it for a split second, then I was too busy. I was hitting them fast, going straight in to them.
They were spinning around trying to shoot me. The burp guns were going off right in my face, but I was killing them before they could do anything. I had a 30-round magazine, but when they were so close I couldn't shoot them, I just beat them. I beat two of them to death with my rifle. I sunk the butt of my carbine deep into one guy’s head. I butt-stroked them. When I finally got to the end of the trench, there were two more Chinese--a wounded man and another one. They went into their machine gun bunker because I had flanked it. There were already a whole bunch of Chinese in there. (They had big machine gun bunkers.) I couldn't go in after them, so I knew I needed a grenade.
Before I had jumped off, I had found a white phosphorus grenade lying right in front of me. I looked at it two or three times and then I finally just reached down and stuck it inside of my jacket. So when I got up there and needed a grenade, I remembered it. I reached inside my jacket, got the grenade, and pulled the pin. I crawled up on top of the bunker, kicked the spoon, reached down and held it a couple of seconds, and then rolled it in the door of the bunker. There was a lot of screaming going on. A couple of them crawled out, but they were on fire. I mean, they were burnt badly. I was still on top of the bunker when they came out the door, so I shot them in the head point blank. I put them out of their misery. I should have let them burn. I let the rest of them burn. They were in there screaming, and then the screaming stopped.
I hollered for the guys to come up and help me. I saw some of the guys starting to move and I jumped back into the trench and went around the corner. There came about 35 Chinese at me and I knew I was in trouble again. At first I thought about running and getting the hell out of there. I knew that if I ran, they would chase me. If I tried to hold there, I knew they would just flank me and grenade me. So down the trench I ran toward them, firing as I went. One of them lowered his burp gun and started shooting point blank at me. I could feel the bullets tugging at my clothes, but I never got hit. He couldn’t believe that I was still coming. He got scared and he turned around and tried to get away. He ran into the guy behind him and he was trying to claw his way around him. The other guy was trying to shoot me, and others were throwing hand grenades at me. They were going off all around me but I just ignored them.
When the one tried to claw his way around the other one, all at once the whole bunch of them turned and started running away from me. I just stopped and started shooting them in the back of the head. They made a turn in the trench. I saw their heads bobbing as they headed for two big bunkers, so I jumped out of the trench and cut them off. I got ahead of them in front of the bunkers. Some of them ran right up to me trying to get into the bunker. I shot three or four of them before they got inside. I didn’t have any grenades so there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I started running out of ammunition so I started working my way back to the first trench.
I jumped out of the trench and some kid ran right up beside of me. I don't know where he came from, but a Chinaman raised up and fired a burst right point blank at us. He just almost tore the kid's arm clear off, but he missed me. The kid fell over and I asked him if he thought he could get out of there. He said, “I think so.” He grabbed his arm and started down toward safety. Another kid ran up beside me and a grenade went off between us and got him. I just picked him up and started walking down the mountain because I didn’t have any more ammunition. The Chinese were closing in behind me, jumping out of the trenches, shooting at me and trying to bayonet me. There wasn’t anything I could do about it because I had this kid on my shoulder. I was pretty powerful back in those days. I could carry the other guy pretty easily.
I started down the mountain about 40 yards under minimum cover and the Chinese were jumping out of the trench trying to get at me. They were still trying to stick me and everything else. An artillery forward observer (James Blackman) had lost his radioman, his radio, and his sergeant. He grabbed an M-1 rifle and ran out in the open, knocking Chinese down all around me. He was flattening them out. I started down the hill and I got to laughing because they were trying to get me and he was getting them. I came walking by him laughing. He stopped and said, “Soldier, what’s your name?” He knew I was the FO of Heavy Mortar Company, but he didn’t know my name, or at least he didn’t remember it. I said, “Hell, my name is Rosser.” He asked me if I knew what the hell I was doing and I replied, “Yes Sir. I’m killing these varmints as fast as I can, but I’m out of ammo. I’ve got to get me some ammo.”
I put a compress on the kid that I had carried down the mountain because he had a chest wound. I put a tourniquet on the arm of the kid who got his arm hurt while he was trying to help me after I got out of the trench. It stopped him from bleeding to death. I tied his arm to his stomach with a canvas machine gun belt so it wouldn’t be flopping around and I told him, “We’ll get you out of here in a little bit, son.” I went around to the dead and wounded and started gathering ammunition--especially all the grenades I could carry, and some carbine ammunition. I got some magazines off of my radio man. He was already wounded but when I asked him to give me some ammo, he said he might need it. I told him that I needed it worse than he did and for him to give me the ammo.
I threw a round in the chamber, loaded up what magazines I could find, and slung a rifle on my shoulder. I took a hand grenade in each hand, pulled the pin, held the spoons down, and turned around and started back up the mountain. This lieutenant was still banging away. (James Blackman received a Distinguished Service Cross for what he did that day.) When I got up to him, I tapped him on the shoulder. Still holding a grenade in both hands I said, “I’ll see you later, Lieutenant,” and started up the mountain.
The Chinese were laying over the trench waiting for me to come in closer. I don’t know why they didn’t just shoot me--I was by myself. Instead, they were just watching me. All at once I saw one of them raise up to shoot me, so I threw my first grenade. Instead of shooting me, he and all the rest of them looked up to see where the grenade was going. It went right into the trench with them and got some of them. There was a lot of confusion and wounded men laying around. As I got closer to the trench, I just kicked the spoon on the other one, held it a couple of seconds, and dropped it on the wounded as I went by. My plan was to get those two big bunkers filled with Chinese, so I was after the varmints. I was shooting my way through a bunch of Chinese when one of them threw a hand grenade at me and I got hit in the shoulder. It was just a little piece of shrapnel that hit the top of my shoulder, but it was just enough to make me mad. I chased him through about twenty screaming and hollering Chinese. They actually got out of the way while I chased him down and shot him. I shot my way to the two big bunkers where the Chinese were running into the door. Some of them were trying to get out while the others were trying to get in because they knew they should never get caught in a bunker.
I went up to the first bunker, stuck my carbine right in the door, fired a burst in there, and chased them away from the door. I was carrying a large number of hand grenades all over me. They were stuck in my jacket and in my pockets. I don’t remember the exact number I had, but it was at least a dozen or more. I took a white phosphorus hand grenade, pulled the pin, kicked the spoon, held it a couple of seconds, and threw it in the door. A lot of noise started coming out of there. I mean they were screaming like hell. I threw in two frag grenades and they stopped screaming.
There was another bunker on the other side of the trench. They were trying to get out of that door so I fired a burst at them and chased them back in. I backed up to the door, pulled out another white phosphorus grenade, and just flipped it in the door. They started screaming so I threw another frag in and again they stopped. I looked around and there were Chinese coming at me from every damned direction—I mean every direction. I jumped out of the trench because I couldn’t fight from there with them coming at me from everywhere. I grabbed another white phosphorus grenade, pulled the pin, kicked the spoon, held it a couple of seconds, and threw it up in the air above me kind of at an angle away from me. When it went off, it came down like rain. I got an air burst right on top of the Chinese and me. I was out on the peripheral, dodging the streams as they came down on me. They came down like smoking rain. As soon as most of it hit the ground, I took off running through it. When I came out the other side, there were three or four Chinese standing there trying to figure out what was going on. I got a couple of them before they could get out of my way.
I was running down the trench right beside the Chinese. They were trying to get away from me, their heads just bobbing in the trench. I was shooting as I was running by them. I would see a group up there and I would throw a hand grenade until I finally ran out of them. I was starting to run out of ammunition and had to fight my way back again to the first trench. The Chinese were still coming at me. My clip was empty, but I didn't know it until I reached for it and discovered that I didn't have another round of ammunition left. I also had no grenades. I was standing in the trench when a Chinaman ran right up in front of me--right on top of me at the edge of the trench. He had a submachine gun and started shooting at me. I didn’t have any ammunition left, but he didn’t know it. I threw my carbine up in his face and for just about a split second we looked at each other. Then I screamed right in his face just as loud as I could. He let out a "woooo" and turned and ran. I started laughing again because I had bluffed him.
