Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Segment 8

Segment 9

Mairzy Doats

First plane he shot down

Becoming an Ace

Shot down by rifle fire

Flying P47s

Transcription

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(interviewer) If you would, sir,
could you give me your name?
(Clayton Kelly) I was born in Walla Walla, Washington—a
town so pretty, they named it twice—Walla Walla.
Famous for onions now, but it was famous for me, too.
We left there early.
I came by my military time, actually, because
my father was an Infantry Officer in World
War I, and my uncle was an—a commander of the
164th Infantry of the Washington National Guard.
I joined the Civil-Military training, CMTC,
in—when I was about fifteen years old, and
I had a couple of years in that.
I joined the National Guard at the urging
of my uncle, who wanted me in his unit, and
he put me in battalion headquarters.
I was there for my three-year enlistment,
during which I rose all the way to Private
First Class—maybe Corporal—I’m not sure
now, I think it was Private First Class.
And when the war was—in Europe was boiling,
they—my enlistment was running out in the
National Guard, and I decided I wanted to be
a pilot, so I had taken both the Army Air
Corps and Navy Air Corps tests as the teams
came through Spokane, Washington, where we
lived—and we—I had passed both of them, and
they told me I had to decide which one
I wanted—I couldn’t have both.
And so, I chose Army for a good reason.
I said, “If—if we were to get in a war
and I’m in the Navy and you take off on
a mission, you don’t know if your landing
field’s going to be there when you get back or not.
It might be in the bottom of the ocean.”
So, if you know—the Army, at least, it may
have holes in it, but at least, it’ll be
there—so, I joined the Army Air Corps,
and they put me on a waiting list.
My uncle was very unhappy with me.
He wanted me to reenlist.
I talked—told him I just couldn’t do it,
and that’s a good thing, because the war
ended—the war started—I got a telegram a
week later, telling me to report, and in
the meantime, the Guards got sent to Okinawa, and
I would have been in Okinawa as an Infantryman,
so, I was very happy.
Training went well.
I already had a pilot’s license through
Civil Pilot Training, so it was no problem
for me—the flying.
When we graduated, I went to Randolph in Kelly
Field, and graduated—I had a large class
of 156, I think, and they picked two of us
and sent us to fighters—everybody wanted
to fly a fighter.
And I got—I got sent to a P-39 training
group—a replacement training group, and
I flew P-39s for months and months.
We knew we weren’t going to fly them in
the war, but I—but it was good training.
I could whip anything the Navy had by
the time we’d flown a few—six months.
Then, a very lucky thing happened to me.
I—they announced that half of our
replacement group would go to P-38.
The government had really pushed the P-38
because we didn’t have anything else worth pushing.
And so, I begged to go with it, and I didn’t
get picked—and that left me in the—in
that group, which planned P-39, which turned
out to be beautiful because a couple of weeks
later, they formed the—they took twelve of
us to form the 354th fighter group, which
was the best fighter group in the war—if
you count it by aerial victories—best one
in the European Theatre.
So, that’s how I got in the 354th.
I was a flight leader to start with—
a C Flight Commander in the 355th Squadron, and
that’s the way we went to war.
We left for war in September of ’43.
We landed in England around November, I think—in
’43, and were sent to first base in Greenham
Common, and they took three pilots
of the group—and I was one of them.
Jack Bradley was another, and Bob Stevens
was another—and they sent us to an English
base where we checked out in a brand-new
airplane we’d never heard of—the P-51.
Actually, the plane we checked out in was a
dive bomber version, which was called an A-36.
We checked out in that, and then, we were
supposed to go back and check out the rest
of the group.
Typical of the Army Air Corps, when we got
back, they were already getting checked out
at another base, so we—our trip was really
not for anything, except we were the first
ones to do it.
We—we got the B model before we took off for combat.
We moved from Greenham Common, to Boxted—in
East Anglia—a better base to fly to Europe
from, and we flew from there to—on our first
mission in December, I think, eleventh, or
twelfth, and—and led by Don Blakeslee, who
has command of the fourth group—the one
who was sent down to us to give us—we had
nobody with any combat training, except for Jim Howard.
Jim Howard had been a Flying Tiger.
In fact, he had five Japanese victories.
So, Don Blakeslee checked us out, and from
there, we started and became the greatest
group in the whole war.
What else can I say?
(Laughs)
(interviewer) Let’s back up a little bit.
And if you would, tell me—tell me about the P-39.
What was it like—and?
(Clayton) The P-39?
(interviewer) Uh-huh (affirmative)
(Clayton) If I go to an airshow nowadays and I see various
aircraft sitting there—World War II era, the
one that I really want to get in and fly
is the P-39.
