Retired July 31, 1964. Died Feb. 3, 1972.
William Milton Gross was born in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1908. He graduated from Salina High School, Kan., and attended Kansas Wesleyan University prior to entering military service.
After beginning his military career as a member of the Kansas National Guard in 1927 and entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1930, Second Lieutenant Gross was commissioned in the Field Artillery in 1934.
Shortly after his graduation from West Point, Lieutenant Gross began flight training. He graduated from basic and advanced flying schools at Randolph and Kelly fields, San Antonio, Texas, and received his pilot rating in 1935. Lieutenant Gross's first assignment with the Air Corps was at March Field, Calif., with the 30th Bomb Squadron.
As a First Lieutenant in the Air Corps, he became assistant operations officer at the Air Corps Technical School, Chanute Field, Ill., in Sept 1937. In February 1938, Lieutenant Gross entered the Armament Course at the school and after graduation in September 1936 he became bombsight officer for the 28th Bomb Squadron at Clark Field in the Philippine Islands. At that time he was the only individual in the Philippines who was cleared and had the knowledge to install, maintain and operate the Norden bomb sight.
In December 1940, Captain Gross was assigned as engineering officer for the Army Air Forces Combat Command at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., and later became commander of Headquarters Squadron at Bolling. During this assignment, he was promoted to major.
During World War II, Lieutenant Colonel (later colonel and brigadier general) Gross was initially named assistant chief of staff for materiel on an emergency staff at Fort Dix, N.J., to prepare the 8th Air Force Service Command for overseas movement. While at Fort Dix, the staff processed more than 15,000 personnel, most of them directly from civilian life, for shipment overseas. The processing was accomplished in record-breaking time with a minimum of red tape and the unit took pride in the fact that they only issued two written orders, one for assignment and one to ship overseas. Upon arrival at Bushy Park in England, General Gross was named chief of staff for operations, 8th Air Force Service Command. He assumed command of the 101st Provisional Combat Wing in July 1943 and was named commanding general of the 1st Combat Wing in Europe in May 1944. He led the first bombing raid on Schweinfurt, Germany.
Several significant changes in combat flying technique were developed by General Gross's wing during World War II. He was the first combat Air Commander to change a target in the air without pre-briefing before takeoff, a procedure which later developed into the 8th Air Force Air Commander concept of air leadership. Another first was the use of fighter aircraft as air weather scouts, flying out ahead of the bombers and radioing weather data back to the Air Commander. Another was the use of bright colored paint on wing tips and tail surfaces to aid in assembly of his formations. He also initiated the "buddy wing" concept between specific fighter and bomber wings. As he says, "more for our good, I'm afraid, than theirs."
After the war, he volunteered his wing to fly Allied personnel out of Germany. After setting a record fur such evacuations - 1,000 prisoners in two and one-half days from Barth, Germany, to Paris or London, his wing, the 1st Combat Wing, was cited by the commander of the 8th Air Force for outstanding operations.
General Gross is one of the very few officers who has attained the rank of brigadier general before completing ten years military service.
After 21 years of continuous combat duty, he returned to the United States in September 1945 to command the 1st Bomb Wing at McChord Field, Wash., which was scheduled to deploy to the Pacific Theater. In July 1946, he became chief of staff of the 3rd Air Force at Greenville, N.C.; he entered the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, in August 1947 and graduated in June 1948.
General Gross was assigned to Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va., in 1948. He served as director of requirements, became deputy for operations in 1950, and in 1951 was appointed assistant deputy chief of staff for operations.
In July 1951, General Gross was appointed the first regular commandant of the U.S. Air Force Air Ground Operations School at Southern Pines, N.C. He had previously served as project officer for establishing the school. A unique system at the school was to run up the "sparkle flag" as a tribute to school personnel when their work was particularly outstanding. The "sparkle flag" was a white pennant with a blue "S" on it. The motto of the school was: "Good is not enough. Make it sparkle".
When General Gross left Southern Pines he was made the town's first honorary citizen.
In 1952, General Gross assisted Pacific Air Command in setting up an Air Ground Operations School and while serving as deputy commander of the 12th Air Force in Europe, he designed a complete school facility, arranged for construction and established the school at Ramstein, Germany.
For several months during his assignment to the 12th Air Force, General Gross headed up a Joint Air Defense panel at Headquarters, SHAPE.
In June 1957, General Gross was assigned as chief of staff, Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va.
From March 1960 to August 1963, General Gross was assigned as chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Copenhagen, Denmark. On Aug. 26, 1963 he became director of transportation at Headquarters Air Force Logistics Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.