I got out, picked up another wounded kid, and started walking down the hill with him. Blackman was still banging away with that M-1 rifle. I don’t know where he was getting all of his ammunition—off the dead and wounded, I guess. I came walking and laughing by him with that kid on my shoulder and he was just shaking his head. The kids were looking at me like they couldn’t believe it. I think they thought I was hell on wheels. The wounded and some of the guys that weren't wounded were looking at me real funny. Before it was all over, everybody was wounded or dead. I started patching up wounded men as best as I could because all the medics were dead. The best I could do was just put another compress on them to try to slow the bleeding down.
The fighting wasn't over yet--it was still going. I had gotten some more carbine ammunition, but I saw that the Chinese were starting to build up again on top of the mountain. I knew that they were going to hit us again. Everybody was wounded. I had already been hit twice--the second time was in my hand. I went around to the dead and wounded and found as many grenades as I could. I ran back up the hill again clear up to the trench. I started throwing hand grenades and scattered their butts. This was my second time up there, banging away at everybody. By that time most of the Chinese who were still alive knew me and they were scared of me because they couldn’t stop me. Grenades were going off right beside me. I had just shot a Chinaman in the trench when a grenade went off against my foot. Instead of blowing my legs off, it blew part of the heel off my boot. The grenade came down, hit me right on the side, and dropped against my foot. It come in hot so I dove across this Chinese guy. The guy thought he got me. When I bounced back up, he couldn’t get down fast enough so I gave him what was left of a clip--close in and right to the stomach.
Finally after I threw the grenades a third time, scattering the Chinese, I told the company commander, “Captain, you’d better get your people out of here or you're going to lose everybody. By then he was just helpless so he asked me if I could get them out. I told him I would. I went over to the walking wounded and told them that we were going to leave this place. I said, “All you guys who can still fight get all the ammunition you can find.” They started gathering up the ammunition and I said, “Okay, we’re going to hold right here, boys, while we get the rest of the men out of here.” I started a daisy chain of wounded down the mountain. The regiment had sent out four tanks that managed to get below us, but they couldn’t get any farther because they were taking heavy mortar and artillery fire.
The Air Force came in and started hitting all around us. They were dropping 500-pound bombs all over the dang place. I made everybody that could walk take a dead or wounded man with him and carry him down to the tanks. Some of the guys from I&R Platoon helped us carry the dead and wounded out. We held and there were still wounded men laying all over the place. The dead and wounded were between us and the Chinese. Two or three other guys and I started running out there getting them. The Chinese were shooting us at point blank. One kid was laying just a couple of feet from some Chinese who were laying right underneath the top of the trench. They were shooting over him. He had been hit in the chest a couple of places. He was watching me as I dragged the guys out. He probably figured he was never going to get out but I finally went over to him, got him by the back of the neck, and said, “Come on, boy. Let’s get the hell out of here.” I started dragging him down the mountain. He later told me that the most scared he was that day was when I was dragging him. He was facing the enemy and they were raising up shooting point blank at both of us. Neither one of us got hit again. I don’t know why.
One of the guys I went up to and got was a little black soldier. To say he was scared is an understatement. He was terrified. I mean hysterical. He was shot in the chest, too. When I got him back, I put a compress on him. He kept hanging on to me saying, “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me here.” He was afraid that (1) he was going to die from the wound, (2) he was going to freeze to death, and (3) he was going to be left. He was more afraid of being left behind than anything else. He kept repeating, “Don’t leave me.” I said, “I'm not leaving you, Son. I’ll get you out of here.” I went back up there to drag more guys to cover. When I looked up, there came that black soldier. He had gotten up, got a hold of a wounded man, and the last time I saw him he was dragging the wounded guy down the mountain. The captain got out. Everybody got out but twelve men. We had twelve missing in action that day. Nobody ever found them. We don't know if they were killed or wounded. We just couldn't find them.
Thinking back, I don't believe that it would have made any difference if anyone in the briefing had listened to me when I told them that the mountain was a lot more heavily fortified than they thought it was. They probably would have changed the way they assaulted it a little bit. If I had been running it, I would have had the Air Force hit them before we got there. I would also have had the artillery hit them before we got there. I would have had mortar fire hitting that hill. But once we got started around the mountain, I couldn’t see the other side of it so I didn't know they were coming toward us from the Old Papasan area. They were coming across the other ridges, heading right for us. As we were moving in, I told another forward observer where I was at and asked him if he could see the other side of 472. He replied, “I sure can, Ron. They’re coming at you like the end of the world.” I told him, “Well, get some fire on them or slow them down or something. Thin ‘em out. We’ve got plenty of them over here.” He said okay and started pounding from on that side while I was getting them on my side. We ended up taking on probably the remnants of three battalions. That's about 1,500 of them against 170 of us. The firing was still going on. I went back to my OP, got me some more magazines, filled my pouches up, and got a drink of water. My wounds were not what can be called severe, so I didn't pay any attention to them. I kept calling fire on the enemy out there.
All of the wounded men were taken back to the hospital to be operated on or whatever they needed. While they were laying on stretchers waiting to be evacuated or treated, they started talking about me. Like I said before, they didn't know my name, but they knew I was a forward observer. Finally my company commander called me and said he needed to talk to me, so I went down. He asked me what had happened on the mountain. I told him how Murphy's Law came in. Everything had just started to happen. Instead of losing a private, we lost a lieutenant or a sergeant or whatever until finally we were without leaders really. Things just went bad--and then they got worse.
He said, “Do you know they’re going to put you in for the Medal of Honor?” I said, “You’re kidding me.” I thought it was silly. To me what I did was a personal thing. I got satisfaction out of it. They got my brother Richard--and I got them. Revenge was always on my mind. Every day I would say, "I'll get me one or two for him.
Very Good FO
About three days later when they got all the people from Love Company together, they put me in for the Medal of Honor. The company commander, Captain Davis, came over to see me when they called me back to the company. He said he wanted me to take a platoon. But I told him, “Captain, if I keep hanging around you, I’m going to get killed for sure.” He said he would make me a Master Sergeant the next day. At the time I was still a corporal. I liked being a corporal. Rank didn’t mean anything to me. The difference between a corporal and a master sergeant’s pay wasn’t a lot of money, so I didn’t care. My regimental commander was still talking to me about a battlefield commission, too, but I said I didn't want it. I liked what I did. The kids who were with the company commander said that if I came with them they would follow me anywhere. But I didn't go--and I'm glad I didn't. I didn’t want the responsibility for their lives. I had enough responsibility as it was for everybody’s lives. I was really good at what I did and I knew it. I might not have been that good as a platoon sergeant.
I stayed a forward observer. In fact, I was back on line when my regimental commander called me up and said, “Ron, you’re in for the Medal of Honor now. I’ve got to take you off the line.” I said, “I'm not coming off the line.” He said that I had to since I was in for the Medal of Honor. Again I told him that I was not coming off the line. This went back and forth until finally I said, “You must be hard of hearing, Colonel. I am not coming off the line. If you’ve got a problem with that, you keep your medal because I’m staying on the line.” He told me that he would get back with me. In other words, he didn’t know what to do. He liked me and that caused his indecision as to what to do.
About ten days later my recommendation started hitting over in Eighth Army when the paperwork started coming in. Some general called my regimental commander and wanted to know if he had me back where I was safe. My colonel told him that I was still up on line. The general said, “What do you mean he’s on line? Did you order him off?” The colonel explained that he had ordered me off, but that I wouldn't leave. The general told my colonel, “You get a hold of Rosser and you tell him to get off the line and that’s an order from the general.” So my colonel called me again and said, “You’ve got to come off, Ron, general's orders.” We argued again about the fact that I refused to come off line. I finally asked him to do me a favor and he said he would. I said, “You call the general and tell him this. I am not coming off the line. If they’re worried about that medal, tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine because I am not coming off the line.”
I didn't want to come off the line because I was good at being a forward observer and the men trusted me. Trust was an important thing up there. I felt I had a responsibility to them. They trusted me. No matter what the enemy did I had everything covered, and they knew it. The next guy up there might not. Anyhow, my colonel called the general and said, “He won’t come off.” The general wanted to know if I was crazy. The colonel said that I wasn't but that I just wouldn't come off the line. When the general asked him what he thought could be done, the colonel said, “I think you should just leave him where he’s at, Sir. I promise you, he can take care of himself.” That was toward the end of January. I stayed on the line for three more months.
