‘I never flew a combat mission in my B-17, I was lucky,’ John Ross
John Ross, who until relatively recently lived in North Port, Fla. for 33 years, was the pilot of a B-17 Bomber during World War II. He and his bomber crew were members of the 388th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force flying out of a field near Cambridge, England.
“They say when I got over there with my B-17 crew the Germans quit,” the old aviator said with a smile. “We did some checkout flights and we were to fly two combat missions, but both were scratched. I never flew a combat mission in World War II.
“At the time I felt bad I didn’t get to fly in combat. Thanking back on it, I feel very good I didn’t make one of those missions,” the 88-year-old former B-17 pilot observed.
He and his crew arrived in England a couple of weeks before VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day).
Ross dropped out of Buffalo State College in Buffalo, N.Y. at the end of his third semester and signed up for the Army Air Corps’ Cadet Program in March 1943 to become a pilot.
He was sent to Keesler Field in Mississippi for basic. He took Pre-Cadet Training at Santa Ana, Calif. and went on to Primary Flight Training at Hemet, Calif. From there it was on to Advanced Flight School at Douglas, Ariz. His first experience flying a B-17 “Flying Fortress” came when he moved to a base at Roswell, N.M. His 10 member B-17 crew came together for final flight training at a field in Rapid City, S.D.
“In March of 1945 we went aboard the troop ship General Gordon and sailed for Europe in Convoy. Two-and-a-half weeks later we arrived in Le Havre, France. We unloaded most of the American troops aboard ship, filled the transport with German POWs and headed back to Liverpool, England,” Ross said.
“Before the war ended we flew one mission where we dropped food over Holland. The Germans had flooded the country when they pulled out. The Dutch were starving,” he said. “We put food in the bomb bay of our B-17 and dropped it at 500 feet over Holland. One of the care packages hung up in the bomb bay and we kicked it out on the way home. Some Dutch family got an unexpected CARE package.
“After the war they sent us to Austria to pick up displaced persons the Germans had been holding. My navigator was relying out a new kind of radar gadget called a ‘G-Box’ that didn’t work too well. We got lost,” Ross recalled. I reversed procedures and flew back to our base in England the way we came. I got chewed out by my squadron commander when I landed.
“A couple of days later we flew the same route again and this time it was perfect. We picked up 20 displaced French civilians who had been trapped in Austria during the war and flew them home to France,” he said.
“I gave them a special trip around the Eiffel Tower. They were having a parade in Paris when we flew over. We went right over Notre Dame Cathedral and I landed at an airport outside Paris,” Ross said.
“After that I flew a number of sight seeing trips from our base in England over bombed out German cities. We’d take a dozen or so people on trips to inspect the damage Allied bombers did to German cities during the war.”
After six of these missions, Ross and his crew picked up a new B-17 at Valley Wales and flew back to the United States.
“We flew from Valley Wales to the Azores which took about 10 hours. They made us stay there for a couple of days because of head wends. Then we flew from the Azores to Newfoundland. We stayed over night and then flew to Bradley Field in Westover, Conn. I landed at the airport on July 4, 1945,” he said.
During his 30 day leave, after Ross returned to the States, he married his wife, Roberta, when he returned to his home in Gowanda, N.Y., south of Buffalo. She graduated from nursing school and he went back to Buffalo State College thanks to the G.I. Bill and picked up where he left off almost three years earlier.
With a degree in Industrial Arts, Ross began a 30 years teaching career. For a number of years he taught Industrial Arts at several schools in New York State. Then he got a job working as a manager with the State Bureau of Industrial Arts Education in New York a post he held for a decade.
He and Roberta moved to North Port in 1977. They lived there almost 33 years until her death in January 2010. They were married for 64 years. He sold his North Port home last year and moved to Bay Village in Osprey, south of Sarasota. He has two sons: Dennis and Terry.
Name: Beverly John Ross
D.O.B: 14 Dec. 1922
Hometown: Gowanda, NY
Current: Sarasota, Fla.
Entered Service: 4 Aug. 1944
Discharged: 8 October 1945
Unit: 388th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
Commendations: Distinguished Unit Citation, European, African, Medal-Eastern Campaign Ribbon
Battles/Campaigns: European Theater
*Click on image to enlarge
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, July 4, 2011. It is republished with permission.