Opinion: Museum director charts family’s service in the military
For the last several years the Middlebury Rotary has erected American flags around town on national holidays. Local businesses, Rotarians, and other supportive citizens have underwritten the flag project. This year an additional commemoration was begun — installation on national holidays of American flags with veteran plaques (name, rank, branch of service, and if served in combat) in Cannon Park. Over 50 veterans have been honored with these flags and plaques. Middlebury Rotary member Tim Hollander conceived the idea.
I subscribed to 12 flags honoring members of my immediate or extended family, many with Vermont roots. What a pleasure for me to look from my window on the second floor of the Sheldon Museum onto Cannon Park and view the many flags commemorating veterans.
In my family, the military service began with my grandfather, Maj. Jacob Johnson Ross, M.D., who served in France in World War I as the flight surgeon of the 17th Aero Squadron. Dr. Ross returned home to Middlebury where he practiced medicine from what was his home and office, now the Kitchel House. He died prematurely in 1929 from an appendicitis attack. Dr. Ross was a founder of the local American Legion and the Middlebury Rotary Club. Letters exchanged between Dr. Ross and his Middlebury family are in the collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum.
Dr. Ross had two sons who served in the military during World War II:
(1) Maj. Charles Robert Ross, U.S. Army Air Force, service dates 1942-1948. Charlie Ross returned from Europe, earned a law degree from the University of Michigan, practiced in Burlington until appointed by President Kennedy and reappointed by President Johnson to the Federal Power Commission. On returning to Vermont he and his wife Charlotte owned and operated Taproot, the Morgan Horse Farm in Hinesburg. He was also a longtime appointee to the United States Section of the International Joint Commission, presidential appointments from Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. His son Charles R. Ross is the current Vermont Secretary of Agriculture
(2) Major Austin H. Ross, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, service dates 1941-1946. Austin was a graduate of the University of Vermont. A small-college All-American football player in 1936, he also was captain of the Catamounts that season, his senior year. In addition, the cum laude graduate co-captained the track team and won letters in basketball and tennis. A 1973 UVM Hall of Fame inductee and one of the top scholar-athletes ever at Vermont, Austin H. Ross was elected to the Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary All-American team in 1961 along with such great football personalities as the late Vince Lombardi and former Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson. Following World War II, Austin Ross launched the Derby Construction Co. in Louisville, Ky., and after that a modest beginning (one dump truck and about $2,000), he developed it into a multi-million dollar franchise.
Dr. Ross had two daughters whose husbands served in the military during World War II:
(1) Katherine Ross married William F. Brooks of Cambridge, Mass., who was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, a navigator on a PBY in the Pacific, serving from 1942-1947. Following the war Mr. Brooks was appointed president of the National Grain Trade Council in Washington, D.C., where he was employed until his retirement in 1985. He and his family resided in Arlington, Va., but spent part of their summers at Long Point, North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, at a camp purchased by Dr. Ross in 1929.
(2) Helen Ross married William Bradford Patterson, M.D., of Connecticut, who was an Lt. J.G. in the U.S. Navy, aboard a mine sweep, serving from 1943-1946. Dr. Patterson and his family lived primarily in Brookline, Mass. He directed the Department of Cancer Control at the Dana Farber Institute. During his tenure at the institute, Brad convinced the Farber to ban smoking on the premises, setting a trend for other hospitals. He developed and directed the first Ethics Rounds at the Institute, which led to innovations in patient care and training opportunities for staff. He and his wife Helen first retired to Middlebury and later to Wake Robin in Shelburne. He and his family maintained two summer camp sat Long Point, North Ferrisburgh, Vermont.
Dr. Ross had three grandsons who served in the military during the Vietnam era:
(1) William F. Brooks Jr., Captain, U.S. Air Force, a special agent in the Office of Special Investigations, service from 1964-1968, with duty assignments in Washington, D.C., Seoul, Korea, and Cincinnati, Ohio. After a banking career of 25 years on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Brooks earned a master’s degree in American Folk Art Studies from NYU and began his next career in the nonprofit world. He resides in New Haven, Vermont, and is executive director of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History in Middlebury.
(2) Robert T. Brooks, Lt. J.G., U.S. Navy, Supply Office on a LST, 1968-1971, stationed out of Little Creek, Va. After the service, he earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School, was a financial consultant for a firm in Philadelphia, Pa., then earned a divinity degree from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. He is now retired and resides with his wife in Little Compton, R.I.
(3) Scott A. Ross, Commander, U.S. Navy, Pilot Air Craft Carriers, 1974-1994. After retired from the service, he flew for UPS, but is now fully retired and resides with his wife in Orange Park, Fla.
Dr. Ross, through his spouse Hannah Elizabeth Holmes Ross of Charlotte, Vt., had/has several distant cousins from multiple generations, who served in the military:
(1) George Lucius Russell, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy, raised in New Haven and Middlebury, Vt., military service 1920-1962, World War II, Submarines and JAG, married Katharine Burrage of Middlebury, Vt., daughter of Classics Professor W.S. Burrage of Middlebury College. Family summered at Gardner’s Island in Lake Champlain, located between Long Point and Kingsland Bay.Admiral Russell’s father, Leroy Carter Russell (1874-1954), was a lawyer and Addison County state’s attorney. Leroy Russell served as a trustee of the Sheldon Museum.
(2) Thomas H. Russell, son of George and Katharine Russell,Quartermaster, U.S. Navy, 1945-1947, World War II era, resided in Brandon and Shoreham, Vt., with his spouse Virginia de Ganahl Russell. They were owner/operators of the White Face Ranch in Shoreham.
(3) Joe de Ganahl, Commander, U.S. Naval Reserves, Aviator, 1925-1943, World War II, father of Virginia de Ganahl Russell. He was attached as press correspondent for The New York Times to the Byrd North Pole Expedition of 1926, and also accompanied Admiral Byrd as navigator on his first Antarctic expedition of 1928-1929. He was killed in Sitka, Alaska, in 1943 while piloting a plane.
(4) Michael C. Sednaoui, Captain, U.S. Army, 1944-1953, World War II and Korea War era. Married to Anne Carter Russell Sednaoui, daughter of George Lucius Russell. Following his service in the U.S. Army, was employed by the CIA, with assignments in Washington, D.C., Italy and Australia. Upon his retirement resided in the Russell family home farm property in New Haven.
The above is only one story to tell a family honored thought the Middlebury Rotary Club Veterans’ Flag Project.
William F. Brooks Jr.
Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History