During that time we got hit a lot by the enemy but I liked it up there. It wasn't that I felt invincible. (The dumbest guy in the world can blow your brains out--just keep away from him.) It was that I was good at what I did. I don't know why I was so good at being a forward observer. I don't know if it was experience or something within me. Most people thought I was fearless because in the middle of heavy firefights and close in combat, they could hear me start to laugh. I stood up to the dangers of combat. I handled fear differently than other people.
By this time it was reasonably sure that I was going to receive the Medal of Honor. A lot of people got recommended for it and didn't get it. My regiment, however, was absolutely insistent that I get it. The men absolutely insisted. In fact, my regimental commander told me, "I've never known anybody who deserves the Medal of Honor more than you." I didn't feel that what I did on Hill 472 was "different."
At the time I didn't understand the significance of the Medal of Honor. It was a high medal, but it was still just a medal. I didn't realize that I would have to go to the White House to get it. There's a lot of stuff a soldier doesn't know about stuff like that. The medal wasn't important to me at that time. I was still taking care of my responsibility as a forward observer. I still thought of my brother and that they had killed him over there.
Low Key VIP
I stayed on line until the end of April, when my whole regiment was pulled off the line for good and they shipped us down to Koji-do, Korea, to guard the prisoners. I didn't really want to go back, but I had no choice in it. Our regiment was off line. I sat on line as long as my regiment was on line.
Koji-do was an island off the coast of Korea where they took all the prisoners they captured. They held them in big compounds down there. At that time they were having a great deal of trouble with the prisoners. I was there when General Dodd was captured by the prisoners. I still had this thing in my head about shooting people and I made kind of a silly comment to a platoon leader. I said, “I’ve got them now. I’ve got them boxed in where I can get them.” I was just being funny, but the platoon leader told the company commander what I had said and they transferred me out of Heavy Mortar Company and shipped me to the regimental honor guard. The honor guard was responsible for the colonel. It was just the headquarters of the regiment in the same place down at Koji-do. In the honor guard, I had no responsibility for the prisoners.
There was a young Korean kid who lived with us and served as kind of an interpreter/handyman. He made sure I had clean clothes. His name was Yee, Tae Gu, but I'm not sure of the spelling. I found him just weeks after I got to Korea when I came back off the line one time and was at the company getting some new maps and supplies for the front lines. I went down to the mess area to get a couple of onions or something and I saw a little kid trying to reach down into a big old garbage can to try to find something to eat. (There were always little kids around the company area foraging for food.) The mess sergeant was throwing rocks at him to get him out of there. He didn't want the kid to upset the garbage can and have the stuff laying all over the place. I like kids and I didn’t like to see someone throwing rocks at him like that, so I went over and started talking to the kid. I could speak just a little bit of Korean then. (I could speak it better a little later on.) The kid could speak a couple of words of English, so we communicated. He told me that his parents were landowners, but that his mother, father, and sister had been shot by the North Koreans. They just stood up and shot them. He was hiding in the rice paddies when he saw them do it. He hadn’t eaten in a long time--only just scraps was about all he could find. He was about 13 or 14 years old, and he was about starved to death really. He was just a skinny thing, skin and bones. So I said to him, “How would you like to stay with us?” He said that he would love that.
I took him into the mess tent and I said to the mess sergeant, “ How about giving this kid something to eat?” He said, “Get that damn kid out of here.” I said, “Come on, Sergeant, he’s starving to death. Just give him some scraps of whatever you’ve got laying around.” He replied, “I said get him out of here.” I threw the bolt back on my carbine, stuck it in the mess sergeant’s ear, and said, “You’ll feed him or I’ll blow your damn brains out right now.” He knew I meant it. I would have shot him because I was already mad at him for throwing rocks at the kid. He started giving the kid food and I said, “I’m going to fix it so this kid can stay in the company, and you had better fatten him up before I get back down here or I’m going to shoot you anyhow.” From the day I found him, he traveled with the company wherever it went. I came back to see him from time to time to see how he was doing. He was still in the company when I left it to return to the States. I could kill a hundred men and never bat an eye, but I couldn't stand to watch an American soldier throw rocks at a kid. I love children. I grew up with more children than anyone can ever dream. When my mother died she left 142 direct descendents. Years later, Turner Broadcasting made a movie that mentioned me and they put the story of this kid in that movie. I never saw him again, but I heard that he later became a colonel in the Korean army.
After R&R they shipped me back to the States. It's a funny thing. When it was time for me to leave Korea, they sent me down to headquarters there in Koji to clear. By then I had shaved off my beard and moustache, taken a bath, and gotten rid of all the fleas and lice. I looked like what I was again—a young kid. When I went down to headquarters to process out, I said to the guy in charge, “I’m supposed to come down here and clear, Sergeant.” He said, “We’re expecting an important person. Go over there and sit down.” So I sat down and waited for a couple of hours. Finally he said, “Well, I guess he’s not coming here this morning. Go on down to the mess hall and get yourself something to eat.” So I went down to the mess hall. When I came back he said, “Just have a seat. The VIP will probably be here soon.” I waited again. Finally he said, “I guess he’s not coming. What’s your name, soldier?” When I told him that my name was Rosser, he said, “Oh, Jesus Christ. You’re the guy we've been waiting for.” It was then that I realized the Army was going to pay attention to me.
From Koji-do I was sent to Pusan and from there I got on a ship that took me to Japan. Nobody knew anything about my recommendation for the Medal of Honor, and I didn’t say anything either. There wasn’t anything to say. Being recommended for something didn’t mean anything to me. I was just going home. The most important thing to me at that time was catching the boat home, not getting medals. I don't remember the name of the ship. All I know is that it was an old nasty ship. I was seasick every second of the trip. I laid down, closed my eyes, and hung on. Every once in a while I threw up on myself. Sometimes I rolled over and tried to throw up on somebody else if I had the strength left. Some officer came down and said, “You’ve got to go up and get some fresh air.” I said, “If you’ve got a gun just shoot me. You’d be doing me a favor.” I get seasick easily. I’ve been seasick sitting in an inner tube in the surf down in Palm Beach.
Anyhow, we finally got back to the States and docked in the San Francisco area. They took us over to Camp Stoneman and got the whole shipload out on a blacktop. Some colonel got up on a big platform. There was a loudspeaker there and he told us that we had done a great job, welcome home, and all that. Then he said, “Is Corporal Rosser in the crowd?” I said, “Yeh, I’m here." He told me to come to the stage. When I went up he said, “You’re supposed to report to Control tomorrow morning.” I didn't know what "Control" was, but I said, “Yes Sir.”
The next morning I was late getting there. Whoever I was supposed to report to wasn’t there, so I decided that I was getting out of there and going home. When I went over to try to clear, they had me redlined. I couldn’t go home. They said there was a note at the finance office for me to report to Control. I went back over there and told the captain, “My name is Rosser. I’m supposed to report here.” He asked me if I had any proof that I was Rosser and I gave him my ID card. He said, “Did you ever have the Medal of Honor?” I said, “No, I never did.” Then he said, “You’ve got it now.” That was my first indication that the recommendation had gone through.
They took me over to the post commander and the general congratulated me. Then they took me down and gave me some clean uniforms. After that they told me that I could go home if I wanted to later, but they wanted me to stay there in California for about ten days before they flew me to Washington, DC to receive the Medal of Honor. They just wanted control of me so they could take me straight to Washington. They told me that they were going to transport some of my folks into Washington for the ceremony. Then I found the most wonderful thing I had ever tasted in my life. They had a Dairy Queen there that made fresh strawberry sundaes. I bet I ate 10,000 of those things while I was there. I stayed there day and night eating. I bet I put on ten pounds eating those strawberry sundaes.
When it was time to go to Washington, I was flown there in a regular airplane. Nobody on the plane knew who I was. When I got to DC, they had a bunch of officers there at the airport. I started to get off the plane but the stewardess said, “You’ll have to wait, Sir. We have a VIP aboard.” I said okay and sat down. I sat there for about ten minutes and still nobody moved until she finally said, “Okay. I guess he’s not here.” I started walking down the ramp to the plane’s steps. A young lieutenant ran up and reported to me. He said, “I’m Lieutenant So and So.” I don’t remember his name. “I’m your escort officer.” When I asked for what, he said that he was to escort me around. I told him, “I don’t need an escort.” But when he said, “I’ve got all the money,” I told him welcome aboard.
