A Century of Excitement: The Story of Ralph Voss Jr.
San Luis Care Center

A Century of Excitement: The Story of Ralph Voss Jr.

Along the Ohio River, just opposite of Louisville, Kentucky, sits New Albany, Indiana, a small, charming town that Ralph Voss Jr. called home for more than a century.

Voss was born in New Albany on Jan. 7, 1923, to Ralph and Beulah Voss. His father worked at a boring factory, running machines that drilled holes into wooden car parts, and his mother stayed home and cared for Voss and his four siblings.

“My dad built a small house on State Street,” Voss said, “and I remember going to State Street school.”

Even as a child, Voss was brimming with enthusiasm, energy and determination, and his early years were filled with exciting boyish adventures and lots of sports. He especially liked basketball and baseball, and he was quite talented.

In high school, a bad knee break kept Voss out of school for a year and held him back, but he would not be stopped by an injury. He trained hard to recover, and when he returned to school was named captain of the New Albany High basketball team and led them to many victories. He was also an excellent baseball player, and multiple professional teams – including the Louisville Cardinals – expressed interest in hiring him after graduation. However, his destiny was not in sports. 


On Dec. 7, 1941, Voss was watching a movie when a voice over the theater microphone made a grave announcement: Japanese planes had attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack.

The theater’s atmosphere grew eerie and heavy with uncertainty as the audience realized Japan had instigated war with America. The next day, Congress declared war on Imperial Japan, and the United States officially entered World War II.

“The reality of it was pretty shocking,” Voss said. “I was quite sure that I was going to be drafted. It was just a matter of time.”

Sure enough, just after graduating high school, Voss was drafted into the U.S. Army. He joined the 97th Infantry Division on Feb. 3, 1943, and received basic training at Camp Swift near Austin, Texas. He also went through amphibious assault training along the California Coast.

Although training was hard, Voss did well. Ever full of energy, he was named chief of the howitzer, and his affable and cheerful nature helped him form strong friendships with his fellow soldiers and superiors.

“I had like seven men in my battery, and we became very, very close,” he said.


On June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 Allied troops invaded northern France at Normandy. More than 73,000 of those lost their lives in the ensuing battle, but as a result of the D-Day assault, the Allies established a Western Front and began defeating German Army units in France. Paris was liberated in late August, as Allies pushed across northern France into Belgium and then Germany. It looked like the end of the war was near.

However, in December, Nazi forces launched a massive counteroffensive in the Ardennes. The grueling Battle of the Bulge lasted six weeks, and by the dawn of 1945, Allied Forces were reeling. They had overpowered Germany but suffered heavy losses. Worried Adolf Hitler would bring reinforcements in from the east and topple their hard-won victory, Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower called for additional troops to support a western invasion of Germany.

Voss and the 97th Division had been earmarked to deploy in the Pacific Theater for the invasion of Japan, but when Eisenhower called for reinforcements, the division was reallocated and deployed to Europe. They arrived in Normandy on March 2 and were assigned to help the First Army as it moved northeast to form a pincer and encircle Nazi troops in the Ruhr region.

Trekking through France and Belgium, the division crossed the German border and established a defensive along the Rhine River’s west bank. On April 3, they entered combat.

“We went across the bridge of the Rhine River, on the pontoon bridge, and went into combat there,” Voss remembered. “There were a lot of Germans surrounded in the Ruhr. There were thousands of them, and they had a ton of howitzers – I think they called them an 88.”

By April 4, Allies had encircled and trapped more than 317,000 German soldiers in heavily damaged cities in the Ruhr. The surrounded troops were remnants of the Nazi forces – men as old as 60, service support forces and boys as young as 12 years old. Only about 75,000 had infantry weapons and their supplies were running out, but they would not surrender, putting up a strong resistance.

“We had to take them out,” Voss said.

Moving east, Voss’ division established a position on the southern bank of the Sieg river and began showering German positions on the northern bank with their firepower.

Voss was afraid during the fighting, but he was determined to do his job well. No matter how hard the battle was or how scared he felt, he pushed on.

“I prayed all the time,” he said about the war.

Although Nazi resistance fought hard, the 97th Division was well trained and full of courage. They quickly overpowered their enemies and advanced. Against heavy resistance, they captured the northeastern town of Siegburg on April 10.

Allied Forces all around the Ruhr were making headway. In mid-April, the First and Ninth U.S. Army groups met in the center of the Ruhr pocket, splitting it in two. Two days later, lacking food, supplies and ammunition, German forces began surrendering in massive numbers.

