Delegates to American Legion Buckeye Boys State were challenged to live a life of honor by a hero who
knows the full measure of the word.
Ronald Rosser of Zanesville, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, spoke during Sunday evening’s
assembly following an extended standing ovation by the teens.
In his introduction of Rosser, BBS Director Jerry White noted a hero is not someone who makes a winning
basket in the last seconds of a game. "No, that’s an accomplishment, an achievement. A hero is
willing to give his life on behalf of others."
During a battle near Ponggilli, Korea, in 1952, though heavily outnumbered by enemy soldiers, Rosser
single-handedly took out more than 20 of them by charging up a hill, firing his carbine and throwing
grenades. Twice he needed to return to his original position to get more ammunition and grenades, and
rally his fellow soldiers to join him. When the skirmish was done, and though wounded himself, Rosser
helped bring back other soldiers with injuries more severe than his own.
Informing the delegates that their experience at BBS means that people will pay attention to them, he
challenged, "You have to prepare yourself. You need to develop a sense of honor, a code of honor
that’ll stay with you all your life. When you pass away, they’ll say an honorable person has passed
away. You couldn’t ask for a better tribute."
Their code of honor should include keeping their word once they give it; honoring their parents,
teachers, those helping at BBS and themselves; not lying or stealing; and not using drugs.
Briefly referring to his Army service and medal, he said, "I was a young private in the Army. As I
rose in the ranks I learned my job is to take care of other people."
After Ponggilli, "I didn’t know I’d done anything until they told me, ‘You’ve done a great thing, a
very brave thing.’" Rosser recalled responding, "What are you talking about? It was an
ordinary day for me."
He added, "Never have so few faced so many enemy soldiers. You didn’t leave anybody behind. People
ask me, ‘What was going through your mind? My only answer: that other men might live."
Prior to the assembly Rosser, who is close to 80, said there are 96 surviving Medal of Honor recipients,
but only 35 to 40 are healthy enough to travel and attend special events. "I’m one of the young
men," he quipped.
"It’s changed my life from small-town American to world traveler, Russia, China, Europe, all over
the U.S.," he said, noting he is gone year-round with speaking engagements. Rosser is especially
invited to speak at schools and veterans’ groups. On July 4 he is a motivational speaker at West Point.
This was Rosser’s first visit to any Boys State program.
The teens were also able to hear from a delegate of the "Founding 400" who attended the first
Buckeye Boys State in 1936, William O’Neil of Pittsburgh. Though 90, O’Neil spoke with the vitality of
someone decades younger, sharing his memories of that first program held on the grounds of the Ohio
State Fair in Columbus. He drew comparisons to the delegates’ experiences this week, but described
sleeping on Army cots in the cattle barns. The structures had roofs but no side walls, and O’Neil
remembers thinking he’d freeze to death at night, even though it was June – his one lasting memory of
BBS. He admitted it was his fault because the teens were responsible to bring their own bedding.
After sharing news about his experience at BBS, he detailed what his life was like growing up in rural
Ohio from 1918 into the Great Depression; living in a house without electricity or indoor plumbing and
attending a one-room school with 30 children in eight grades with one teacher.
As a surprise, O’Neil was honored with an induction into the Buckeye Boys State Hall of Fame for his role
in helping to lay the foundation for the premier program it is today. A plaque inducting all of the
"Founding 400" into the Hall of Fame was also announced, and it will be displayed at the BBS