Some colonel then took me inside and I had to go face a couple of congressmen about ammunition shortages. They wanted it on the record about how many people got killed on account of bad ammunition. They were congressmen trying to stir up some kind of nonsense. I didn't tell them there was a shortage. The Army takes care of its own. Yes, we had bad lots of ammunition left over from World War II, but as soon as we found it, we got rid of it and got in new, good ammunition. They asked me if I had people killed because of this kind of ammunition. I said, “Absolutely not.” They said some guy had told them that we did have people killed because of shortages. I told them that he must have been in somebody else’s outfit. He wasn’t in mine. Then he asked if our ammunition had been rationed during the winter. I told him that in a kind of way it was. They had restricted me to a few rounds of ammunition for targets of opportunity. The congressman wanted to know what I called a "target of opportunity." I told him, “Well, Son. I spent all those months up on the line. I could almost recognize most of the Chinese. After all, I was sitting there watching them with a big scope that brought them right up to me. My L-19 pilot could even tell me where their bathroom was. Every once in a while I’d see one of those Chinamen hitch his pants up and start down over the hill. I’d give him about 30 seconds to get down there, and then I had a concentration of fire down there on that bathroom." The congressman said, “And why would you do that?” I replied, “I was trying to ruin his morale, Sir.” That’s what I called a target of opportunity.
Receiving the MOH
After meeting with the congressmen, they took me over to a hotel and started wining and dining me. Finally on June 27, 1952, another kid and I went over to the White House where President Harry Truman presented us with the Medal of Honor. The other kid was Jerry Crump. He had earned the Medal of Honor near Chorwon on Hill 284. He and I became fast friends.
Most of my family was there--my mother and father, my grandparents, several aunts and uncles, all my brothers and sisters, and my wife at the time and stepson. The government said it would pay for six people in my family to attend the ceremony in Washington, DC--my parents, two siblings, and my wife and her son. But Earl Jones, the man who owned the Zanesville News and the coalmine where my father worked, chartered a Greyhound bus, a couple of bus drivers, and paid for everything so my parents and all my brothers and sisters could watch me get the Medal of Honor. My parents were very proud. I think my father was bursting at the seams. I’ve got a short movie about this that shows my parents that day. It was a good reunion for all of us, although I was having trouble communicating with my wife. Back in Korea, if I had a problem I'd just shoot whoever was causing it. Now I was in the States, straight from combat except for the two-week trip home and the ten-day stay at Camp Stoneman. Soon after I returned to the States, I divorced my wife.
Although I received the Medal of Honor, I have never thought of myself as a celebrity. In fact, I've often wondered what the hell it was all about. I was originally from the town of Crooksville. When I joined the Army I lived just a couple of miles south of where I now live here in Roseville. After I got the Medal of Honor, they built a big memorial to me. Later on, a road came through right where it was at and they dragged the monument off. It laid alongside of the road for a while until somebody finally dug a hole and set it back down in there. They planted four trees around it and now nobody can even see it on account of the trees. They put a big white marble cross on it, but somebody broke the cross off. Now the cross is just screwed on. Nobody pays any attention to the "Rosser Memorial" now other than on Memorial Day when they lay a wreath there.
It's my understanding that there are three eternal flames in the United States. One is in Philadelphia in memory of the Revolutionary War, one is for John Kennedy at Arlington, and the other one is in Zanesville with my name on it. Up in Perry County they’ve got a big black monument there with my name on it and a big eagle engraved on it. In Indianapolis, there is a big Medal of Honor memorial with a big curved glass thing with our names on it.
Since receiving the medal, it's hard for me to have a free day. I get called to do all kinds of stuff. I've done war bond drives on various television shows and what not. I've been to inaugurals, met Miss Americas, and had more meals with Presidents than you can imagine. I have a calendar that I keep adding and subtracting from. For instance, on August 3rd I get operated on for my elbow. August 6th I’ve got to go to the governor’s picnic. August 10th I’ve got to cut some three-minute commercials for Veterans Day. On August 13th I’ve got a VA thing. August 17th – VA. August 25th – VA. On August 27th they’re bringing in the wall for Vietnam up in Columbus and they want me up there for something or other. Then on September 8-12, I’m with the guys I was with in combat. Some of them pulled out of that mess that day. On September 12 I’m in Zanesville. They’re having a national convention for the men that were on the landing ship tanks (LSTs) where the doors opened up front and all that. They’re having it in Zanesville and this guy does a big wonderful job about veterans in Zanesville--the Times Recorder. I’m going to present him with a couple of awards. In October I’ve got an airborne convention. The end of October I’ve got to go back to Valley Forge. I just came from there. In November I’m at the Smithsonian. November 11 I’ve got a black tie thing somewhere down in Washington. This is just part of it--and it has been going on like this for over 50 years.
There used to be another Medal of Honor in Zanesville. He was a World War II medal recipient and he was a good, good friend. He and I used to go to this stuff together. When he got cancer and he was dying, he finally told me, ”You know, Ron. I can’t ever go to this stuff any more. Would you take care of everything for me?” Actually, there were ten of us out of Muskingum County and six of us out of Perry County, but they’re counting me twice. Over in Franklin County up in Columbus, they count me too. I was born in Columbus, I live in Muskingum County, and I entered the Army from Perry County. When they put monuments up, they always put me on them.
The other Korean War Medal of Honor recipients and I get together all the time. We go to reunions and all
sorts of things, but this is the first year the reunion was cancelled. It was supposed to be in Australia
but they couldn't get it together so they cancelled. I think they're going to have it over in Boston
sometime in October. They’ll take care of everything. And when we go to Washington, they’ll take care of that too,
One of the generals there was commandant of the Marine Corps. When I finished talking he came over, gave me a big old hug, and said, "Sergeant Rosser, you should have been a Marine." I was telling those kids about responsibility and telling them who they were. I said, “You are not clerk typists, you are not truck drivers, and you are not electronic people. You are soldiers. And that if the enemy comes down across the hills, it’s your responsibility to act like a soldier. You are an American soldier, and it's your job to act like an American soldier. You don’t have to be afraid of those people. You are better than them." That was the approach I took. One of the master sergeants stopped me as I walked through the crowd and he asked me if he could tell me something. He said he didn't want to make me mad. I said, "You're not going to make me mad, Son." He said, “Mr. Rosser, when you were talking up there, you sounded just like my father telling us to always do the right thing and to do it with honor.” When I talk to kids, that's what I talk to them about--being honor bound to do these things.
The talk at Camp Casey was in 2001. I was traveling on invitational travel orders so they were paying all my expenses, airplane, and everything. Well, hell. I was there when they hit the towers. They went to Depth Com 4 and everything closed up tight, so I paid all of my expenses. They were supposed to pay them but with the Army fixing to go to war and everything, when it came time to put in for money I said, “I’ve already paid for it. The Army’s got enough trouble without me filing a claim for all this.” So I paid for it myself and forgot about it. I never did file a claim.
I picked up my high school degree right after I came back from Korea. I actually went to the Ohio State Board of Education and took the GED. The state sent it to my high school and asked them to present the diploma to me. This principal or superintendent had been a school teacher back in my day. He didn’t like me very much when I was going to school because I was always turning snakes or a mouse or something loose in his classroom. He said I needed a credit in math and a credit in English before I could get my diploma, so I went back to the state board and took the required paperwork and tests on those subjects. They sent a statement to the principal of the high school that I had taken the tests, passed them satisfactorily, and that I now had those extra credits in math and English. They then asked them politely to issue a high school diploma to me, which they did. Later I went on to pick up an AA degree and a BA degree in Florida when I lived down there after I retired. I got the AA from Palm Beach junior College, and then went to Florida Atlantic University for my junior and senior year. I got my BA from Florida Atlantic, majoring in history.