It was a—it had the engine behind the pilot,
and believe me, if you hit the ground, you
got an awful nudge in the back.
I—I became the assistant operations officer,
and my job was to investigate crashes—and
I did that several times on P-39 crashes.
They have a—there was a saying that if you
lived through the first hundred hours in the
P-39, you loved it—and the reason was, there
were different flight characteristics, and
we lost a lot of pilots in—who
didn’t master that—were lost early.
But I flew five hundred hours in the P-39,
and I actually loved that little bird—it
was beautiful, and so pretty.
Taxi it with two—with the nosewheel off the
ground like a hot pilot would—shut the
power off about a block away from those parking
spots, and coast in, just to show them you
knew what you were doing.
What else?
(interviewer) What did you think—after flying the P-39
and liking it, what did you think the
first time you saw a P-51 and flew it?
What did you think?
(Clayton) Well, I was—like any new air fighter, you
have to—you have to fly it alone the first time you fly it.
So, we had a lot of cockpit time, and then,
talked to people about the characteristics.
Actually, the A-36 was the first one, and it
only had an Allison engine, and a three-bladed
prop—and that was a pretty little
airplane—that was very nice.
I took off—I remember flying around England,
thinking, “Just imagine this, the Battle
of Britain took place right in these skies,”
and I looked around to make sure it wasn’t
starting again.
I would—I would have taken after them with my little A-36.
(Laughs) When we got the B model, it had the
Merlin—Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and a
four-bladed prop, and it was absolutely gorgeous.
That gave us, I guess, that much advantage
over anything we fought against.
I don’t know—it’s hard to judge whether
it was our own skill, or the airplane.
I fought one guy that I think was a
reincarnation of—of the Red Baron.
He was a tremendous pilot, and we had a—we—I
got on his tail and hit him pretty good, and
then, he made an evasive maneuver,
and I was overrunning him.
I started to come back down, and when I did,
he was coming up at me, and he wound up on my tail.
And we—I went into a left circle—as tight as
I could turn, and I bet we made a hundred
and fifty circles.
The first fifty, he’s aiming right square
at my cockpit, and the only way I could see
him is to look back over my head.
He was—he was—every time I looked, the cannon
in the nose of his airplane was blinking
20-mm shells at me, but obviously,
they were going behind me.
So, it took me, fifty—seventy turns
before I started gaining on him.
And then, pretty soon, I’m across the circle,
and he knows that I’m going to get on his tail.
Now, whether that was because of my skill,
or the airplane, I don’t know—but he was
a great pilot.
I fought some people who were not great pilots.
In fact, I’m sure they—some of them,
I wonder if they knew how to fly.
I wish I’d had a few more of those—my
score would have been better.
(interviewer) (Laughs)
(Clayton) Now, I don’t do that.
Nowadays—nowadays, when I get in closer
to going to—I don’t want people killed.
I have friends in Germany—I’ve been
to their meeting six times now.
(interviewer) Wow.
Tell me about—once you got the B model,
tell me about your first combat mission.
(Clayton) The first—
(interviewer) —combat mission.
Your first mission, tell me about that.
(Clayton) Let me—let me tell you that I should have
been on the first combat mission.
I got—on December 11 or 12—whenever it was,
I was in the hospital with—with a strep
throat infection, and they flew
two missions before I got back.
I flew the third one, and—the first one,
we just—they’d just crossed the Channel
onto enemy territory, so we could say we did—they did.
And the second one was not much more.
The third one that I was on was the first
one where we actually had something happen,
and what happened was not good.
We had—we were attacked by German fighters,
and they shot down (s/l Stodd Hall)—a friend
of mine from the 356th Squadron.
So, they—the weather, of course, in
December, over in that area, was terrible.
In fact, terrible in England most of the time,
but you—you can imagine, you’re in a fairly
strange aircraft, and you’re crossing the
Channel, which is freezing cold, and people
didn’t survive in it.
And we’re going to the enemy territory where
there are people who want to kill us, and
the weather’s so bad, we have trouble seeing each other.
And then, to have somebody say, “Break left,
break left,” your heart is going to beat
pretty fast—you eventually get back and
find out there was not much to it.
(interviewer) Tell me about flying that mission.
How many aircraft were up on your first mission?
(Clayton) Whether we had—I’ve got to look it up—I
can’t remember whether it was a group or a
squadron, but we usually flew four plane—four
plane flights, and a squadron was three—was
actually two or more flights, but we always
flew three or more—three or four.
So, it was either twelve or sixteen in a squadron,
and then, the three squadrons would make it
thirty-six to forty-eight, depending on how many we had.
We—we flew one mission that was the—we always
maintained radio silence, and you weren’t
allowed to say anything because the
enemy could track you and find out.
