By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(November 19, 2013) He was born near Ridgway in 1916, delivered by Ouray’s Dr. Bates. As a young man he was good looking and charismatic, and might have pursued a career in the field of entertainment had he survived. Sadly, though Pilot Charles Ross was able to parachute from the fiery explosion that had engulfed his B25 above Italy in 1945, he survived for just a matter of days after being rescued by caring civilians. Ross, who was 28, was greatly missed by his family, including younger sister Leila who was then a schoolteacher. Over the years, Leila has saved a few treasured pictures of her handsome brother, and treasured a thousand memories.
“He was seven years older than me,” she said. “Mother kept his letters from the time he was inducted. It was quite a history—he used to say that he loved to fly, but he sure hated those missions.”
When the family learned that Charles had been shot down, it was February.
“The War ended in June,” Leila recalled. “We knew he was missing, but we had just hoped he had gone North, or something…”
Instead, they learned that Ross had died in a military hospital in Trentino, Italy. His sister, now 90, lives in Montrose, where she has spent most of her life. Last week, Leila Ross Ala learned that somebody in Trentino had acquired a picture of Charles long ago, and wanted his family to have it.
The letter had found her via the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center Facebook site, after it had been received and posted at the front desk of the non-profit’s headquarters at 11 South Park Avenue. WHM Founder Melanie Kline had mentioned the letter on Jim Kerschner’s KUBC radio show a week ago, and when she returned to the Warrior Resource Center, Kline encountered World War II veteran Charles Carr.
As fate would have it, Carr had been a seventh grade student of Leila’s many years ago, and thought the letter referred to her brother. After some investigation, Carr found Leila at Homestead of Montrose.
For Kline, it was the latest in a series of miracles that have taken place since she founded Welcome Home Montrose and the Warrior Resource Center several years ago.
“I am amazed at the internet, at Facebook, at Google translator, the miracle of Welcome Home Montrose, and a wonderful man in Italy who contacted us with a very old photo he has kept since 1945,” Kline said. “What are the odds?”
As Leila awaits the arrival of the long lost photo, she has been working to compose a song in honor of Charles, and writing her memories down.
“I was a teacher, and when I got the word about Charles I was fresh out of college,” she said. “I was 20, and I had students as old as 16! It really was not the best year.”
Born in the West End and a graduate of Norwood High School, Leila stays sharp today with laughter and by playing music—though she is a polio survivor, she has adapted to her physical limitations and still plays for others–and by reflecting on life’s mysteries.
“My brother was no coward,” she said. “He was burned and broken, and his crew had gone down with the plane. He was in a hospital right there, but he may not have had the will to live.”
In the words of a poem that Leila continues to rewrite a little each day, “Did he have an inkling that this would be his final mission, the silver bird, pilot and his crew?”
Leila looks forward to having another photo of Charles for her album, and enjoys visiting with the staff who assist her at Homestead of Montrose. She does have some suggestions for the kitchen, however.
“I watch Dr. Oz,” she said. “I think they should make our cooks watch Dr. Oz—there aren’t enough vegetables on our plates, and they tend to be overcooked. They’ll put corn with potatoes–how about a fresh salad?”
Paying attention to her health is a lifelong habit, she noted, and she has no intention of breaking it now.
“I am 90 years old, and I can do what I want,” she said.
By Caitlin Switzer