“I guess I’m here to stay. I tell everybody God don’t want me and the Devil won’t take me,” laughed 90-year-old Iwo Jima veteran George Ross the day after his 90th birthday.
Ross celebrated his birthday with family, friends and his fellow veterans Wednesday, September 21, at MeadowView Apartments in Rexford. “It was great,” Ross said of his party. “I got loads of scratch-offs!”
He’s been devoted to scratch off lottery tickets since he won $500 off a $1 scratch-off at a Stewart’s years ago. “I came home and threw the money on the bed. Jane [my wife] asked where I got the money from. I told her I robbed a bank!
73 years prior, on his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the . “I remember getting off the train. We had to take showers and get haircuts,” recalled Ross. “It was the first time in years they had snow on Parris Island,” he added. Ross was just 18 when he was fighting on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945.
His brother Edward, who was less than two years older, had enrolled the day after Pearl Harbor. His father was drafted on his 42nd birthday. “He was proud to join his oldest son in the service,” said Ross.
His children once asked if Ross wanted to go back to Iwo Jima. “No way. I’d probably die of a heart attack. Too many memories. Quite a few [service members] went back but I’m not one of those guys,” said Ross. “There’s a lot I don’t remember but I do remember my captain, Captain Crawford. He was killed on Iwo. He was right up on the front lines with us. He didn’t command the company from the back,” he added.
“I’m glad I went into the Marines. Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Ross. Though he noted, “When I was on Guam with the rain and the red clay… boy we had rain showers! I says, “What the heck am I doing here?” I could have joined the Navy. They’ve got hot showers and better food than we did. We had powdered milk, powdered eggs, and powdered potatoes. We ate spam. There are 100 ways to cook it,” said Ross.
When asked what he would say to young soldiers in the field today, Ross said, “I say God Bless them. I feel sorry for them. The best thing is to stay home with your family if you can.” He added, “They say you’re fighting for your country but once you’re over there you’re not fighting for your country anymore. You’re fighting for your life and your buddies’ lives.”
When asked to describe George Ross, one of his neighbors, Carol Hotaling, said, “He’s always got a joke and a smile on his face.” Hotalling added, “He’s one of our many heroes.” Ross and a group of veterans get together at theHome Front Cafe in Altamont on the second Tuesday of every month.
“You’ve gotta laugh. I like to see people laugh,” said Ross. Though small in stature, his 13-year-old pomeranian, Nicki, is a fierce and loyal guard dog. Ross and his wife Jane have four children, 14 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. They met at a dance hosted by the American Legion when he was 28 years old. The two have been married for 61 years now. “I tell my wife she’s on thin ice. I sing a song to her on our anniversary. This year it went like this… “61 years with the wrong woman!” laughed Ross.
Though blurred over the years, the word “Mother” marks his right forearm and “USMC 1943” marks the other. “I got them in Hawaii. Just like me, they’re getting all shrivelled up,” Ross chuckled.
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