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Ship to be named for Port Orchard veteran
Donald Kirby Ross
The name of a Washington state man will appear on a new Navy ship to recognize him for his role in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
The USS Ross, a guided-missile destroyer, is named for Donald K. Ross and will be commissioned June 28 in Galveston, Texas.
Ross helped steer the USS Nevada toward the mouth of Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Despite twice falling unconscious from smoke and steam, Ross restored power to the bombed battleship, enabling it to get under way, the only battleship to do so during the attack.
Four months later, Adm. Chester Nimitz awarded Ross the Medal of Honor.
Ross, who served as the Navy's principal recruitment officer in Kansas City from 1948 through 1951, died in 1992 after many years in Port Orchard, Kitsap County.
"Never in his wildest dreams would he think of anything like this," said Helen Ross, Ross' widow, who still lives in Port Orchard.
Ross never thought his actions at Pearl Harbor remarkable, his widow said. "He often said that he really didn't do anything heroic," Helen Ross said. "He followed his orders, exactly what his superior had written in the order book the night before. The orders were to keep two boilers on line all night, and then put two more on line at 6 a.m.
"The other ships didn't do that. They were saving oil. But the captain of the Nevada didn't believe in having a dead ship over the weekend."
Navy veterans didn't forget Ross. In 1991, at the 50th anniversary observation of the Japanese attack, he was called upon to introduce President George Bush during Pearl Harbor ceremonies.
The 30,000-ton battleship Nevada was anchored astern of the USS Arizona when the Japanese attack began at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. When Ross, then a junior warrant officer, saw the first Japanese planes overhead, he alerted his engine-room crews.
"Because he had his men trained so well, they reacted instantly," his widow said. "When he got down there, they had everything going."
Despite heavy casualties, several fires and a hole in its bow from a torpedo, the Nevada made for the entrance of the harbor to flee the bombardment.
"The room was filled with smoke and steam, but he knew his way around because he had practiced in the dark," Helen Ross said.
When Ross' station in the forward engine room of the Nevada became almost untenable because of smoke, steam and heat, he forced his men to leave that station and "performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious," according to his Medal of Honor citation.
After being rescued and revived, Ross returned and secured the same room, then proceeded to another engine room, where he again lost consciousness.
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© 1997, by The Seattle Times Company
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News From The Past
May 27, 1997
Navy welcomes newest ship into fleet; named for Pearl Harbor hero
By MICHAEL GRACZYK / Associated Press Writer
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - The Navy this weekend officially gets its newest warship - a destroyer costing nearly $1 billion - when the USS Ross is commissioned at ceremonies at the Port of Galveston.
"It's extremely exciting," Cmdr. Jeff Grinnow, who is commanding a ship for the first time, said Friday. "I don't know how to put it into words. I'm living a dream come true this week."
The ship is named after Donald Kirby Ross, a sailor from Kansas credited with single-handedly saving his battleship during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ross was a junior warrant officer aboard the USS Nevada when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the day before his 31st birthday. Despite smoke and steam that twice knocked him unconscious, Ross, who worked as a machinist, restored power to his damaged ship and enabled it to steam safely out of the harbor. It was the only battleship to survive the surprise attack.
Ross' efforts earned him the Medal of Honor.
Ross had joined the Navy in 1929 and was assigned to the crew of the Nevada in 1940. He retired from the service as a captain in 1956 and died in 1992. At ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Ross represented veterans and introduced President Bush.
"He never would have dreamed anything like this would happen," said Ross' widow, Helen, from Port Orchard, Wash. "When he was decorated with the Medal of Honor and recognized later on, he always felt he didn't do all of it by himself. He said it took the crew on the ship and the Navy to train him. He never wore the medal for himself."
Ross' son, Fred, said his father shunned publicity over the honor and once even declined when a local group wanted to name an auditorium after him.
"He would feel that this is way too much," Fred Ross said. "My dad was just a normal guy who grew up on a Kansas farm. But he represents Americans and a lot of people can relate to that."
They were among more than 6,000 people expected at Saturday night's commissioning ceremonies. The evening dedication is a first for the Navy and a concession to the Texas heat and anticipated presence of many World War II veterans like Cliff Burks, who served in the Navy with Ross.
"He was a very modest guy," Burks said. "I think anybody would think he was just a regular guy. When he loaded ammo, he was just one of us."
The new ship that carries Ross' name is the 21st of the so-called Arleigh Burke class of destroyers, named for the former three-term chief of naval operations who gained legendary fame during World War II as commander of a squadron of destroyers in the Pacific.
The Navy hopes eventually to have 57 such vessels in the fleet, replacing its aging Adams and Farragut class destroyers.
The Ross, more than 500 feet long and displacing more than 8,000 tons, has a crew of 323, including 23 officers. It is armed with 98 missiles, including Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles, tactical ballistic missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes. Built in Mississippi, its speed can top 30 knots.
After Saturday night's commissioning ceremonies, where Navy Secretary John Dalton was to make remarks, the Ross will join the Atlantic Fleet and be homeported at Norfolk, Va.
First, however, it will have at least six months of training and shakedown.
"Our job is to go wring the ship out and see it is working as advertised and make sure we as taxpayers got our money's worth," said Grinnow, who graduated from Texas A&M University and was in the Corps of Cadets before joining the Navy. A Texas A&M flag waves from the mast of the ship.
Grinnow, born in Neenah, Wis., went to high school in Falfurrias, Texas, and his parents live in Hondo, west of San Antonio.
The Burke class of destroyers is considered the most powerful and advanced ever built, making use of all-steel construction and high-tech damage control systems.
Naming a ship for an individual like Ross is rare in the Navy, where the honor is reserved for destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers.
Sister ships either already in the fleet or under construction include vessels named for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and the Sullivans, five Iowa brothers killed when their cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the battle for Guadalcanal.
Another distinction for the ship is that it is the first combat vessel to have a female as its master chief, essentially the person in charge of the crew.
"I just can't describe the feeling," Georgia Bockhouse, from Tyrone, Pa., said. "I have always enjoyed jobs that present a challenge and I love working with people.
"What's most impressive is watching the crew go from timid naive sailors and grow into fighting men and women. It's very exciting."
© 1997, by Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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