This is the third of a four part series about Pearl Harbor and the impact the bombing had on the lives of some of my famil members and other residents of Lincoln, Kansas, my home town. This blog was first published on December 9, 2013.
Pearl Harbor – two days Later
December 9, 1941
Already we are feeling the direct effects of war. Several Lincoln County boys are in the danger zone. Mary Bird’s brother is on the ship Oklahoma. The Dyer boy from Beverly was killed. His parents being notified today. Our Christmas program was discontinued when an order from [sic] Federal Government stopping all activities connected with shortwave broadcasting. The banning of the radio activity is one of the first acts of a nation at war. The broadcasts can not easily be censored and might be used by aliens to give out vital information. Such broadcasting might also use wave lengths needed for military communication. . . .(Unpublished papers of Wava Farrington)
Rumors were flying and not all of them were true. The fact was that Mary Bird’s brother, Oscar, was not on the USS Oklahoma, not even in Hawaii on the morning of December 7th. According to a newspaper account published in April, 1942^, Oscar was on the aircraft tender USS Langley in Manilla on December 6, 1941, but his parents didn’t know Oscar’s location because of the slowness of mail from ship to shore. And his earlier letters talked about his stints in Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam so Lincoln residents believed Oscar was dead.^ Sadly Oscar Bird did not survive the war. As you’ll see on the web site listed below, Oscar and several of his crew mates were rescued from the sinking USS Langley by the naval tanker USS Pecos. However the Pecos was sunk south of Java after being attacked by Japanese aircraft. (Commercial Appeal, April 4, 1942, Memphis, Tennessee) Although Oscar’s body was never recovered there is a grave marker honoring his memory in the Lincoln, Kansas cemetery. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/02/09020311.jpg There was no confusion about the death of Daniel Dyer. He died in the bombing on December 7 and there was a front page story about his death four days later in The Lincoln Sentinel-Republican.
The Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, vol. 53, no. 50, December 11, 1941.
Medal of Honor Awarded to Lincoln County Man
There was another Lincoln County man at Pearl Harbor on December 7 – Warrant Officer Machinist Donald K. Ross from Beverly, Kansas. The information and photo below are taken from:
DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY — NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER 805 KIDDER BREESE SE — WASHINGTON NAVY YARD WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060
Captain Donald Kirby Ross, USN, (1910-1992)
Donald Kirby Ross was born in Beverly, Kansas, on 8 December 1910. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1929 and was trained as a Machinist’s Mate. He advanced in that field and became a Warrant Officer Machinist in October 1940. During the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor, he was serving on board USS Nevada (BB-36). When the ship was badly damaged by bombs and torpedoes, he kept the dynamo rooms operating until he was overpowered by smoke, steam, heat and exhaustion. For his courageous conduct, Machinist Ross was awarded the Medal of Honor. Ross was promoted to Chief Machinist in March 1942 and was simultaneously receiving a temporary commission as an Ensign. He rose steadily in temporary rank to Lieutenant Commander by the end of the War, reverting to Lieutenant at its conclusion. He again received promotion to Lieutenant Commander in 1949 and to Commander in November 1954. Upon his retirement from active duty in July 1956, after twenty-seven years’ of service, he was promoted to Captain on the basis of his combat awards. Making his home in Washington State after leaving the Navy, Captain Ross was active in farm life and community affairs, and in perpetuating the memory of the Pearl Harbor attack, which he described as “not a story about a defeat. It’s a story about a job well done”. He attended 50th Anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1991, during which a memorial was dedicated to his old ship, USS Nevada. Captain Donald K. Ross died at Bremerton, Washington, on 27 May 1992. The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG-71), 1997-____, is named in honor of Captain Ross.
Portrait photograph, taken circa 1944. He is wearing the ribbon for the Medal of Honor, which he received for heroism while serving on board USS Nevada (BB-36) during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.
Medal of Honor citation of Lieutenant Commander Donald Kirby Ross (as printed in the official publication “Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy”, page 252):
“For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own life during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese Forces on 7 December 1941. When his station in the forward dynamo room of the U.S.S. Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam and heat, Lieutenant Commander Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room and proceeded to the after dynamo room where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it.”
In 2011 a portion of Kansas highway 18 “from the US-81 interchange to the Lincoln/Russell County line” was renamed the Donald K. Ross Memorial Highway.*
I’d never heard of Oscar Bird or Daniel Dyer before I found my grandmother’s note. While there is a lovely stone monument commemorating all the Lincoln County residents who fought in WWII on the grounds of the Lincoln County Courthouse, the names meant nothing to me – except for Ila’s name which is on the monument. But I wanted to know who Bird and Dyer were – men whose deaths had obviously affected my grandmother.
I would have known nothing of Donald K. Ross – his story wasn’t taught in the Lincoln public school history classes when I attended there. Fortunately the regional news media announced the dedication ceremony so that I did learn of his life and did attend the dedication.
Learning all this history about people from my home town has given me pause. The sacrifices made, the courage displayed while suffering life-threatening injuries in the face of death – I’m humbled and awed. Could you or I give that freely of ourselves? I hope we never have to find out.
*Unpublished papers of Wava Farrington.
^ Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, vol. 54, no. 15, April 9, 1942, Lincoln, Kansas.
*Randy Picking. The Salina Post. http://salinapost.com/2011/05/25/donald-k-ross-memorial-highway-dedication-planned-for-friday/