This Day in History: Ronald Rosser, the one-man Army
On this day in 1929, a hero is born. Ronald Rosser would go on to receive the Medal of Honor for his service during the Korean War.
Yet Rosser might never have served in that war but for his little brother.
Rosser was the oldest of 17 children, and he was very protective of them. “If you bothered one of my brothers, I cleaned your clock,” he once said. “And if you bothered one of my sisters, you'd better leave town.”
Unfortunately, Rosser’s little brother was killed early in the Korean War. “I made up my mind that you can’t kill my brother and get away with it,” he later said. “So I went over there with kind of ‘vengeance-in-mind’ kind of attitude.”
The Army tried to send him to Japan, but he would have none of it. He asked to go to Korea. Once there, he saw many refugees who were children. It tugged at his heart. “[Here were] these children starving to death,” he said. Remember, Rosser was from a big family, so the situation made him extra sad. “And, somehow, I just lost all the hate in me; became a soldier,” he concluded.
By January 1952, he was serving as a forward observer directing artillery fire. U.S. infantry were then assaulting a snow-covered hill held by the Chinese. It was freezing, and the Chinese were hiding in an elaborate network of trenches that covered the hill.
Needless to say, Americans were taking heavy casualties. By the time they were 100 yards shy of the crest of the hill, only 35 of 170 men remained uninjured. Nevertheless, when the commanding officer radioed for orders, he was told to stay and make one last attempt to take the hill.
Rosser took one look at that officer and knew that he wouldn’t be able to get it done.
“It was twenty below zero and he had frozen blood all over him,” Rosser described. “The captain put down the radio and looked up at the mountain and got this real hopeless look on his face.”
Naturally, Rosser volunteered to organize the remaining men and lead the charge.
“I’m going straight up shooting,” he hollered to the captain. “That’s the only chance we’ve got.”
Some men never followed him. Some were driven off. Either way, by the time he was halfway to the Chinese position, he found that he was alone.
“‘Well, Ron Rosser,” he said to himself, “you went to a lot of trouble to get here. Let’s give it a go.’ I let out a war whoop like a wild Apache Indian and jumped into the trench with them.”
At that point, Rosser became something of a one-man army.
Nine Chinese soldiers were in the bunker, but he took them on. “I was so close to them that I actually stuck the carbine in one of them’s ears, pulled the trigger, and—one of them was behind me, and I swung around and shot him in the neck, and he fell over and grabbed me by the leg. And I kicked him off of me and shot him in the heart.”
He took on the others in close combat, even chasing two who escaped. He followed them and threw a grenade into the bunker where they were hiding. He soon moved to another trench line where he took out five more of the enemy.
By this point, Rosser was out of ammunition, so he went back down the hill to restock before going back up the hill—again. He took out more of the enemy, returned for ammunition, then went back up the hill a third time. Amazingly, Rosser fought for an hour before finally organizing a retreat, getting the American dead and wounded back down the hill.
“All I was trying to do was protect the men I was responsible for,” he explained. “I was trying to keep them off our wounded. The purpose of me doing all that crazy stuff was trying to stop them from doing that.”
Later, when Rosser was told that he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor, he was given something unusual: An artist had drawn a picture of him on the top of that hill, with his kid brother guarding him from the sky.
“It still kind of breaks me up, thinking about that,” he said.
Rosser was asked what the Medal of Honor meant to him. “A lot of people think that the great thing about the Medal of Honor is that it’s awarded by Congress and presented by the president,” he responded. “But to me, the real honor of the medal is that a handful of young men who were with you at a difficult time thought you were worthy of it.”
Interview with Ronald Eugene Rosser [n.d.] (Library of Congress; Veterans History Project Home)
Katie Lange, Medal of Honor Monday: Army Sgt. 1st Class Ron Rosser (U.S. Dept. of Defense; Sept. 7, 2020)
Medal of Honor: Oral histories (Ronald E. Rosser; Korean War)
Medal of Honor: citation (Ronald E. Rosser; Korean War)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (3d ed. 2011)
Peter Collier, Choosing Courage: Inspiring Stories of What It Means to Be a Hero (2015)
Richard Sisk, Medal of Honor recipient Ron Rosser, who charged into enemy trenches during the Korean War, has died (Task & Purpose; Aug. 31, 2020)