I was a career man in the Army. I was stationed in Zanesville right after the war, working as an advisor to the Army reserve when I got a call from Headquarters 2nd Army. They told me to get in my staff car, drive to Union Town, Pennsylvania, and report to a Dr. Hindman at the White Swan Hotel. When I found him he gave me a cup of coffee and when I relaxed I asked him, "Could you tell me what I'm doing here?" He said, "Sergeant Rosser, I've got tragic news. George Washington, the father of our country, has passed away." I told him that every schoolboy and girl in American knew that. He said, "That's right. But for the next few days you're going to be George Washington." I had to give a speech at the rededication of Ft. Necessity in Union Town. It was the first time I'd ever done that sort of thing, and there were several thousand people in the audience, including four governors, generals and admirals, the ambassadors from Canada and Great Britain, and the US State Department. The keynote speaker was five-star general George Catlett Marshall, and I was to follow him right on the stage. The 2nd Army sent a major down there to be my escort. He said, “You know, Sergeant Rosser, you and I have to get up there and give a speech.” He laughed when I said, “You aren’t getting me up there to give any speech.” I told him that I wouldn’t even know what to say to those people. He said, “Well, you’re going to have to give a talk, Sergeant Rosser, and you’re going to have to do it properly.” He whispered to me that I had to get up and recognize the gentleman Dr. Hindman, who was in charge. He told me to also recognize General Marshall, the other military dignitaries, the ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I got up, talked for about four or five minutes after I did all the recognizing, and then sat down. George Catlett Marshall came over, shook my hand, and told me that I had done a great job. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I don't even know what I said.
I have given many speeches since then. I never have notes. I just talk. I talk about what I know or what I think I know. I talk about different things depending on who I’m talking to. One year I got an invitation from the West Point Council of Franklin County, a group of retired generals. I figured they were crazy to want a sergeant to get up and make a speech when they had all of these colonels and generals who loved to make speeches, but they said I was exactly what they wanted. So I got up and I made a speech. I told them, “I have served under the finest generals in the world. I’ve served under some that I didn’t think were quite so fine, and I have served under some who didn’t know what the heck they were talking about." A couple of them kind of looked at me funny, but I didn’t care because I don’t worry about stuff like that. Through the years I’ve been on the stage with Secretary of Defense Colin and his wife and I’ve met every President since Roosevelt.
Country to Country
My job as advisor to the army reserve (July 1952-September 1954) was to attend meetings of army reserves in southeastern Ohio. I certified them after making sure they were following the training guide. I did a lot of things, really. I typed out their payroll, corresponded with them, and conducted criminal investigations. In 1952 I was sent to New York City to be on the All-Star Review, a popular television show of the time. I did a war bond commercial and got to meet Army Pfc Vic Dimone and actress Gail Storm of "My Little Margie" fame.
From September 1954 to February 1956, I was a platoon sergeant in the 370th Armored Infantry in Munich, Germany. When I first got there, I was on the Czechoslovakian border for about six weeks on border patrol. After I came back from this patrol I received a call from someone who asked me if I was Cablegram Roger 7. It was Richard Fridel, who had been my radioman and foxhole buddy in Korea. He was now 1st Sergeant in the Heavy Mortar Company of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Frankfurt. He took the train down from Frankfurt and we spent some great times drinking good German beer and talking about old times. He made several trips down to see me. He had trouble emotionally dealing with what had happened in Korea. His lungs had been burned by white phosphorus over there.
After I returned from Germany, I was an instructor at the parachute school in Ft. Benning, Georgia. I had that job from 1956 to September of 1958. The training had changed since the days of my training. They had gotten rid of the training for gliders, and people no longer had to pack their own parachutes. They had regular parachute packers by then. While I was at this duty station in Ft. Benning, I was called to a special duty in Washington, DC. On May 30, 1958, I was the body bearer of the unknown soldiers who were being buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. I had the World War II unknown up until the final internment, then I took the Korean body at the final internment at the Tomb of the Unknown. I presented the flag of the unknown soldier of the Korean War to Vice President of the United States Richard Nixon. We marched through Washington with the caisson from the capitol building all the way to Arlington National Cemetery. On the wall of the trophy room at Arlington, they’ve got pictures of me holding the flag and presenting it to the Vice President.
From Ft. Benning I was sent to Camp Casey, Korea and the 7th Infantry Division, where I was the Operations and Training G-3 sergeant in charge. We were guarding the front line because the North Koreans were bringing in killer units to disrupt everything. I had that duty from September of 1958 to the middle of 1959. After that I was sent over to the 13th Engineers, still in Korea, from July to September of 1959. Korea had totally changed. Towns were back, the people were stable and growing their own food, and we had billets that were stable Quonsets.
Meeting Sergeant York
Later in 1959, the Army sent me to Pall Mall, Tennessee to visit Sgt. Alvin C. York on the pretext of one Medal of Honor recipient going to visit another. At the time I was stationed down there with the 101st Airborne as the Division Re-enlistment NCO, talking young soldiers into either re-enlisting in the 101st Airborne or re-enlisting in the Army in general. I talked with Sergeant York. He thought I was just coming to visit him, but my mission was actually to let the people of Pall Mall know that when Sergeant York passed, they were not to just put him in the ground. We wanted the opportunity to pay national honors to him. Pall Mall was a little town, and it was going to have to build some kind of helicopter landing pad because some of the people who would be attending Sergeant York's funeral (when it happened) couldn't drive. It's a long drive through the mountains over there. People like the governor of Tennessee, representatives of the state and federal government, and other representatives would be flying in by helicopter. An honor guard company from the US Army would be arriving, as well as a platoon from the 82nd Airborne. Sergeant York was in the 82nd Division when he got his Medal of Honor. The 82nd Division later became the 82nd Airborne. A solid helicopter landing site with a wind sock and the whole thing needed to be built in Pall Mall. It was my job to tell them what we needed. They got the job done and built an area for helicopters. They realized what was going to go down in the immediate future. I gave them several copies of the telephone numbers to call and the different people to notify of the passing of Sergeant York. He died four years later on September 2, 1964, at the age of 76. It was a funny thing. When I first met Sergeant York, I was looking for Gary Cooper. He didn't look anything like Gary Cooper. He looked more like me, with thinning gray hair and laying in a hospital bed. He was an old man and his room was covered with pictures of him with all the important people of the world back in his day. I knew that I would probably never meet another person like him.
Chief of Police
After my duties as Division Re-enlistment NCO ended in February of 1960, I became recruiting duty station commander at the Army recruiting station in West Palm Beach, Florida. I held that job until I retired from the Army in October of 1968. Meanwhile, the city needed a chief of police and asked me if I would take on the job. I told them that I couldn't go around arresting people because I was still in the Army. They said that they needed somebody to take care of their paperwork and stuff so I told them that I thought I could do that, That's when I became the town's chief of police. A lot of trouble was going on down there at the time, so when the Army found out that I was chief of police, the colonel told me I couldn't be chief of police and be in the Army at the same time. I resigned as chief of police and remained off the force until I retired from the Army in 1968.
Death of Gary
I retired from the Army because they wouldn't send me to Vietnam. My brother Gary got killed over there. He was one of the twins. He was with the 1st Marines over there. He was killed by a booby-trapped claymore mine. A guy just wrote a book about his unit. My brother was his fire team leader and my brother is in the book. When Gary got killed, I was off and running again, but the Army wouldn't send me to Vietnam. We had one hell of a disagreement over it. I had now had two brothers killed in combat. If I went over there and got killed, even by accident, they said it would be hard to explain. "You're not going under any circumstances," they told me. I told the Pentagon that if wasn't going to treat me like a soldier, I wanted out of this outfit. I retired with the rank of Sergeant First Class. I had turned down all kinds of rank because rank didn't mean anything to me.
They made me the chief of police of the City of Haverhill again the day after I retired. I'm afraid it got kind of nasty a couple of times. Besides being the local chief of police, I worked as a contact officer for the VA, assisting those filing claims. I also owned a beauty shop in West Palm Beach, Florida because my wife at the time was a beautician. We were reasonably well off.
