Titusville Heroes: Cleo J. Ross & Bruce Shorts

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice between the Allies and Germany that ended the bloodshed of World War I. In commemoration of this event, we want to share with you the history of the namesakes of our local veterans organizations: Cleo J. Ross and Bruce Shorts.

After World War I, many returning soldiers sought to fill a void left in their lives by the end of military service. They needed a camaraderie, a fellowship of friends that understood what it was like to have been in their shoes. Thus, they created the American Legion.

The Legion has a long history in Titusville. Prior to its establishment, a veterans’ organization called the GAR, or Grand Army of the Republic, existed in Titusville for veterans of the Civil War. Titusville featured Chase Post 50 of the GAR, but by WWI membership was becoming thin, and fewer veterans were around to meet and socialize.

The national organization of the American Legion was formed in March 1919. Titusville’s WWI veterans quickly rose to create their own local post and applied for a charter in October of that year. The original name was to be the Colonel Drake Post. The charter was applied for by fifteen veterans of the First World War including: Harry Botsford, Harold H. Benedict, Howard E. Ludwig, Warren A. Love, Arvid H. Anderson, Earle A. Francis, Walter L. Hyde, Frank Nodine, W. Wayne Kemble, Edward R. Dutton, Henry A. Coe, Clyde A. Major, M.J. Murphy, Charles Dale, and James R. Gahan, Esq.

Cleo Ross Chapter American Legion 4.12.1920
Titusville Herald – April 12, 1920

The temporary charter for the Titusville post was received on October 20, 1919 and the first meeting was held at James R. Gahan’s law office. Harry Botsford was elected as the first chairman of the post, and the organization quickly grew in popularity. By April 1920 the group struck a deal with the fading GAR and took over their third-floor lease on Diamond Street. They renamed the space the American Legion Hall for the time being.

Simultaneously, the group was trying to decide what to call themselves. Though they applied for their charter with the intention of being called the Colonel Drake Post, many wanted to keep with tradition and name it after a soldier who had given the ultimate sacrifice. One Titusville native who made that sacrifice for his country was Cleo Jepson Ross.

Cleo J. Ross was born February 17, 1896 in Titusville. He attended Titusville schools and graduated as president of his class in 1914. After graduation, Ross went to Penn State and enrolled in agriculture and military courses. When the United States entered into WWI in 1917, Ross answered his country’s call. On August 23, 1917 he entered officer training school. He returned home for Thanksgiving, leaving later that night to prepare for deployment. On December 4, 1917 he sailed for France. Ross was in the 8th Balloon Division of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Throughout his time overseas, he served on the front lines of the war.

Meuse Argonne
Meuse-Argonne, France
Cleo Ross Killed 1 10.12.1918
Titusville Herald – October 12, 1918

On September 26, 1918, twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Ross was shot down while in his balloon on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Operation. This operation was the bloodiest of WWI, claiming over 26,000 American lives and it ended with the armistice on November 11. A friend of Ross’s, Corporal Arthur G. Maier didn’t know it at the time, but witnessed his friend being shot down. Maier was wounded on September 27 and recounted to another friend how he saw the balloons in the air and an enemy plane coming at them. The plane struck all the balloons and Maier unknowingly watched Ross’s final moments. In recognition of his bravery and supreme sacrifice, the Titusville Post of the American Legion honored Cleo J. Ross by naming the post after him.

Over time, the Cleo J. Ross Post moved around Titusville, making their home on South Franklin Street in the mid-1920s, on West Central Avenue (where the Elks Club is today) from 1935 to 1944, and finally moved to their current location at 113 East Central Avenue on May 2, 1944. 

Though it was nationally established prior to the American Legion, the VFW, or Veterans of Foreign Wars, did not make its appearance in Titusville until 1946.

