MORAN — Early Friday morning five volunteers met at the little cemetery outside Moran. When they left, 83 flags fluttered in the late-spring breeze, where before there were none. The project — to color the rural graveyard’s center aisle in red, white and blue for Memorial Day — was a joint effort between Moran’s American Legion, the Sons of the American Legion, and the Marmaton Masonic Lodge.
Among this clutch of patriotic mensches was Willis Ross. Ross, 96 years old but as limber as a willow switch, moved from spot to spot, bending at the waist to clear debris from the openings of the PVC tubes that were installed as flag holders, each one buried a vertical 17 inches in the soil. Having cleared the holder, Ross would plant the slender flagpole — its banner wound tightly around its upper half — into the ground and twist the rod in his fingers until the wind itself took hold of the unfurling flag.
Ross served in the Army Air Forces during the Second World War — in England, in France. “I actually made it all the way to Mannheim, Germany, crossing over the Rhine River.” The LaHarpe native worked a variety of jobs during those jagged years. He was a teletype operator in England. He attached wing tanks to the refueling planes that streamed into the tiny airstrips outside London. Later, he crossed the English Channel on an equipment ship, landing at Omaha Beach, and from there transported a military tractor 600 miles across the breadth of France over the course of six days. After that, he spent the rest of the war running fuel trucks.