Jack Bradley left—led the mission, and—we
were cruising over the Channel—now, the
only way you could talk on the radio was to push
the button, and when you did, you transmitted
your voice, but you could not hear anything
else—and somebody’s button had been stuck.
And when we were crossing the Channel and
entering France, or Germany, or wherever we
were, the guy was singing a popular song
from those days that was silly as hell.
It was, “Mares eat oats and does eat
oats, and little lambs eat ivy.
A kid’ll eat ivy, too.
Wouldn’t you?”
This guy was singing out loud, and
Bradley shouted, “Turn off your radio.”
Of course, the guy couldn’t hear it, so he
goes on, singing, and that’s—so Bradley
tried something else.
He said, “Everybody who can hear me, wave
your wings,” so everybody rocked their wings.
Of course, the guy that’s sitting there, he
doesn’t know what’s going on, but everybody
else is doing it, so he does it, too—so
we didn’t learn anything—Bradley didn’t
learn anything.
So, we crossed the Ruhr Valley, where they
had tremendous aircraft—antiaircraft fire,
and it started bursting around us, and the singing
stopped immediately, and the guy said—started
breathing very heavily.
And Bradley shouted at him, “Sing now, you son of a bitch.”
(Laughs) When we finished the mission—I
don’t recall much about the mission—that’s
all I recall about the mission—Bradley said,
“When we land, I want every pilot lined
up, and I want to talk to you.”
Of course, when he landed and got everybody
lined up, he went down the line and says,
“Did you—was that you on the radio?”
Of course, the guy doesn’t know anything,
but he ain’t going to admit it.
So, I don’t think Jack ever found out anything about it.
(interviewer) Did you ever figure out who was singing?
Did you ever figure out who was singing?
(Clayton) Did I know who it was? No.
Nobody that I know of knew who it was.
It wasn’t me, although I knew the song.
(Laughs)
(interviewer) It wasn’t long after your—your first few
missions, that you were called on a speaking tour.
Can you tell me a little bit about that?
(Clayton) That happened when I was in the hospital.
They got a request for a pilot to come and
speak to the aircraft factories, and nobody
wanted to be a public speaker.
And the—me, number one, I did not want to
be one, but I was the only one not there,
so they voted me to be the guy.
Turned out to be kind of fun, but—I’ve
met some great people, but—but I had to
talk to three different factories each
day, and—I don’t—really, I was so nervous.
I’d rather fight an enemy aircraft
than I would be to talk to people.
Nowadays, I’m a ham, but I wasn’t in those days.
I’ve had twenty-three years of
postmaster training since then.
(Laughs)
(interviewer) Tell me—you talked a little bit in your
book about combat-readiness, and about
preparing your aircrafts weapons.
How did—how did you have your
weapons sited on your Mustang?
(Clayton) Combat-readiness.
(interviewer) You talked in your
book about your—the weapons
on your Mustang, and about what
range did you sight them in?
(Clayton) The P-51—the B model had a 450-caliber machine gun.
To me—and it was already a long-range fighter
compared to others, but to make it longer,
we had the possibility of carrying extra fuel
tanks—seventy-five-gallon tanks—one under
each wing.
And if we weren’t doing that—and if we
were dive-bombing or something, we had—we
could carry up to three bombs, one under the
belly, one—and two under—one under each wing.
I’m trying to think now, whether we
actually carried three on a P-51.
I know we did when we got the P-47.
(interviewer) Tell me about the machine guns, though.
You—you had yours sited for close range, did you not?
(Clayton) The 50s were—were very adequate.
When we finally added two more, it was even more adequate.
When we first started with the P-51 and the 450,
we get into a tight turn, and the Gees—pulling
Gees on it, and the—and it would cause the
guns to stop firing, and to be—choke up.
So, I think some of our crews, including one
of my crew, invented something that fed the
things better, and so, as we went along, it got better.
It depended on—your shooting depended on
how much you did, and for—possibly because
of my five hundred hours of combat training
in a P-39, I’ve—I developed a habit of
firing from very close, not from a long distance.
I think some people started firing before
they got within a half mile of the target.
But because of that, I don’t think I ever
had—finished a mission with no guns.
I know I never ran out of ammunition,
even when we had just the four guns.
So, I—short bursts from close
angle—close distance worked better.
(interviewer) It—while we’re talking about it, tell
me the nickname of your Mustang.
Tell me your Mustang’s nickname.
(Clayton) The Mustang, Live Bait.
(interviewer) Tell me how—tell me about the nickname on
your plane and how you got it?
(Clayton) When I was first was assigned a plane of my
own—the P-39, it was a chance to name it
anything I wanted to name it and so I—I
used the name of my wife, our secret name
that I called her, “Little Pigeon,” and
it worked fine for me but we only had—we
had more pilots than we had planes, and so
when somebody else flew my plane, they had
two or three of them crash, and every time
they did, I had to paint a new name—and I
was still deciding on when we went overseas
on what to do for a name.
