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John C. Ross

Pillager, Minnesota  (formerly Tuscola, Illinois) -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"I could not see anything worth fighting for. Rice paddies all over and a lot of hills didn’t seem like a very good reason to want to stay."

- John Carl Ross

This memoir was made possible by a grant from
the Illinois Humanities Council.

Memoir Contents:

[KWE Note: John Ross was born in 1931 and died in 2000. His wife Elaine was born in 1932 and died in 2022.]

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I am John Carl Ross. I was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 26, 1931, the son of John Carl Ross Sr. and Mary Oye Ross. My father was born Carl Hjalmar Rosendahl in 1895 in Odensvi, Vastmanland, Sweden. He came to the United States in 1919 and apparently changed his name to John Carl Ross. It is not known whether he became a naturalized citizen. He married Mary Oye of Tuscola, Illinois.

I went to school at James Giles School for eight years. My father was killed by a hit-and-run driver on December 22, 1937. After my father was killed crossing Harlem Avenue in Norwood Park Township where we lived, my mother and I continued to live in Chicago for a few years. Then in 1944 my mother and I moved to Tuscola, Illinois, to live with her twin sister, Martha Oye, at 310 E. Barker Street. I went to high school in Tuscola, and graduated in 1949.

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Drafted into the Army

I registered for the draft and was called up on January 16, 1952. The bus station at Tuscola was at Mills Drugs on Main Street. I met the bus with several other drafted persons. Those names I remember were Jack Allen of Tuscola and Leonard McGuffy of Newman. We met the bus at 4:30 a.m. Our tickets were prepaid. We were taken to St. Louis, Missouri, where we were inducted into the army. They asked for persons for the Marines. If no one stepped forward, they pointed to two people and said, “You are in the Marines.” We took aptitude tests to determine what our best field was or what we had experience in. How I got into the Medical Corps, I don’t know, because I did not have any medical experience. Some Army person must have said, “Put him in Medical Corps.”

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Basic Training

We were shipped to Fort Custer, Michigan for two weeks, waiting for shipment to Camp Pickett, Virginia. We went by rail to Blackstone, Virginia, where we got off the train and were hauled to camp. We were given eight weeks of Basic Training with physical training, classes in hand-to-hand combat, map and compass skills, and other necessary skills. Also, we had four weeks of medical training, with classes about First Aid and some other medical training.

We got up at Army time of 5:30 or 6 a.m. After breakfast we had police call. All lined up and with arms out so we could get an equal distance apart, we walked across the barracks area picking up anything that didn’t walk, such as cigarette butts, paper, or anything else. Then we got ready for classes. We marched in formation to classrooms. We went to classes all day. After classes in the evening, we had free time to clean or shine our boots and get our clothes ready for the next day.

A very special night was Friday evening. We always had a GI party. That is when we would get pails of water, soap and mops and sweep and clean up the barracks and restrooms (latrine), too. Then on Saturday the officers would inspect the barracks. Sometimes I don’t think they ever really inspected the barracks. But if you did your job right, then on the weekend you might get a weekend pass to Blackstone, Virginia. There was not much to do in Blackstone, Virginia. We did have movies on base and also other forms of entertainment, such as bowling. I guess just going to town, even if there wasn’t much to do, was nice to get away from army ways for awhile. After all, they couldn’t put you on duty—guard duty or K.P. if you weren’t there.

At Camp Pickett there could be one to two inches of snow on the ground and by noon it would be very warm. Other towns one might travel to were Petersburg, Virginia, and Richmond, Virginia. One weekend I went to Norfolk, Virginia to visit a friend of mine who was in the Navy. I got to his ship and spent the night on board and had breakfast on board also. My friend was James Harbaugh of Tuscola, Illinois. That was probably the only person I met during my Basic training that I knew from my own home town.

