Honoring the Life of Sergeant William J. Rossman Jr.by Representative Paul Ryan
Posted on 2015-01-13
in the house of representatives
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I am submitting this statement to
honor the extraordinary life of a proud Wisconsinite, an American hero,
and a friend: Sergeant William J. Rossman Jr. Sergeant Rossman recently
passed away at the age of 91. He was a husband and father, a decorated
military veteran, and an outstanding member of his community. And
despite his storied military career and numerous accolades, those who
were fortunate enough to meet Sergeant Rossman know he preferred to go
by the much more modest title of ``Bill.''
Bill was your typical World War II Veteran. He was proud of his
service, but never one to boast or brag of his accomplishments. He
understood the true meaning of service: that you put others ahead
yourself. And he practiced this throughout his entire life, whether it
was with his family, his work, or his community. But it was nearly 71
years ago, during his time fighting in the war, that Bill performed an
act of service that still leaves me in awe to this day.
On February 14, 1944, after bombing the marshalling yards at Verona, Italy, Bill's B-24 Liberator was hit by a fierce concentration of flak that knocked out two of its engines. Unable to keep up with the bomber formation, six Messerschmitt ME-109s attacked the bomber, knocking out a third engine and starting a fire. The pilot, Lt. Robert Gernand, rang the alarm bell and ordered the crew to bail out of the aircraft. The bomber was in flames and falling in a tight spiral, quickly losing altitude. Under these dire circumstances, it would have made sense for Bill to follow the orders of Lt. Gernand and immediately do what was necessary to protect his own life. But that's not [[Page E61]] what happened. Bill noticed that his crew member Sgt. Louis Vasquez, the aircraft's radioman, was wounded and immobile. With complete disregard for his own life, Bill attended to Vasquez, removing his helmet and flak suit and securing his parachute before finally pushing him out of the camera hatch. Finally, Bill, who was also severely wounded, secured his out parachute and exited the aircraft.
Bill's story does not end there. After touching down, he was discovered by Italian resistance fighters who gave him medical care and transferred him to a monastery, where he posed as a wounded French civilian and remained silent to avoid being discovered by the Germans. But after ten days, Bill was identified as an American and taken away by German forces. He spent the next 15 months in various POW camps in different countries. Throughout his imprisonment, he was starved, his life was threatened, and received no medical attention for his wounds. He was marched from camp to camp, and faced numerous near-death experiences. Finally, in April 1945, Bill and his fellow prisoners in Bavaria were liberated by the Thirteenth Armored Division, led by a name familiar to all Americans: General George Patton.
Amazingly, Bill continued his career in the military after returning home to America. He remained in the Air Force and married his wife, Alice, in 1947 while attending Officer Candidate School. In 1949, he was discharged from the service after six years with the Army Air Corps and the U.S. Air Force. He returned to Racine, Wisconsin, where he and Alice raised their daughter, Pamela, and Bill worked in the private sector for 36 years until his retirement in 1986. In 2002, I had the privilege of presenting Bill with the Distinguished Flying Cross, America's oldest military aviation award. In addition to this and many other honors, Bill was also a recipient of a POW medal and the Purple Heart.
Bill was a true American patriot. I am submitting this statement for the record to honor his incredible life and help ensure that his story is remembered for years to come. His legacy sets a standard of what it truly means to serve. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Alice, his daughter Pamela, and his son-in-law Michael. He will be greatly missed by his friends, his family, the state of Wisconsin, and the United States of America.