And it was on an early mission that coming
home I was—you get separated from your group
a lot in combat, and I wound up with one other
pilot—we were flying home in mutual support,
so I can watch him and he can watch me.
And we were cruising along and he said, "You
stay here, I'm going to get up in the sun,
and maybe we can draw some action," and I
said, "What do you think I am, Live Bait?"
and he says, "Yeah."
And I don't know who it was but he probably
would outrank me, because—because I did
what he said.
We didn't draw any action, but when I got
back, I told Smitty, my crew chief, “Paint
‘Live Bait’ on this airplane,” and he and
the artist came up with the name, “Live”
and beautifully done, and I used that the rest of the war.
I had maybe six, seven airplanes, all named
“Live Bait,” and they were all beautiful.
(interviewer) Tell me about some of your early—tell me
about some of your early combat
missions, and what were they like?
Some of your early combat missions, tell
me about them and what they were like.
(Clayton) Well, the first one I shot any airplanes down
was—I was flying with a wingman named
Bucky D. Harris—Billy D. Harris.
We called him “Bucky” after the
baseball player Bucky Harris.
He and I were on the right side of a bunch of
bombers—B-17 bombers and somebody hollered,
"There's bogeys at two o'clock," and I looked
through where—two o'clock area, and there
were a large group, estimated thirty-five
Messerschmitt 109’s cruising parallel to
the bombers and up above them.
And so, we turned over and started
up underneath them to get to them.
Like all live fighter pilots in combat, you
check six to make sure nobody is coming up
behind you, and I looked back and here came
another group of about thirty-five more and
so we just held our distance, throttled back
a little, let them pass over the top of us.
Nobody seemed to notice us and we waited
till the whole group had gone over.
Checked once more to make sure it was clear,
pulled up right behind the last poor Tail-End
Charlie, and started shooting.
We spread out, Billy got one burning, and I
got one burning and we had others damaged,
and in the meantime, our tracers going through
the group had— and probably their radio
talk, to let them know they were under
attack because the whole group broke up.
The whole seventy planes were going every
direction and we were—to attack seventy
from behind is one thing, but to fight them
head on, sixty-seven to nothing—sixty-eight
to nothing, to two of us.
And so, we—we dove down and when we dove
down, I spotted another one by himself, and
hit him pretty good, and he bailed out.
And I looked to make sure nobody's around
me and I flew by him to show him the name
on my plane that I have to go
back and tell him— who got you.
(Laughs) That was one of the most
exciting missions I ever had.
There's a painting of a—of a shooting of one
down off the B-17 coming back from a mission,
and I spotted one wounded B-17 all by himself
down low, and coming in on his tail was a
Messerschmitt, and that's the one time I started
shooting from over seventy-five to 150—100 yards.
I had to because he was starting to shoot at
the B-17 but unfortunately, I hit him and
got—knocked him down, so saved the B-17.
By the way, I was a good shot.
I was on the rifle team at Lewis
and Clark High School in Spokane.
We finished in the top three in
the nation in—in rifle shooting.
We used to be able to carry a rifle to school
and put it in your locker and—till—till
after school when you had rifle shooting.
Don't do that anymore, I don't think.
(Laughs)
(interviewer) Not very many places do at least.
Not— not too many places do that anymore.
Not— not very many people do that now.
(Clayton) No.
(interviewer) Not—not too common.
(Clayton) I don't even know if
they have the rifle tournaments.
We had great competitions when I was—
(interviewer) When you shot that
Messerschmitt off the B-17,
tell me what happened next with the B-17?
(Clayton) The B-17, we flew alongside of them and waved
to them, and they waved back thanking— thanking
us but they were going too slow, we'd be out
of gas before we got back to England.
So, we flew with them for a while and then
had to leave them because we were going to
be out of fuel.
So, that reminds me of another mission when—I
was—we were on a mission almost to Berlin
escorting B-17s when they were attacked by—I
don't know how many—bundles, bundles of
109s, and fighters, and we—everybody
was separated in this battle.
A dogfight can be ten miles high and ten miles—ten
thousand feet high and ten thousand feet wide,
and airplanes everywhere—and I found myself
on the tail of a 109, and I check six to make
sure I was clear because I was all alone and
I found two P-47s to coming in on my tail
and I said, “Great, I got help.”
I went back to this 109, and I had some great hits on him.
I don't know what happened to him, he may
have gone down, but at any rate, the next
thing I knew, the world exploded and I did
an involuntary snap roll, and then went into
a spin and I had a blow on the back of my
neck that I thought was a baseball bat.
