In September of this year, while attending his 40th Infantry Division Reunion in Southern California, Ervin Gross, 85, along with his division was recognized for their outstanding service during the Korean War.
Mr. Gross joined the Army in 1950 and served in the 40th Division for two years.
Mr. Gross was raised in Mason, Texas and is the son of Bill and Mille Gross. His sisters Willie Mae McCollum and Gayle Keith still reside in the Texas hill country area. Mr. Gross and his wife Carolyn reside in Fredericksburg. They have been blessed with a loving family including two daughters and five grandchildren.
As part of the reunion, in addition to a certificate signed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Mr. Gross and his division members received 3 medals, one from the Friends of the Korean War Veterans, one from the South Korean Government, and one from the United States Department of Defense. The Department of Defense medal was cast by Korean steel company POSCO out of barbed wire from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
The members of the 40th division also received special recognition for their continued support of the Kenneth Kaiser School in Gapyong, Korea. The school was named after 19 year old Sergeant First Class Kenneth Kaiser who was the division’s first fatality during the war. Though these soldiers were fighting on the front in fierce mountain battles at Heartbreak Ridge and the Punchbowls, many donated $15 from their paychecks so their engineers could purchase the materials needed to build a school. Members of the 40th division also volunteered their labor. All to build a middle school amidst the rubble for the Korean school children camped out near the 40th division’s position. This original 10 room school building still stands today. Over the years, the school has expanded its campus to more than one city block and is considered one of the five best in South Korea. There is also a five-story dormitory named for Maj. Gen. Joseph Cleland, commander of the 40th division during the Korean War. To this very day, members of the 40th division continue to provide scholarships to support the school.
This potential last reunion was appropriately filled with numerous special events. As part of the reunion, the veterans visited the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base - headquarters of the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division. While at Los Alamitos, the veterans were honored with a nine-gun salute. Also, wreaths were laid to remember the soldiers who were lost in what has been called “The Forgotten War.” While at Los Alamitos, Mr. Gross had the opportunity to again hold an M-1 carbine rifle similar to the one he had in Korea. He said in an interview with an Orange County reporter, “It’s heavy now. It felt pretty light then.”
There are two major reasons why this reunion may be their last. First, all of these veterans are in their 80s; only some can stand at attention when the command is shouted. Secondly, as stated by Mr. Gross and others, it is getting harder for these veterans to travel.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates Korean War veterans make up less than 10 percent of all living veterans.
Mr. Gross was accompanied to the reunion with his wife and their daughter Janice Williams of San Antonio.