Family meant everything to Army Sgt. 1st Class Ron Rosser, who was the second oldest of a whopping 17 siblings. It was that love of family that drove him to the front lines of the Korean War. There, during one of the coldest days of winter, he single-handedly took out dozens of enemy soldiers and saved many of his own during a lopsided fight that would earn him the Medal of Honor.
Rosser was born Oct. 24, 1929, in Columbus, Ohio, at the onset of the Great Depression. As the family’s oldest boy, he said he never had time for hobbies since he helped take care of his siblings. But he learned quickly that he was a fighter.
”If you bothered one of my brothers, I cleaned your clock. And if you bothered one of my sisters, you better leave town,” he joked in a Library of Congress Veterans History Project interview.
To help support his family, Rosser joined the Army in 1946 at the age of 17. He became a paratrooper and served as part of the post-World War II occupation force in Japan and Germany. When he returned to civilian life three years later, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a coal miner.
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But that didn’t last. When Rosser learned his brother, Richard, had joined the Army and died fighting in Korea, he wanted revenge. So, he reenlisted.
”I had made up my mind before I went there that you can’t kill my brother and get away with it,” he said.
Looking for Revenge
After reacclimating to military life, then-Cpl. Rosser was sent to Korea, where he served as a forward observer — basically the eyes and ears for the field artillery at the head of the front lines.
”Not many men get into the kind of combat I was in,” he later said. ”Most men, their company goes up and their company comes back. I never came back. I always stayed up there, and I watched a lot of men come and go.”
On Jan. 12, 1952, Rosser was attached to Company L of the 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, in a region known as the Iron Triangle. They were sent to raid a Chinese-held mountaintop outpost and destroy its winter installations. It was 20 degrees below zero with about a foot of crusty snow on the ground, so their success would be a huge blow for the enemy.
But their daytime sneak attack didn’t work. At the bottom of the hill, they were stopped by fierce artillery, mortar and gunfire.
Rosser was with the lead platoon. He immediately handed his radio to his assistant and charged up the fire-laden hill with only an M2 carbine rifle and a single grenade. He took out the occupants of the first bunker he came upon with his gun. At the top of the hill, he killed two enemy soldiers before hopping into a trench and killing five more. Rosser then hurled his one grenade into another bunker, which took out several more Chinese soldiers. He then shot two more as they fled.
At this point, Rosser said he yelled for backup, but he realized he was alone.
”Every time a [U.S. soldier] moved, he was killed or wounded,” he said. ”It was really a nasty fight.”
From there, Rosser went back downhill through enemy fire to get more ammunition and grenades. Along the way, he saved a lieutenant who had been shot right in front of him.
After reloading, Rosser charged the hill again, taking out more Chinese in the trench he’d just cleared. On his way to more enemy bunkers, he got hit by a grenade but was able to keep going and take down more of the enemy. He said he even managed to deflect a grenade tossed at him while he was in a trench.
”It hit me in the hip and dropped down against my foot. I couldn’t get away from it, so I dove across the Chinaman I’d just killed. Just as I went over this Chinese soldier, the grenade went off,” Rosser recalled. ”Instead of blowing my legs off, it blew the heel off one of my boots. When I hit the ground, I bounced back up, and I caught this guy up on his toes, looking to see if he got me. I gave him about six [shots] in the belly.”
He was again out of ammo, so for a second time he headed back down the hill, picking up another wounded soldier along the way who he took to relative safety. After another resupply, he charged the hill a third time, hurling grenades into enemy positions.
According to Rosser’s Medal of Honor citation, during the course of the fight, he ”single-handedly killed at least 13 of the enemy.” But according to Rosser himself, ”I got that many in the first trench.”
”I was up on the top of this mountain by myself taking on sometimes as much as 200 Chinese,” he said. ”They were all over me, jumping on my back and grabbing me by the leg. I was beating them with my rifle.”
Rosser eventually made it back down the hill, where he warned the captain in charge that they needed to withdraw. Despite being wounded, Rosser organized his platoon to carry the dead and wounded to safety. He made several trips across open terrain that was still under fire to pull back men injured more seriously than he was.
Of the 170 men who were with him that day, only 68 returned. Ninety were killed, with 12 more listed as missing in action.
A Life Changed Forever
Rosser said he was still stationed on the front lines when his company commander informed him that he was recommended for the Medal of Honor. When the award became official, Rosser returned to the U.S. and immediately got on a plane to Washington.
On June 27, 1952, Rosser was presented with the nation’s highest award for valor by President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony. His entire family was in attendance.
”It was kind of frightening — all these generals were there and congressmen and Senators, everybody paying attention to you,” Rosser said. ”I don’t know why, but I knew my life would never be the same.”
”It’s the way people look at you — like you’re something special when you’re really not,” he continued. ”You’re just an ordinary soldier who got caught in something. … I was lucky enough to survive.”
After the war, Rosser served in several capacities, including in Germany and as a paratrooper instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. He retired after 22 years when he was denied a request to join combat in Vietnam after his youngest brother, Gary, was killed, according to his obituary.
Rosser went on to earn a college degree and worked several civilian jobs after the Army. He eventually established two scholarship programs named in honor of his fallen brothers.
Rosser married four times and had a daughter, Pam, with his second wife. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma toward the end of his life, according to his daughter. He was at her home in Bumpus Mills, Tennessee, when he died after a fall on Aug. 26, 2020. He was 90.
Rosser met with schoolchildren and soldiers throughout his life to talk about his experiences in war. He said over time his desire for revenge faded. Instead of thinking about the men he killed, he preferred to think about the soldiers he saved.
”I used to think about the Medal of Honor and the importance of it,” he said. ”To me, the real honor of the Medal of Honor is that a handful of young men who were with you at a difficult time thought you were worthy of it.”
In 1999, Rosser donated his Medal of Honor to the statehouse in Columbia, Ohio, in hopes of inspiring children who visited on field trips.
May your legacy live on, sergeant.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
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