And I—as I was in a spin, I put my hand back
here and pulled it out, and it was dripping
red, which turned out to be hydraulic fluid.
I hadn't—I have—thought, “Well, I'm alive
right now,” so, I went through a spin
recovery and came out and looked back and
here came the two P-47s, again, and I waved
my wing and they flew right alongside of me,
and the guy goes, “Oh, what I've done?”
And I could read the code on his airplane,
“HV” which was Gabby Gabreski's squadron
from the 56th Fighter Group, and I—I had
lost a big piece of my camera—of my canopy.
I had—we counted over a hundred holes in one
airplane but the engine worked, the radio worked.
I called—I was all alone now.
They turned off, and instead of escorting
me home, they turned—peeled off and left
me and I was all alone.
So, I see the B-17 still headed for Berlin, and
I call them on the fighter bomber channel,
and I told them, “I need help and I'm all
shot up, can I come up and get near you?”
And the leader said, "I have you and in—sight.
Come up and get under my wing," so I did that.
While I sat there under his wing, a group
of about twenty or more Messerschmitt 109s
made a—down—a vertical pass to—on this group of bombers.
They didn't shoot anything down but I sat
there thinking, “Should I take out after him?”
And I don't know whether those airplanes were
going to keep flying or not, so I didn't do
anything, and I finally called and got Bruce Brueland—
Lowell K. Brueland, my buddy, to
fly alongside the bombers until they
found me, and then escort me home.
And I got a new airplane immediately and flew
up to the 56th Fighter Group to talk to them about it.
Incidentally, the—behind the pilot, is this—is
the cut out of a silhouette of a man right
behind the pilot and one shell had hit the
neck area there—the steel about half inch
or more, thick, and it had extended
four inches but didn't go through.
And evidently, that's what hit me on the back of the neck.
And I got back, talked to Gabby, he denied everything.
Gabby and I got to be friends through the aces later.
We used to go to church together but he wouldn't
admit they ever did it—and I think he introduced
me to a guy who's thought he had shot
at the Mustang but he didn't hit it.
He told him, “He's the best shot you've got in the group.”
(interviewer) What about the gun camera footage?
(Clayton) I went back after—I left Gabby and thanked
him, and shook hands with this young guy and
told him to be careful and then I walk out
of Gabby's office and I took about ten steps
down the hall, and suddenly had a gun camera
film—what a souvenir that would be?
And I went back in without knocking, and he
was standing there, talking to this pilot
and I asked him for it, “Can I have the gun camera film?”
And he says, "It was accidentally exposed.
The crew chief dropped it and the cap popped
open, and it—it was exposed, I'm sorry."
(interviewer) (Laughs) Sounds like a cover up.
So, that sounds like a cover up.
(Clayton) Yeah, talk about a cover up, you're right.
(interviewer) Tell me the Messerschmitt that you got on
the B-17, that Messerschmitt, what number was that for you?
(Clayton) That—
(interviewer) What number was that Messerschmitt that you
knocked down?
(Clayton) It was either three or four, I'm trying to place it.
I can't forget five, the one that made
me an ace but—or six, which was the jet.
(interviewer) Tell me about number five.
(Clayton) Number five was—I had a thirty-day leave
at home after I finished my first two hundred
combat hours, and I—I got back after counting
travel time—it was probably two and a half
months, and they had moved quite a bit, and
when I—when I got back, I got in the
Mustang, hadn't flown for a couple months.
Flew one flight, felt right at home, so I went
on a combat mission the next day, nothing happened.
But the second mission, right after that, we
got into a big tangle with a bunch of Me-109s
and—and I was separated from everybody else.
And so, looking for somebody, I spotted two
P-51s flying ahead of me, headed home, and
so I started trying to catch up on them.
And we had an undercast—solid clouds underneath
us that about two-thousand-foot top, and we
were cruising right on up that.
And up out of the clouds, came a 109 right
behind them and— but he didn't look back
and see me behind him and it didn't take much
to turn—to turn, be on his tail and fire,
and I hit him very well.
And he did a slow roll and started down through
the clouds, and I had to go see what happened
to him because that was number five, and
I wanted number five very well—much.
And I got down through the cloud—there could
have been a mountain there but I didn’t
know, but I was going to find out—and when I
got down there, there was a hole with the
burning airplane, right below where he went
down, and evidently, he never got out.
That's one of the penalties for not checking six.
We got suckered one day, and lost two airplanes.
We were in a long-range mission and—and
why we were separated, I don't know.
I don't recall any—any air battles but we—we—my
wingman and I were joined—was—my wingman
was Tony Radisich, and we were joined by
another element from another squadron.
And Jack Turk was the wingman and—I can't
think of the leader's name right now.