Settling in Roseville
I decided to stay in Roseville rather than move to Korea. I met and married Sandy Smith. She had grown up with my family, having gone to school with my sisters, but I didn't know her. She was a little kid when I was in school. She had heard about me and knew some of my brothers and sisters, but I was gone all the time so we had never met before. Sandy and I were married on October 24, 1987. She enjoys our busy lifestyle. All of my Medal of Honor and military friends are her friends, too. Although I normally go out of the country by myself, Sandy sometimes goes with me to the various functions that I get invited to attend.
Our government has sent me all over the world since I retired. I have traveled all over representing the Army and veterans. Like I said earlier, in 2001 I was at Camp Casey in Korea. I go to Korea about every two years as an "Ambassador for Peace," visiting the old battlefields and talking to the Korean people about why we went there during the war years, what we did there, and why we are still there. I’ve actually been back to Korea ten times, counting the year I spent over there in 1958-59. My nine other visits to Korea started in 1975. I've been almost to the exact spot where they killed my brother Richard south of Chipyong-ni. In 1958-59, I saw a very backward Korea. The people were fighting like heck to get into the 20th century, trying to build roads and homes and whatever. But even then, it was still the same backward country. The Koreans have now rebuilt their own country. Because of our involvement over there with them, I’m sure that we helped them out financially, but not as much as they did for themselves. The Koreans don’t have what we call an eight-hour work day. They worked as long as they were required to work. They are very industrious people. Today Korea looks like downtown Miami, Florida. All of Korea looks that way. Little towns that I used to know are now rows and rows and rows of 15-story condominiums.
I've traveled to Germany for our government, too. In 2003 I went to Stuttgart, Germany, as the representative to the 231st birthday of the United States Army. I traveled all over southern Germany talking to troops. I also travel within the United States. I travel all the time, although I don't really like to--it wears me out now. Last week I was at the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge with Miss America and "Rudy," one of the people on the television series Survival. There were distinguished people from all over the United States there. I ended up as the speaker.
I’ve been invited three times by President George W. Bush to the White House and I’ve turned him down all three times for different reasons. It wasn't because I don't like him though. The first time was the inauguration and inaugural ball. My wife Sandy had bypass heart surgery and I wasn't going to leave her. The second time there was a big ceremony down in Washington and they wanted me there at the White House. Sandy had just had bypass surgery on her leg and she couldn’t go, so I didn’t go. Then about a year and half ago, I promised some kids in a little town east of Columbus that I would go up and talk to them on Veteran’s Day. The kids had made all kinds of posters and everything and they had invited a bunch of the local veterans. They had soda pop and Kool-Aid and cookies and that sort of thing. About a month before the event, they had this thing really going good. Then on November 6th I got an invitation from the White House to go down and have breakfast with the President on Veteran's Day. I told them that I had another engagement. I had promised those kids that I would be there and no way was I going to break my promise.
Fellowship of Veterans
I belong to the Medal of Honor Society and I belong to the Legion of Valor. I also have life memberships in the VFW, American Legion, Amvets, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Disabled American Veterans, Army/Navy League--just about everything but the Blind Americans and a couple of others. I’m a life member of the 2nd Division Association, 101st Airborne Association, the 82nd Airborne Association, and the 187th Airborne Association. I never tire of them.
Daughter & Granddaughters
I have a daughter who lives in Tennessee and I have two grandchildren. I am proud of all three of them. My daughter Pamela spent ten years in the military, most of it in the 101st Airborne Air Assault after graduating from Air Zone School. When she was going to that school I knew the bird colonel who commanded the 187th Infantry at the 101st. He gave me daily reports on her. He came down one day and said, “Mr. Rosser, they’re putting it on those students down there, just tearing them up. People are dropping out left and right. Your daughter is getting up in their face and screaming." Pamela had known about me and the Army all of her life. She spent most of her life associated with the Army. It seemed natural for her to go into it, she told me.
She liked the Army because she’s tough. I raised her. When I got a divorce from my second wife, who was her mother, I got custody of my daughter and I raised her myself. It was a very difficult thing to do. I taught her to take care of herself. When I took her back to Florida, she came home one day crying that the boys were throwing rocks at her. I said to her, “The next time one of those house apes hit you with a rock, bust him in the mouth.” So a couple of days later she came home and said, “Dad, they were throwing rocks at me again today.” I asked her if she had done what I told her to do. She said, “Yeh. I hit him in the mouth, Dad. And I knocked out two of his teeth.” I thought, "Oh God." But I loved it. Then she looked out the window and told me that the boy's father was bringing him up to our house. He said, “Mr. Rosser, your daughter knocked out two of my son’s teeth.” I said, “Yes Sir. I know that. I told her to.” He said, “You told your daughter to knock out my son’s teeth?” I said, “No Sir. I told my daughter that the next time one of those house apes hit her with a rock, she should bust him in the mouth--and that's exactly what she did." The boy's father said that he didn't appreciate it. I said, ‘I know you don’t, Sir. And just so you know how your son feels, I’m going to take out two of yours.” And that ended the argument. He took off. He didn’t want any part of it. I told him that I would make sure that my daughter didn't hit any more kids, but that from then on out, if one of the neighborhood kids threw rocks at my daughter, I was going to come knocking on their door and the father was going to answer to me. That ended all rock throwing in the neighborhood,
My oldest granddaughter Amy spent six years in the military--mostly in the 101st Airborne, including a tour of duty in Korea and Iraq. She lives in Alabama. My granddaughter Melody works for the postal department in Dover, Tennessee. Pamela now works for a postal department in Tennessee, too.
Sharing the MOH
A few years ago I decided to give my Medal of Honor to the State of Ohio. I wanted to put it where it would do the most good, so I put it on public display in the Ohio State House. I have a 100-year contract with them. There are over 200,000 kids who go to the State House every year. When I gave the medal to the State, a guy who was one of my radiomen in Korea when I was with the Turkish Brigade attended the ceremony. To him it was a sad thing for me to give up my Medal of Honor, but I had had three heart attacks and I felt that I was getting close to meeting my maker. When he was on the line as my radioman, it literally scared the hell out of him up there. I mean, he was just terrified. He said, "You’ve got to let me get out of here, Ron. I can’t stay on this.” I put my arm around him and said, “You’re doing great.” He said, “No, I’m not doing great. I’m scared to death all the time.” I told him that there was nothing to it and that I would protect him, but he said he didn't want me protecting him. So I let him out and got another guy in. When I gave my Medal of Honor to the State of Ohio and gave a little talk, he came up to watch me. He was very sad for me to do it because he knew what I had been through. My daughter wanted me to give my Medal of Honor to her. I'm going to give her my other medals, but right now I'm leaving them here for my wife because she likes to look at them. The Army gave me another medal and I’ll give that one to my daughter.
Like I said before, at the time I got my Medal of Honor, I didn't understand what it meant. Now I realize that receiving it was a great honor. I only wear the Medal of Honor for the men who were with me really. They earned it as much as I did. I accept medals on behalf of Love Company, 38th Infantry Regiment. We all fought together. This wasn’t a one-man thing. A lot of people were involved. Men died just keeping me alive. I remember a lot of them, although I try not to. It’s kind of a sad thing really. Because you don’t die nice. The legs get blown off or torn off in pieces. It’s kind of bad, so I try to remember nice things. I try not to remember a lot of the violence. When I was young I was proud of the fact that I had faced the enemy--sometimes a lot of them, and took them out. As we used to say in the company, I “dusted them off a little bit.” On the front line everybody was dirty. When a bullet hit someone the dust would fly, so we called it “dusting them.” I was proud of that. But as I got older, I was more concerned about the people I saved than the people I killed. I have greater respect for my living up to my responsibility to save lives than for counting the number of kills. At some of the 2nd ID reunions, I've met some of the men I saved.
Religion and War
If they've got any sense, I think everybody is religious. About three or four years ago, the 2nd Division was meeting down in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the boys--a medic, lived in Nashville. Sometime before that we had been in China together and he had asked me if I would go over to his church and talk to the congregation when the reunion was in Nashville. I said, "Sure, I'll do that." He held me to it. When we got down to Nashville, he had set it up, so I went over there to a big Baptist church and met the minister. He told me that he was going to do his thing first and then he would invite me up to the pulpit. I was supposed to talk about God on the battlefield. It’s a difficult thing to talk about. I told them, “I have got to tell you people something. I spent a lot of time on the battlefield in as bad of stuff as a man could stand. I never saw God on the battlefield. Not once. But I heard a lot of people talking to him, I will say that. Every once in a while I thought I heard my voice talking to him too. I’ll tell you this. America always tries to mostly do what’s right. But I do not believe that God gave us the sole right to kill everybody else just because we think we’re right. I don’t believe that. I believe that a man should live with honor. It says to live with honor in the Ten Commandments." The Commandments say, "Thou Shall Not Kill." I reconcile all those that I have killed with "God shall not let you kill me." I would ten times rather sit here and tell you about me killing them than have them sitting out there somewhere telling somebody about them killing me. It works both ways, you know.