During this time, Voss led a group of more than 100 Nazi soldiers to a prisoner-of-war camp with the help of just two other Americans. Although the Germans could have killed Voss and escaped, they didn’t.

“If the Nazis wanted to, they could have overtaken us without any question,” he said about the memory. “We knew they were probably in bad shape.”

Seeing the Germans give up filled Voss with hope that the end of their fight was near.


Although Germans in the region were surrendering in large numbers, Hitler had not authorized an official surrender to any units in his “Fortress Ruhr,” and some Nazis continued resisting.

However, on April 17, the 97th Division captured the city of Solingen, and German power crumbled even more. Exhausted, out of supplies and with communication cut off, the last remaining Nazi field marshal discharged his men and told them to go home, and the resistance in the pocket collapsed. The next day, the major city of Dusseldorf fell, and the 97th Division’s work in the Ruhr was finished.

“We cleaned out the river valley; we blew up all the 88s,” Voss recalled proudly.

The division was then assigned to support the Third Army in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and on April 25, they captured and liberated the city of Cheb.

At the same time, Soviet forces captured Vienna as well as Konigsberg, Germany, while Western Allies defeated the Nazi in Italy and advanced across western Germany. They took Hamburg and Nuremberg, and Allied troops from the east and west met at the Elbe River, splitting Germany in two. By April 30, the Soviets had captured Berlin, and Hitler was dead.

Voss was in Konstantinovy Lazne, Czechoslovakia, when he received the cease-fire order and heard that Germany had unconditionally surrendered and the war in Europe was over.

“We celebrated, naturally,” Voss said.

Two months later, the United States dropped two atomic bombs over the towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing more than 200,0000 Japanese and leading Imperial Japan to surrender. World War II was finally over.

Voss faced many challenges and hardships during the war, but he always remained positive and persevered. Later in life, he looked back fondly on the experience, remembering the friendships he formed and the lessons he learned that helped shape the man he became.

“My experience in the service helped me find myself,” he said.

Civilian life

With the war over, it was time for Voss to settle down.

“I fell in love with a girl in high school; her name was Martha,” Voss said.

The couple had a military wedding in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and after Voss’ discharge, they returned to New Albany, where they bought land and built their own home.

Ralph and his wife, Martha, 1960

Voss wasn’t sure what to do for a career when he returned home after the war. After spending three years in the Army, he was too old for the professional baseball teams to consider hiring him, so he went to work at the boring factory with his dad to earn some money while he decided what to do.

One day at the factory, Voss saw an ad in the paper about a job with a small retail outlet in Louisville. Feeling good about it, he decided to apply, and he got the job.

Hildebrand Wholesale Company was a small outlet, and Voss was their first and only employee, but he wasn’t deterred by the company’s size. Determined as ever, he resolved to make a name for himself and began working hard.

Hildebrand’s specialty was toys, and Voss was an excellent salesman. When the company grew and added more employees, he was promoted to main buyer. Before long, Hildebrand had grown into an enormous chain with more than 300 stores across the nation, and Voss led as general manager.

Voss was a big name in the toy business and traversed the world making major purchases. For more than 30 years, he made annual trips to New York to buy and sell toys, often taking Martha with him. His job also took him to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. All the traveling fed Ralph’s adventurous spirit and was his favorite part of the job.

While his career grew, so did his family. He and Martha filled their two-story home with two boys, Mike and William “Bill,” who both grew up to be successful businessmen like their father.

After 32 years of business, Hildebrand was sold to another company, and Voss went to work for an automobile agency for a few years before retiring early in 1981.

Voss was excited to retire. He finally had time to pursue his hobbies and enjoy his granddaughter, great-granddaughter and, later, a great-great grandson.

“My definition of happiness is to sit back in retirement, to enjoy it and not to have to worry about your bank account, and just to stay in good health,” he said.

Voss became a resident at Green Valley Care Center in New Albany in 2021, after Martha passed away and a knee injury made it difficult for him to walk.

Despite the changes and challenges, Voss remained incredibly independent and often charmed his fellow residents and the center’s staff with his exuberant personality and tenacious nature.

“Mr. Voss was a very independent person with a sharp wit,” raved CNA Breanna Chinn. “He loved to keep our staff on their toes. It was always a good time when it was time spent with him. His time as a veteran, along with his tenacity to keep going, showed our other residents and staff what we can do and overcome if we really try!”

Editor’s note: Ralph Voss Jr. passed away in December 2023, as this piece was being finalized for print. The article was edited after his passing. With the permission of his family, it is being published on the 80th anniversary of D-Day in his memory and in memory of the other World War II veterans who so bravely sacrificed and fought to secure our freedom.

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