We were flying mutual support, I was on the
right with Tony out my right, and he was here
with Jack Turk on his left, and we spotted a
lone 109 down below us on the clouds, and
we made a race to go after him.
But just before we got in range, he ducked
into the clouds and so we pulled up again
and we watched—he didn't come up so we've climbed back up.
And in the meantime, he came popping up again,
and we made another run at him and no, he
ducked into the clouds again.
Should have known somebody's tailing him
or—somebody's tailing him when we’re leaving.
And so, we’re climbing up and looking down, and
I check over here and hear, four Focke-Wulfs
on Dalglish’s tail, he was the other leader.
And Jim Dalglish—and there were four on
them, and Jack Turk's plane was already on
fire and slowly turning.
And I hollered—I hollered, "Break left," and
Dalglish broke and I broke to get behind
the—the 190s.
And as I did, I hollered, “Tony
stick with me,” and no answer.
I look back, and I got four on my tail, too,
so we really were suckered—they shot Tony
down and Jack.
Tony was captured, so he lived through
it but Jack didn't and—I felt bad.
I told Dalglish, “I'm going down”
and he says, "I'm going up.”
So, he climbs as fast as he could
and I dived as fast as I could.
I pushed it through war emergency.
There's a little extra half inch of—of power
that—there's a sign that says, "Do not exceed
for more than five minutes."
And I pushed it through that to get down,
and I went through the clouds at a—I don't
know how fast.
I leveled out at ground area and I crossed Germany.
I had—I shot up at a train.
I shot at a building.
I crossed a German airfield with about ten
planes in the air, and I went right across
the middle of the field, and they were landing—or
getting ready to land, and nobody was able
to catch me, and I stayed there till I saw the Channel.
And I had—when I saw the Channel, I had
thought, “Boy I've made it, I've made it.”
And I—halfway across the channel, still at
about ten feet off the water, and the engine
quit, and I immediately pulled up and
checked, and my gas tank was empty.
I changed tanks, and thank God it caught again.
When I landed, we found that I had been in
war emergency for about forty-five minutes
instead of five.
Packard—Packard who was building the Merlin
sent representatives over and they took the
engine apart to see how much damage, and there
was—they could find no damage to it, so
a great engine.
(interviewer) Definitely.
Tell me—well, let's see.
Did you take your leave—the thirty-day leave,
did you take that before D-Day, or was it after?
I can't remember.
(Clayton) Did what?
(interviewer) Your— your
thirty-day leave, was that before
D-Day or after?
When you came back to the States—
(Clayton) States.
(interviewer) —was that before D-Day, or was it after D-Day?
(Clayton) Oh, that was after D-Day.
D-Day was a big day, we had—we knew it was coming.
We had known before that but besides that,
we had been confined to the base for about
two weeks, which meant that it was very
difficult to sneak over the fence to the pub.
(Laughs) I don't mean to say— I think the
statute of limitations was gone but I know
that we did go to the pub every now and then.
Then they had us put planes on the end of
the runway with pilots in the cockpit, with
the engine warmed up for immediate takeoff.
So, the first few days they did that, we had
all the veteran pilots in there—those planes
because we didn't want to miss the action.
But after several days just sitting there
and nothing happening, we started putting
the rookies in—in the cockpit.
And then, what happened on the night of June
5, we finished dinner and went to the club,
which was very normal, and I ordered a beer.
And we’re drinking beer when Bowers Espy,
the Executive Officer of the group, came in
and hollered, "Close the bar, close the bar."
What do you mean, close the bar?”
I mean, “Close it, we're going to fly.”
I said, “You've got to be out of
your mind, the weather is terrible.”
You couldn't—about a fifteen hundred foot,
two-thousand-foot maximum ceiling, and you
couldn't see your hand in front of your face in there.
And we—we went—done, are you done?
(interviewer) Oh, we're good.
(Clayton) What?
(interviewer) Keep going.
(Clayton) We—we were ordered to briefing, and at the
briefing they told us, “You're going to
escort gliders in with the Airborne troops,”
and so we got ready.
We had—I was on the mission, and we had
three squadrons of, I think twelve planes
each, and we took off and we met
the bunch of C-47s towing gliders.
And we were—the only way we can see people
is by the exhaust stacks on the engine.
It was absolutely brutal, but
we made it to the French Coast.
And on the French coast—at Omaha Beach area,
we saw a wall of fire coming up—absolute
wall of fire, and those poor guys had to fly
right through that, and they don't have any
armor plate in those things.
How many made it, I don't know.
I know that it was—it was absolutely
brutal but they did get there.
We turned around and came back.
Now, our base was closed in, the weather was
so bad, we could not get back to the base,
and so we landed at another base, this—an
empty RAF base that didn't have anything on it.