I’ve known every Medal of Honor recipient that lived, including the Spanish-American War one. I love some of them as my own family. Jerry Crump for one. He's the guy who received the Medal of Honor the same day I did. He and I became fast friends. He spent 26 years in the Army and then four months after he retired he was burned to death in a traffic accident. He just collapsed and went off the road and he burned to death. He deserved better.
Jerry was full of shrapnel. I remember that when he and I used to just be walking along, all of the sudden he would just collapse. I mean, he would be out of it. He wouldn't even know what happened to him--he would just be gone. I guess that's what happened that night. Nobody will ever actually know, I guess. There were no brake marks and nothing was hit on the road. He just veered off the road, went across a little field, and over a bank. When his car hit the tree, the gas tank behind him ruptured. His own twin brother found him and didn't even know who it was until he started taking the jewelry off.
I was good friends with Lloyd "Scooter" Burke, too. His Medal of Honor was for action that took place near Chong-dong, Korea on October 28, 1951. He and I had been together in Indianapolis just before he died. When they called to tell me that he had died, I told our friends that I would be right there. Sandy and I jumped in the car and drove straight through to Arkansas to attend his memorial service. His memorial was his uniform, boots, and medals and people getting up and saying nice things about him. We were good friends all those years. When I got home, a representative of the Governor of Arkansas called me and asked me if it would be okay if the governor talked to me about Scooter. He was going to give a speech to a veteran's organization and wanted to talk about the relationship I had with Scooter. He and I were famous all over the world because of our close friendship.
Scooter was a bird colonel and I was only a sergeant. I was always trying to skin his butt about things. The governor said he heard that Scooter and I liked to play jokes on one another. I told him that one time Scooter got drunk and the next morning he couldn't remember what had happened the night before. I said to him, “What do you mean you don’t remember anything? You run out of money and you borrowed $20.00 a piece off of Jerry and me.” When he said that he didn't remember that, I told him, “If you don’t want to pay, don’t pay. I don’t give a damn. You’re welcome to it.” Scooter said, “If I owe you money, I’ll pay you”--which meant that he wasn't ever going to pay me. Every time we got together, I would say, “Scooter, when are you going to pay me the damned twenty dollars?” (He had never borrowed it off of me in the first place but he didn't know that.) Well, we were in Korea in 1975, dedicating some big monument. General Stilwell and a whole bunch of other generals were there. This one general was mean. He was a three-star general corps commander and he was mean, mean. I knew him personally. He was the meanest man I ever saw. They had all those generals from Korea and governor’s representatives and we were all sitting around talking. I said, “General, I’ve got a personal problem and I need to talk to you about it.” Scooter was standing right there. The general said, “Well, Sergeant Rosser. If I can, I’d be happy to help you.” I said, “Well, Sir. I hate to mention this kind of thing out in public in front of all these other people, but this concerns an officer in the United States Army.” And he said, “Really?” I said, “Yes Sir.” So he said, “What is it, Sergeant Rosser?” I said, “Well, Sir. What would you do to a Bird Colonel that borrowed twenty dollars off a sergeant and wouldn’t pay him back?” He said, “I’d hang him.” Scooter said, “Shut up, Ron. Shut up.” And he jerked his billfold out and gave me and Jerry both twenty dollars apiece. That night we got him down at the hotel there in Seoul and bought him drinks all night. After we got him pretty well juiced up, we told him we that we had ripped him off after all these years--that we had played a joke on him. We played all kinds of jokes on him, and he was always doing things to us, too. We were the best of friends. When Jerry Crump died, Scooter had a nervous breakdown.
I think the United States should have been in Korea. It was a war well worth fighting. It’s always a war worth fighting when you’re talking about liberty. I’ve been to the Blue House in Korea. That's the Korean White House. And I’ve talked personally to the President of Korea. He can speak a little bit of English, but I’ve talked to him through his daughter who speaks good English. He told me that because of the actions of me and a handful of other Americans (all those Americans who served in his country during the Korean War), 42 million people walk the face of this earth as free people. That makes me feel pretty good about it.
Every year I go to Korea, they always give me a medal. On the last trip, an American officer came over to me and he said that a reporter from the Korean Herald wanted to interview me. We went over to a table they had set up with a mike and tape recorder. This guy was writing on a note pad and at first I didn’t realize that he was trying to bushwhack me. It was one of these Hate America things. He asked me my name and the whole thing and finally he said, “Are you aware that this little girl was run over by an armored vehicle and killed.” I said, “Yes, I am aware of it.” (Shortly before I got there a little girl had ran out into the road and been run over by an armored vehicle.) Then he started using the term, “a lot of Koreans.” He said, “A lot of Koreans are very unhappy about these soldiers running over this little girl.” Suddenly I realized what was going on. I said, “I’m sure that a lot of Koreans are upset about it. The Americans are upset about it, and the two boys that were driving the vehicle are upset about it, too. But the girl accidentally stepped right out in the road in front of them. You can’t stop an armored vehicle like that. They ran over her and killed her and there probably wasn’t anything they could do to prevent it. The American government investigated it, the Korean government investigated it, and everybody agreed that it was an accident. A very tragic accident. Please don’t try to make more out of it than that. A tragic accident.”
He went on and kept talking to me. He said, “A lot of Koreans are even upset about the Americans coming over here and hurting our children.” I said, “I know that. In the past this has been a very hostile place. Training has been really rough. A lot of vehicles are moving. A lot of shooting is going on.” And I wasn't talking about war--I was talking about training. I said, “A lot of things happen. Tragedies happen. I can assure you that we don’t like it and I know you folks don’t like it, but I have to tell you this. For over 50 years we’ve been sending our children to Korea and they have died by the thousands. We have not complained because it was done in the name of freedom and democracy. Even my own brother was killed just east of here. My own brother. I haven’t complained because he did it in the name of freedom and democracy. I hope you’re not going to make more out of this thing than it is. You’re on the wrong track, Sir.”
Then he started talking about something else and pretty soon he said, “A lot of Koreans…” and I knew he was going to bushwhack me again. He said, “A lot of Koreans do not even like the fact that you Americans are here.” I said, “I’m aware of that, Sir. We’ve been here for 50 some years. We’ve been here in defense of liberty for you people. But I want to tell you something. I think I’m just important enough that the United States Army and the United States government will listen to me. If you tell me publicly with your government’s backing that you don’t want us here, I’ll assure you, Sir, that we’ll pack up our kit and bag and we’ll leave you to your own devices. You people can do whatever you want to do, but I assure you that no matter what happens, we won’t be back.” He said, “No, no. I didn’t mean that.” I said, “You’d better say what you mean, Sir, and quit trying to do what you’re trying to do here because it’s not going to work with me. I’m going to tell you right up front now. This interview is over. If you’re smart, you’ll forget about what you’re trying to do here because we’re here in defense of liberty for you people. For no other reason. If you don’t want us here, officially tell us and we’ll pack our kit and bag and leave.”
When I got up, some Korean officers standing there started clapping and patting me on the back and so did a bunch of American officers. That guy just sat there because he knew he was in trouble. They have what they call “saving face” over there. And he was going to be in a lot of trouble. A lot of trouble. I’m considered kind of a national hero to the Korean people. In fact, I’ve been notified by the Korean government that I’m in for their Medal of Honor. I’ll probably never get it because they’re having trouble right now with this bad publicity. In fact, the President of Korea got elected because he campaigned that he was going to 'throw the varmints out'—you know, us. I’ll probably never get the medal, but I may get it. We’re pulling out the 9th Infantry. We’re leaving just a little staff there. That’s going to worry them.