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Duty in Korea

After all the basic and medical training, I got a thirty-day leave. I came home to Tuscola, Illinois. Then I traveled by train to Fort Lewis, Washington for shipment overseas. I waited about two weeks for a ship. I don’t know how many were onboard. We were okay the first three or four days aboard, but on the fourth day the water was rough enough to make some people sea sick. On Navy ships you stand up to eat and hold your tray as the ship tosses some.

It took two weeks to get to Japan. We had to wait for an assignment to a company in Korea. I was assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, Company D as a medical aid man. I also went to school in Japan at Eta Jima Medical School. They just taught basics in battle wounds—get them to the first aid station, get their wounds taken care of, and send them to Battalion aid station for further treatment or shipment to States. I had two to four weeks course in First Aid.

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Medical Man

At first I drove a litter jeep that had two places to carry two litters. In my duty as a medical man I never did see very many battle wounds. The wounds were mostly from persons who were cleaning their guns. They would get shot in the leg or foot while cleaning their gun. They would get sent back to battalion first aid and I don’t know where they went after that. I think many of them went back to the States. Cleaning your gun and getting hit in the foot or leg—amazing how they did it! Once in a while we would get some mortar rounds in near our first aid station. When you drive a jeep across some areas the enemy could see you and might send some mortar rounds over your way.

We got rest and recuperation leave in Japan for ten days. We flew in a C-47 to Japan and had a good time while we were on R&R. Then we came back to Korea to finish our tour of duty. I got promoted to a ton truck. It couldn’t carry any more litters than a jeep, but it was bigger.

I don’t know how far we were from the 38th parallel, the line they set as a boundary line. In Korea I did meet a couple of GIs from Tuscola. They were Marcian Hausman and Jack Finley. I wasn’t really in that much danger of being shot or wounded, I thought. I was in Korea for nine months. I think they gave points for months spent. We may have gotten more points for being near the front lines. I am not sure anymore how it was done.

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Leaving for Home

It came time to leave Korea. I thought no one would hate to leave. I could not see anything worth fighting for. Rice paddies all over and a lot of hills didn’t seem like a very good reason to want to stay.

Our ship left Korea from the port of Pusan. Then we were loaded on a ship for shipment to San Francisco, California. I finished my time in the army at Camp Crowder, Missouri, near Neshoho, Missouri. In the meantime, I was promoted to Sergeant.

I met Elaine Schwatka for the first time while on leave in Tuscola, and after that I came home on several weekends. Originally from Pillager, Minnesota, Elaine was a widow living in Tuscola with her two children—Jack and Ruth Schwatka. Her first husband was Herbert Blake Schwatka of Minnesota. He was killed in action in Korea on March 21, 1953 and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

I spent the rest of my tour duty in Camp Crowder. Nothing really great happened while I was there. I just finished my tour of duty. I was in the Army from January 16, 1952 to October 22, 1953. I earned a Korean Service Medal and a commendation medal.

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When I came home I put in an application to Service Management Company of Mattoon. I was hired January 1954 and worked until February 1956 for them. The rest of my working years I put in at the USI and Quantum Chemical plant in Tuscola.

On December 22, 1959 at Tuscola, I married Elaine Joyce Mudgett Schwatka. She and I lived at Parkview Trailer Park in Tuscola at first, and then we moved to 912 E. Overton in Tuscola. Now we live in Pillager, Minnesota.

We had four children together. They were David John Ross, Rebecca Eileen Ross, Rosemary Elizabeth Ross, and Rebamarie Ellen Ross. Jack is unmarried. Ruth married Larry Adams and is a nurse. David (1961-1982) was killed in a motorcycle accident while stationed at Tustin, California in the Marines Corps. Rebecca (Becky) was in the Marines, married a Marine, and has one daughter. Becky Robinson lives in Minnesota. Rebamarie married Danny Evans of Tuscola and they live in Minnesota. Rosemary married Andy McCarrey and resides in Sidney, Illinois with him and their sons, John and Thomas McCarrey.


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