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News From The Past


November 11, 2002

 

 

Heroic Veterans at Rest in Valley

By JOE BLACKSTOCK 

There are no statues honoring Henry Clay Davis.
No history book remembers Frank Fulton Ross.

The only newspaper item about William Cranston Erb was a four-paragraph obituary published almost five years after his death.

They are American soldiers buried in modest graves in Pomona and Ontario. And, like all who have served the country in uniform, they should be recognized today, Veterans Day.

Two of the men received the Medal of Honor, America's highest tribute to a fighting man. The third died far from home in a terrible accident few know about.

Their exploits occurred eight decades apart and half a world apart in battles and events to which history gives scant attention.

CLAY DAVIS

Davis, who lived in Pomona for 14 years before his death on July 9, 1929, was honored for his efforts at a Civil War battle near Atlanta known as the Battle of Ezra Chapel or Ezra Church.

On July 28, 1864, Davis and fellow members of the 46th Ohio Infantry, serving under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, attempted to cut the railroad supplying Southern troops.

The Union force dug in near the small church in Fulton County expecting an attack by a Southern force under Gen. John Bell Hood. Union troops, with the 46th Ohio in its midst, inflicted a significant defeat on Hood's troops in the battle.

What Davis did in that battle seems today to carry little significance: he single-handedly captured the colors of the 30th Louisiana Infantry.

"Capturing the flag' during the Civil War was a great achievement because it was tantamount to defeating an opponent. Each unit carried its own flag into battle, and everyone was responsible to make sure it was never captured. If the standard bearer fell on the battlefield, another soldier was obliged to pick up the flag and carry it.

Often it really wasn't a matter of how many of the enemy were killed or captured -- victory came when the other's colors were captured. More than a third of the Medals of Honor awarded during the Civil War were given to those who either captured the enemy's flag or prevented the capture of their own colors.

Davis remained with the 46th Ohio, which also fought in the bloody battles at Shiloh and Vicksburg, through the rest of the war until he was mustered out in June 1865 holding the rank of second lieutenant.

For his efforts in earning the Medal of Honor, Davis collected a special pension for the rest of his life.

After the war, he lived in Kansas and Missouri, and then moved to Pomona in 1915. He was a member of Pomona's Vicksburg post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War version of the American Legion, until his death in 1929.

He was buried with honor in Pomona Cemetery by his GAR comrades. He has only a common stone on his grave, giving neither a hint of his Civil War service, nor his Medal of Honor actions.

Former Cal Poly Pomona professor Dave Null of Claremont called my attention to Davis' story.

FRANK FULTON ROSS

Ross' exploits occurred in the Philippines in 1899. The United States captured the Philippines from Spain during the Spanish-American War, but Filipino revolutionaries fighting the Spanish then turned their attention to American soldiers.

Pvt. Ross was a member of the 1st North Dakota Volunteer Infantry, a National Guard unit. On May 16, 1899, a scouting party including Ross discovered that about 600 Filipinos had set fire to an important bridge near San Isidro on the island of Luzon.

The soldiers charged across the burning bridge, routed the insurgents and put out the flames. Fourteen National Guardsmen including Ross received the Medal of Honor.

Ross also saw service as a captain during World War I.

Later, he and his wife settled in South Dakota. They came to Ontario in November 1935 for a winter stay with his in-laws, but weeks later he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died.

His grave at Bellevue Cemetery does not have a military stone. A researcher with the Medal of Honor Society discovered Ross' burial place and had an additional gravestone placed there several years ago, noting his standing as a Medal of Honor recipient.

WILLIAM CRANSTON ERB

Erb was a victim of the worst American aircraft accident of World War II.

Forty American servicemen died when their B-17C Flying Fortress plunged into the ground June 14, 1943, near Bakers Creek, Australia. The six-man crew, including Flight Officer Erb, was taking 35 GIs, who had been on leave, to New Guinea. Only one man survived the crash.

Notice of Erb's burial was in a brief obituary in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin on May 26, 1948, a day before his burial in Pomona Cemetery and almost five years after his death.

Eugene Rossel of Chino, a member of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association, said his organization will mark the 60th anniversary of the crash next June 14 in Australia. The organization has attempted to tell the world about the accident, details of which were suppressed by the U.S. government during the war.

Erb, 22 at the time of his death, was born in San Francisco and was a resident of San Gabriel when he joined the Army Air Corps. He was buried May 27, 1948, in the family crypt at Pomona Cemetery, with the Pomona post of the American Legion giving him military honors.

Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Valley history every other Monday. He can reached at (909) 493-9382, or by e-mail j_blackstock@dailybulletin.com

 

 

2002, by Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
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