About three years or so ago I was in Shreveport, Louisiana, talking to a high school class down there. It’s the biggest school in Shreveport. I spoke in a room that looked like a movie theater. It had a big stage and lots of seats. I was on the stage and a colonel introduced me. I was supposed to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about, so I talked about honor. I told them, "If you give your word, keep it." I told them that their teachers don’t make a lot of money. They spend their lives trying to get them ready to face the world, which they're not going to like for the most part. I told them about the Korean War, Desert Storm, and so forth, and what is involved in that kind of thing. The colonel read my citation and told the audience a little bit about me. After I gave my talk, I opened it up to questions and one kid said, “Mr. Rosser, from your citation this was just one day. You were in combat a lot and you apparently killed a lot of people. Do you know how many people you’ve killed?” I thought a minute. I wanted to give him the right answer. I said, “Son, I was a forward observer. I called fire in on the enemy every day. I could not tell you within a thousand people how many people I killed. I could not tell you for sure. I have no idea. Sometimes I called fire in on 500 enemy soldiers. I maybe put down 300 of them. But I didn’t go down and count them. I didn’t have time to do that, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it, even if I had the time. I just killed a lot of people. That’s the best way to say it. But mostly I saved Americans." That’s what I was trying to do in Korea--make it easier for the American soldier to survive."
I don't want to have my name on a sign in my hometown saying that this is the home of a Medal of Honor recipient. I’m a citizen of Roseville, Ohio. I don’t want that kind of stuff here. At one point they told me that they were eventually going to name a high school, a road, an Army reserve center, and a Navy fighting ship after me. I wondered what the hullabaloo was about, and I still can’t figure it out. I know I got the medal and I know it’s the highest medal, but I’m not bothered by it. People say I'm a hero. But I don't think I've ever actually met a hero, to tell you the truth. I've known 400 and some people with the Medal of Honor and more people with a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star than you can imagine, but I don't think I ever met a hero.
To me, a hero is maybe an underpaid junior high school teacher who taught school in a bad neighborhood all her or her life and did the very, very best they could dedicating their life to other people. I’ve been babysitting other people’s children all my life really--in the Army, as a chief of police, as a schoolteacher when I go around and talk to kids all over the United States and all over the world. I look upon myself as just kind of a babysitter. Hero? I’m not sure what one is. In the paper today I read that they are burying a soldier from Zanesville who got killed over in Iraq. They say they are burying a hero. He was a kid. He was a sniper and his duty was done. He was in a vehicle going back to his base and they exploded some kind of a bomb in front of his vehicle and a piece of shrapnel hit him. I know exactly how he died. There’s nothing very heroic about dying. What you do is you do your job. You’re a servant. You belong to the service. If you join, you’re a volunteer. Nobody drafts you now. If you belong to the National Guard, you joined the National Guard. If you belong to the Reserve, you joined the reserve. If you belong to the Regular Army or the Regular Marine Corps or the Navy or whatever, you joined. You have a duty. You take an oath to defend the constitution of the United States of America. In doing that, if you’re required to do whatever, that’s your duty.
For all those who died in Korea, including my brother, I think it was worth it. Everybody gets all up tight about war, like over in Iraq right now. They're upset because we've had 900 and some killed in action in a year or two. But nobody stops to think that there's been almost that many killed in the state by drunk drivers. Do I think we should be over there? Well, I think somebody might have made a bad decision about the reason for going over there and I think there are places that we could have been better served. But we’ve got what we call a war on terror that’s going to last for the next 100 years and those people have to understand that if they do their acts of terrorism, they’re going to get punished, whether they’re in Iraq or Afghanistan or the Philippines or wherever. Before it’s over, we’re going to fight in a lot of places that nobody ever heard of against the same thing—terrorism. What we call terrorists, some people call liberators.
I want to tell you something. The youth of America is better than we ever dreamed of being. We may be a little tougher inside and a little more dedicated about this country than they are, but I think the kids today are very dedicated too. They ‘re just not sure why yet. Most of them grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth. They didn’t have to struggle very much. Most kids of my generation had one hell of a struggle just surviving. Nobody had anything. I can remember when you couldn’t find a twenty dollar bill in Perry County. It was just like that. People counted their money in nickels, dimes, and quarters. But I think the next generation can stand the test. These kids are great. They're a lot better than we were. They’re better trained. They’re better led. They’re better equipped. I go to Army bases all over the United States and all over the world all the time. We are as safe as a baby in his crib. Oh, I know the terrorists are going to hit us again, and they’re probably going to do a lot of damage. Probably kill a lot of people. But they’re going to pay for it—every one.
I don't have a nickel's worth of worry about the possibility of North Korea or China attacking us with hoards of soldiers. North Koreans are about half starved to death. They can’t even feed their own people. The Chinese don’t want any part of us anymore. Hell, we killed a million and a half of them. We took out most of their regular army. They’ve got a lot of people, but they only have so much trained regular army. We took out about half of them--and they know it, too. We beat them with replacements. Not trained units, but replacements--kids that hadn’t done anything but chase girls and drink for two or three years. They beat the hell out of them and they know it. So I’m not worried about those people. I’ve been in China and Korea. South Koreans can pretty much take care of themselves. If they keep running their mouth with us, I think I’d let them, too.
Several years ago I had a heart attack in Korea. I just shook it off, but I was so weak I could hardly walk. When I got to San Francisco I had just gotten through customs when I had another one. This time it was for real and I was going down. I mean, my heart was stopping and the whole thing. This guy found me. I just fell over and was sitting there. I couldn’t move. He said, “Is there something wrong with you?” I said, “Yeh. There’s something wrong.” He talked to me for a minute and I said, ‘If you can just help me over to where I can catch my plane, if I’m going to die I want to do it at home.” So he got me over there and I was sitting there when down I went. I couldn’t sit on the chair. My heart stopped beating. Some guy who had been a medic in Vietnam came over and tested my pulse. He was another passenger. He said, “Sir, you’re having a major heart attack.” I said, “Yeh. I know.” I sat there on the floor and couldn’t get up and move. He checked me again and said, “I hate to tell you this, Sir, but you’re not going to make it.” I said, “There’s not a hell of a lot I can do about that, is there?” An emergency squad came in and got me. The last thing I remember, they got me up there in front of God and everybody and tore all my clothes off—all but my underwear. This woman who was on the squad jumped right astraddle of me and put patches on me. I heard one of them say, “We’re losing him, we’re losing him.” This girl sprayed some liquid nitro in my mouth and she said, “Are you feeling better?” (I wasn't.) This guy said, “He’s going, he’s going,” and she was hollering something. I remember looking up and the last thing I saw was a great big old long needle. She was coming down on me, driving it into my chest to get me going. When I come to, I was in intensive care in a hospital in San Francisco. A nurse said, “Can you hear me, Mr. Rosser?” I said, “Yeh, I hear you.” She talked to me a little bit and kept checking me, then she said, “Mr. Rosser, I want you to know that our doctor just saved your life.” I said, “Well, ma'm, I’m going to tell you and I’m going to tell him, I'll pay the bill.”
I've got a great neighbor here in Roseville. His name is Paul Mills. After I had those heart attacks, I had trouble cutting my grass so Paul started cutting my grass. That was more than three years ago and he’s been cutting my grass ever since. I couldn’t pay him if I wanted to. He's happy to do all this stuff and I'm happy he's doing it, because I couldn't do it. It would take me all day to cut this little bit of grass. I'm comfortable here in Roseville. Not many people are comfortable. A lot of people who think they’re happy don’t know what happy is.
Death Is Part of Life
I don't want to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. I want to get buried here. There are enough soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery, and I’ve already got my marker and everything out here. I’m not in any hurry to meet my maker, but I’ve faced death many times and have no fear of it. I never did.
In the Orient, the people paint their faces black and wail and cry and carry on the day you’re born because you’re coming into the world of trials, tribulations, and great tragedies. But when you die they lay you out nice--have rice cakes and wine and everything, and whoop and cheer because your worries are over. That’s the Oriental way of thinking. You’re old when you’re born. It's when you leave the world that everything is great. If you spend a lot of time around them, you start to develop an attitude that dying is as much a part of living as being born. I look upon death in the Oriental fashion. It’s just part of life.