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Profile: Leo Rosskamm

Example of Distinguished Service Cross. (Source: Wikimedia)

Leo Rosskamm served with the Medical Department of the U.S. Army. A German native, he was imprisoned by the Nazis in Buchenwald for six months in 1938, was able to escaped, and found refuge in the United States, where he became a citizen. In 1941, he left his job in a Bronx delicatessen to volunteer for the Army, feeling he had a debt to pay to his new country. He was known as a quiet and able soldier until he hit Okinawa. He rescued wounded buddies under direct Japanese fire, protecting them with his body. He invaded a cave with a flamethrower to protect one wounded man who lay exposed outside. When a nearby company lacked a medical man, he risked his life, without orders, to go over and help. He made an amputation of a wounded man’s arm with a pair of scissors, with bullets whistling over his head. His commanding officer called him “the bravest man I ever knew.” Sergeant Rosskamm’s Distinguished Service Cross citation reads as follows:

“For distinguishing himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty at Okinawa Shima, Ryukus Islands. On 19 April 1945, elements of the company to which Technician Rosskamm was attached were advancing in an attack when fired on by an enemy machine gun. The fire wounded one demolition man after he had almost reached a gun position located in a cave dug into a ridge. Evacuation of the wounded man appeared impossible; however, Technician Rosskamm advanced by crawling under seemingly deadly enemy fire toward the wounded soldier. when the intensity of the enemy fire halted his advance, he called for a flame thrower, under cover of which he continued to advance and rescued the wounded man. Again, on 20 April 1945, during an attack by his unit, a sergeant was seriously wounded and lay writhing in pain on the open trail, exposed to the enemy weapon that wounded him. Technician Rosskamm, disregarding the enemy fire, advanced to the wounded man and succeeded in administering aid, protecting the wounded man with his body. In the evening of the same day, several Japanese infiltrated into his unit’s area and wounded several men. He immediately bounded out of his foxhole and proceeded to treat the wounded men. In the meantime, two armed Japanese approached. Technician Rosskamm, in self-defense, grasped the wounded soldier’s rifle and quickly killed the Japanese, after which he methodically returned to the administration of first aid. On April 28, an adjacent unit suffered several casualties from heavy machine gun and mortar fire. Since no aid man was available, Technician Rosskamm responded without orders to the care of the wounded. In evacuating one, he was shot through the helmet, knocking him down. Disregarding personal harm, he regained his feet and while still under fire, carried the man to safety. He returned to the area for other casualties and while administering aid, was shot through the neck. He temporarily halted his heroic efforts only for the sufficient time to dress his own wound and then, although bleeding profusely, continued to care for others. He was asked to leave the field and refused, saying that others were worse off than he and required his attention. The severity of his wounds was noted by an officer who demanded that the soldier leave the field. the intrepidity and extraordinary heroism displayed by Technician Rosskamm was a source of deep inspiration to all who witnessed his acts, which were performed in the finest traditions of the United States Military Service.”

Leo Rosskamm was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on October 6, 1945.

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