And we landed there—Bickell, Colonel Bickell
was leading the group, and he got on the phone
to find out what we were going to do, and
then he came back and said, "It's”—by
this time, it's one o'clock in the morning
on June 6, and he says, “We're going to
take off and escort a second mission,” because
we can't get the planes back for the replacement pilots.
So, we tried to sleep for a couple hours and
then about three thirty we had a briefing
again and took off at four maybe and we
met more gliders, and more—more C-47s.
But this time—was a sight I will never forget,
and down below us on the Channel—dawn was
coming up, there were so many ships.
You cannot imagine it, and we
were over them and watched them.
We watched the gliders go in, again, and the
mean time, the ships were trying to escort
their things on the beach, and we could do
nothing except see that no enemy aircraft
came in to disrupt it.
And when we got back, I mean, it was so
exciting to think that this is just started.
When we got back, this time we were able to
get back to our base—and when we got back,
King Peter of Yugoslavia was in our briefing
room and—to congratulate us because eventually,
his country was going to be freed again, so great mission.
I remember saying to the guys that, “If
you have to go down in the Channel, don't
worry about it, you could walk back to England on the
ships,” there were that many of them—unbelievable
number.
What a job that was to put together.
(interviewer) Definitely.
Let's stop here for a second here and swap tapes.
(Clayton) A pilot at your party, don't worry, he will tell you.
(Laughs) And a fighter pilot really cannot
talk without his hands, everything goes in
there, there.
So—we got to England, and we are fighter
pilots—and with the bombing going on from
England and we—but we were assigned to the Ninth Air Force.
I never will forget the first night at Greenham
Common, we're putting our bunks together when
nobody’d do it for us—and I was rooming with
Brueland and Emerson, two guys who became
aces from our squadron and myself.
And the other four guys in the flight were
in the back of this Quonset Hut, and we were
in the middle of it.
Brueland and Emerson were on their knees,
putting—trying to figure out how to get
these cots together.
And I was tired and standing up when the door
opened—knocking on the door and then opened.
And a gentleman stepped in and said, "Hi, I'm Pete Quesada.
I wanted to say hello to you," and I started
this, I'm Clayton K. Gross, and I put my hand
out.
And when he shook, I saw the star on his shirt
and I hollered, "Attention," and Brueland
and Emerson looked up, and Quesada
said, "Stay where you are.
Don't get up.
I'm General Quesada, commanding the Ninth TAC
Air Force, and you are part of my unit—the
first fighter group in my unit and I have
great plans—great feelings about how you're
going to do."
He was right, we turned out to be number one.
But that night, he said hello to everybody in
the squadron one at a time, he went round.
We were assigned to the Eighth Air Force for
escort duty, and we did that on a regular
basis to start with, and it was the same
thing the Eighth Air Force was doing.
But eventually, we're going to get to our own
job which was support for of the arm—for
the army, the ground troops, and we
started doing dive bombing and strafing.
We had done a little strafing and things
before, but we started carrying bombs.
We usually carried five-hundred-pound bombs,
one under each wing and they could do great
damage if you happened to hit what you're training at.
We had practiced in the P-39, throwing garbage
sacks out the window of a P-39—it wasn't
the same and we had an experiment to see
how to get the bomb on the right thing.
I remember one thing, I was in Omaha Beach
area, I was given a job of breaking a crane
of the rail lines and I found a little—a
station area with cross tracks, a good place to do it.
And there was a little white cabin
over here—or house over here.
And I went down and dropped my bombs, pulled
up, looked back, and the little white house
disappeared, the tracks did.
(Laughs) I thought, I'm glad—I hope that
it was the German headquarters, not—not
a French family living there.
It—I did better later.
I did one dive bombing in—on a little village
where we had some tanks holed up, and I dropped
a bomb and it went right through the
roof of this building I was in.
And I came back and I—debriefing, I
told them I hit it right on the button.
When I—about a week later, I'm sitting at
my desk—I was operations officer, and I
pick up the latest issue of the Stars and
Stripes, and I look at the article on the
front page, it says, "Pilot hole—claims hole in one.
Pilot—a Ninth Air Force Pilot claimed
he dropped a bomb down the chimney.”
And I just—I started to say, “Isn't that stupid?
How the hell can you tell whether
it went down the chimney or not?”
Then I read the next line, it says,
“Lieutenant Clayton K. Gross.”
I called Brownie, and “What are you doing to me?
I don't know—that wasn’t what I said.”
He said, "You said it, right on the button.”
(Laughs) We had another thing we dropped and
that was a wicked—a weapon called napalm.
We had it, they was in gas-tank-type things.
You usually ran those along a skip bomb and
aim over the target and pull up and get away,
and it would be terrible flames—and I
would hate to be in the middle of it.
