November 11, 2016
Wayne William Gross grew up the same way most Iowa farm boys grew up in the 1940s and ’50s, God, country and sports.
Sadly, he lost his life the same way thousands of other young men of his generation did in the jungles of Vietnam.
On Monday, Gross was officially inducted into Iowa State University’s Gold Star Hall, which honors former students who have fallen in battle.
Born on June 28, 1941, Gross grew up on a family farm near Breda helping his father Raymond with livestock and grain, while finding time to participate in 4-H. He loved showing his steers at the Carroll County Fair in Coon Rapids.
Sports were Gross’s other love. He played baseball, basketball, wrestled and ran track before graduating from Kuemper Catholic High School in 1959.
“I think he played about every sport there was when we were kids,” his sister Suzanne, now Sister Mary Susan of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, said.
If he wasn’t playing sports or helping on the farm, Gross was probably doing something at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church. Sister Mary Susan says his faith was something he carried with him his entire life.
“He was a very even man,” she said. “He was a lot of fun, but he had a very spiritual side to him. He was a believer and he had a great love of our country.”
After high school, Gross headed east to attend the University of Notre Dame. While in South Bend, Indiana, Gross joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross — becoming a religious brother in the Catholic Church.
“When he joined the Brothers of Holy Cross, none of us were surprised because we knew he had a deep faith,” his sister said.
Gross was an excellent student by all accounts. He transferred from Notre Dame to St. Louis University where he received his bachelor’s degree in biology. He earned his master’s degree in economics at Iowa State University in 1967.
The year 1967 turned out to be about more than academics for Gross. He met his future wife Leanne McFadden (now Leanne Gross Harvey), at a mutual friend’s wedding. McFadden was a bridesmaid and Gross a groomsman.
A year later, in April of 1968, the couple were married in Quantico, Virginia.
Gross-Harvey says the wedding wasn’t exactly rushed, but it was done ahead of schedule because Gross had joined the Marine Corps and was being sent to the war in Vietnam.
“We didn’t plan on moving up the marriage because we didn’t expect him to go to Vietnam because of his master’s degree,” said Gross-Harvey, who is from Atlantic. “I supported him 100 percent. He just felt it was his duty to protect the United States at that time.”
Sister Mary Susan says she can remember the night Gross told his father and mother (Marcella) the news that he was going to join the Marine Corps.
“When he told my folks he was going to join the Marine Corps my mother asked him, ‘Why the Marines?’ and he said, ‘Because that’s where I can give the most,’” she said.
Gross was deployed on July 10, 1968, to the Quang Tri Province in Vietnam, where he served as a platoon commander in Company M 2nd Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines.
He was dead five weeks later at the age of 27.
Gross was proud to be Marine and proud to serve his country, Sister Mary Susan said.
“He had studied all four branches and had graduated and decided the Marines were where he wanted to go,” she said.
On Aug. 19, 1968, 2nd Lt. Gross was killed by enemy sniper fire.
Gross had deployed his squads to provide covering fire for another platoon moving toward a densely wooded hill outside of Hue in Quang Tri Province.
According to records, the advancing unit came under a heavy enemy grenade attack and automatic-weapons fire before Gross established a base of fire. He immediately came under accurate fire from the hostile force. Disregarding his own safety, Gross repeatedly exposed himself to intense fire as he moved among his men to direct their efforts and ensure maximum firepower was being delivered.
His actions subsequently led to the defeat of the enemy, but Gross was mortally wounded by sniper fire during action.
Gross-Harvey and Sister Mary Susan said Gross sent letters to them and his parents almost every day he was in Vietnam.
“We even got a letter from the day he died. He said ‘there’s gunfire in the distance and I’m going to have a tough day,’” Sister Mary Susan said.
In 1969, then President Richard Nixon posthumously awarded Gross the Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidness in action” against the Viet Cong. In addition, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Purple Heart, Vietnam Campaign Medal and Vietnam Service Medal.
Jack Dillon, who also served in Vietnam, was the best man in Gross’s wedding, while Gross served as best man in Dillon’s wedding.
“Wayne and I were good friends here (in Ames),” he said. “I tried to talk him out of his sense of obligation to Vietnam. He’s a true American hero because he felt it was important that he do that even though he was aware of the risk.”
Following Gross’s death, an Iowa State alumnus and one of his fellow graduate students wanted to honor his fallen friend’s selflessness. He established the Wayne W. Gross Graduate Fellowship in honor of Wayne’s sacrifice for his country. The recipients of the fellowship are Iowa State doctoral students in economics who are beginning their dissertation process.
Second Lt. Gross is buried at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cemetery, next to his parents.