Bruce Shorts Post Opening 2.27.1946
Titusville Herald – February 27, 1946

Originally, veterans of the Spanish-American War banded together in 1899 to create organizations of veterans who served on foreign soil. They called themselves the American Veterans of Foreign Service. In 1913, the disparate groups got together in Denver to create what is today the VFW. Titusville’s post of the VFW was inaugurated in February 1946 and formally chartered on February 28th of that year. The servicemen who signed the original charter were: Edward W. DeRosia, Horatio W. Bush, Harrison A. Day, David J. Gregory, Neil MacQuarrie Jr., Samuel B. Minick Jr., Thomas R. Sterner, Joseph H. Taylor, Louis Vincovich, Paul Waddingham, David E. Wahlin, Everett M. Wakefield, Floyd W. Weaver, Lawrence L. Weaver, and Merle F. Weaver.

The Titusville VFW first met at the YMCA. Soon after, they shared a room with the American Legion until June 1946 when they took over the space at Central and Monroe that the Legion vacated to move to their current location. The first officer corps was made up of Merle Weaver, Commander; Joseph Taylor, Senior Vice-Commander; Horatio Bush, Junior Vice-Commander; Edward DeRosia, Quartermaster; Donald Winters, Frank Murphy, and David Wahlin, Trustees; and Samuel Minick, Adjutant.

VFW Creation 2.8.1946
Titusville Herald – February 8, 1946

At the first formal meeting, Senior Vice-Commander Joseph Taylor suggested that they name the post after the first person from Titusville to make the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. The young man’s name was Howard Bruce Shorts.

Howard Bruce Shorts, known to everyone in town as Bruce, was born on March 25, 1919 to George W. Shorts and Daisy Shorts. A local boy from birth, he played tackle on the varsity football team and was on the basketball team. He was a gifted musician in the band, orchestra, and even sang. He graduated from Colestock High School, class of 1938. He had two sisters, Jeanne and Ellen, and a foster brother, Wells.

Before the United States even entered World War II, Shorts enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 3, 1939 as a private. He first went to Fort Slocum, New York. Quickly, Shorts learned he would be going overseas. He returned home on September 11, 1939 before sailing for the Philippines the next day. It was the last time his family would see Bruce on this earth.

Shorts spent his early time in the military in Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines. In letters, he assured his family that everything was going well and he was having a fine time. Suddenly, on December 7, 1941 everything changed. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also attacked Bataan and other locations in the Philippines. Shorts and his fellow soldiers were forced on the defense and withdrew to the peninsula until Bataan fell in April 1942 and Corregidor fell the next month. Shorts’s parents received a letter from the young man, which was sent before the attacks began, stating that he had lost about forty pounds during his deployment, but “don’t worry, have faith and I will see you soon.”

Bataan 4.10.1942
Titusville Herald – April 10, 1942

The Shorts family agonizingly waited for months after the fall of Bataan for news about their son. On April 16, 1943, an entire year later, they finally received word that Shorts had survived, but was sent to a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. At least three other Titusville-area men, PFC Walter Smith, Staff Sergeant William Monroe, and PFC Richard Manuel, had also been captured. Many families were in limbo, waiting to see what fate held for their children.

Bruce Shorts Missing 8.11.1942
Titusville Herald – August 11, 1942

Though they did not know it at the time, Shorts and his fellow soldiers had been through hell. Though they survived the initial attack, they had to endure the Bataan Death March. Shorts walked over sixty miles and survived intense brutality before reaching what would become his final destination: Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp.

It is unknown exactly what happened to Bruce Shorts during his internment at Cabanatuan. But within just a few months, he was ill. On October 27, 1942, Bruce Shorts died of malaria while a POW. He was twenty-four years old.

The other Titusville-area men imprisoned after the attack of the Philippines were liberated in 1945 with the exception of PFC Walter Smith who died at Mukden Prison Camp in Manchuria. Eventually, Shorts’s body was returned home and he is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Steuben Township.

Titusville’s veterans’ organizations are named after two of scores of valiant men and women who served their country during times of war. Cleo J. Ross and Bruce Shorts represent the many local men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Ross and Shorts were only twenty-two and twenty-four years old, but they had courage far beyond their years. Their names stand emblazoned on our local organizations as reminders of what it means to be truly brave, giving, and honorable. They will never be forgotten.

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