Editor’s note: Every life has a story. In this column, we pay tribute to people who have died recently.
There’s a footnote at the bottom of Page 21 of Matthew Rozell’s recently published “The Things Our Fathers Saw” that sums up the late Barney Ross perfectly.
“In his remembrances, Mr. Ross’ voice began to break up recalling his friends who had passed before him. Barney brought smiles through the tears as he reminded my students that, ‘I may get emotional, but I’m still a tough guy.’ “
Rozell and his students at Hudson Falls High School were among many who heard Ross’ first-hand story of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War and the signing of the surrender in Tokyo Bay.
Over the years, he had to think a little harder and sometimes needed prompting, but once the Whitehall native started telling his story, the memory and emotion took over.
Gerald A. “Barney” Ross, 94, died Thursday, Aug. 27, at Indian River Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Granville, and with him died another memory of the attack that brought the U.S. into World War II. Ross, a lifelong resident of Whitehall, was one of an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 survivors remaining out of 60,000 who were at Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy.
Ross was a 1940 graduate of Whitehall High School and played on the 1939 unbeaten, untied, unscored-upon team. He was a hunter, fisherman and lifelong communicant of Our Lady of Angels Roman Catholic Church.
Following graduation, Ross enlisted in the U.S. Navy in August 1940. He served on the USS Blue during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Ross met Alice Marie Doyle at a USO dance in Philadelphia, and they were married in 1946. He operated Ross’s Restaurant in Whitehall and was later employed as a machine operator at Decora Industries in Fort Edward, retiring after many years of service.
An electrician’s mate aboard the USS Blue, Ross found himself in the destroyer’s magazine during the battle, feeding ammunition to an anti-aircraft gun on the top deck.
“I’d get a shell, put that in the hoist,” Ross said in one of his many interviews. “And I’d get a powder and put that in the hoist. That way, I was feeding the gun. ... I feel that we did our job.”
He had been in the harbor on the USS Blue when the Japanese planes dove out of the sky and dropped their bombs, and when the enemy submarines simultaneously sent torpedoes into American ships, in the surprise attack on America’s Pacific fleet.
“When the Japanese attacked, I was on the deck waiting for a boat to take me to a church service,” Ross said. “We saw a plane dive toward the USS Utah, then within minutes, it was the worst devastation you could ever imagine — the USS Arizona was blown up and the USS Oklahoma was turned over on its belly.”
Over the past seven weeks, at least five other survivors of the attack have died, including Joe Langdell, who at 100 was the oldest survivor of the USS Arizona. Eight men who served on the Arizona during the attack remain alive.
Ray Chavez, who at 103 years old is believed to be the oldest living survivor of the attack, recently threw out the first pitch at a San Diego Padres game.
In all, 2,000 to 2,500 of the 60,000 survivors are thought to still be alive, according to USS Arizona Memorial officials. More than 2,400 Americans died during the attack, including 68 civilians. Most — 1,177 — were killed when the Arizona exploded and caught fire.
‘A real nice man’
Rozell said he had not been in touch with Ross recently, but the man left a deep impression on him.
“He came across as a real nice man — down to earth, with a great warmth for the students he met in my classroom. A man who loved his town, his family and the entire region. But having survived the shock of Pearl Harbor, he always left us with a warning: ‘Be vigilant.’ That was in 1988.”
Ross was one of the first of many veterans to visit Rozell’s classroom. He is the first veteran quoted in “The Things Our Fathers Saw.”
“As a nation, we were sleeping; it is a terrible thing to say, but we just ...” Ross is quoted as saying.
“I was just standing there waiting for a motor launch to take me to a bigger ship to go to Mass, to go to church! We had no inkling, no inkling whatsoever,” he added.
“We were sitting there like sitting ducks! Here are men, if you can visualize, men struggling to get out of the ships. A lot of them were sleeping in because they had the day off. It was a horrible thing! This fleet was coming to blow us off the face of the earth.”
Ross is survived by his wife and his three sons, Gerald F. Ross and his wife, Patricia, of Hartford, Dennis A. Ross and his wife, Angella Gibbons, of Marshfield, Vermont, and Christopher D. Ross of Whitehall.
Ross lived at Indian River Nursing Home in Granville for the past six years, and his wife still lives there.
A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated Saturday at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Granville.
Rite of Committal will be celebrated at 1 p.m. Monday at Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville with full military honors.