Sorry about that, sorry about a lot of things.
No, not really, but we did what we had to do.
It's just that you—you realize those were people
too and I am not antimilitary now—anything but.
There are some who are.
We—what else?
(interviewer) Well, tell me about life in England on base,
and London.
(Clayton) If you were to hang around London long enough,
you got to where you really didn't like it at all.
In fact, when we were there—stationed there,
we'd go over for two or three days, and that
was plenty and you get fed up with it.
But once we got to the continent, there was—it
would have been—it seemed like it would
be nice to have people to talk to, who were
speaking your language, instead of French.
And so, it became a jab to try to get a job
to go back to England again, and which we
did that every now.
We could go back and spend a couple days in London.
London during the war was black out.
The people were—accepted what was happening.
They had their bomb shelters if the sirens sounded.
I was in London a couple of times when there
was a siren, didn't know where to go, so I
just stood there and waited and it didn't
hit near us which was—I think all during
the war, somebody up there liked me.
(Laughs)
And besides that, I was very lucky.
Anyway, the people were—it was—the greatest
entertainment was to go down to Piccadilly
Circus at night and see the—the life, the
people and the life, the newspaper man selling
“London Times, London Times, get your condoms here.
London Times, get your condoms here.”
(Laughs) And—and the ladies who seemed a
little loose, in fact, too loose for me, so
I ignored them.
But I had a young lady join a friend of mine
and I as we walked down the street, and she
got up between us and hooked both our arms
and says, “You know what I like about you
Yanks?
And I said, “No, what's that?”
She says, "You got silk shorts.
We don't,” and patted both of us.
I told her if I had a spare pair, I
might give you mine but I didn't.
(Laughs) It was an education in life to be there.
I happened to fly back to England with a—on a
Mustang with the back seat on it, we called
it two-seater because it was designed to carry
Eisenhower over the—over the bridgehead—they
was holding us up on the beach and to get
by—to get to expand the—the war, he wanted
to look at it.
And Pete Quesada flew it, and General Eisenhower
rode in the backseat, so we usually kept that
airplane—we kept it and the name of it was,
Stars Look Down, and we flew it whenever we
had people who wanted to go someplace—and
they asked me to fly a sergeant to London,
this was on May 8, and—and he
was to be married the next day.
And I put him in the backseat and flew from
Munich area to London—took about three hours
and that included sightseeing.
I showed him some of the damage to German
cities by circling over them—a small village
I never will forget, where there were road
coming in from each direction and in the center,
there was zero but piles of bricks, nothing
and that was what was left of the city.
We flew to London and landed, and
there was nothing, nobody came out.
It was a big airport—big airfield, and usually
there were ten people there to guide you and
there were nobody there.
I taxied around, looking for somebody to
talk to, “Where do I park," and, “What do I do?"
And in fact, I even taxied with the tail wheel
up, going about ninety miles an hour just
to get around the field a little bit.
We finally found a place where there were
several buildings, so we stopped and parked
our own airplane, and we went into the building.
And in the building, we could hear—we could
hear sound in the distance, and was so we
followed the sound, and it turned out to be
a party—and it turned out that the war had
ended while we were in the air.
And so, we got—the poor sergeant—well, it
took us three hours from Munich to London.
It took us about five hours to get downtown,
and when we got downtown all the offices were
closed, he couldn't get his license.
I don't know if he found his intended
or not, I never saw him again.
I know that the lights came on in London for
the first time, and I was there to watch it.
There were some great stories about celebrations.
I heard of a fighter pilot that lived through
the whole war, and he was drinking with his
buddies at the end to celebrate, and they
piled ten of them in a jeep and he sat on
the hood, and the driver was drunk and ran into
a wall and cut his legs off at the knees—both legs.
So, he flew the whole war, and then
wound up with no legs at the end.
I read—I heard of the B-17 group where they
were firing their guns in the war—in the
air to celebrate and then somebody put the
guns down and fired across the field, and
that started going back and forth until
they probably wrecked two or three B-17s.
It was a great day for people who had been fighting.
(interviewer) Do you want something to drink?
Tell me about the buzz bombs.
(Clayton) About the?
(interviewer) The buzz bombs, the rockets that Germany had,
buzz bombs.
Let me show you.
(Clayton) I'll tell you about—I'll tell you about
the 354th.
(interviewer) I'll hear you.
(Clayton) We—we were just so proud of it.
We shot down more enemy aircraft—701 confirmed
victories in—from the air and we've—those
of us who finished the tour—who finished
it, feel like it was nothing, no problem, really.
But when you stop and think, we went overseas
with a little over ninety pilots and we lost
187 killed or captured, and we
were the best group in the war so—
(interviewer) That was—Tell me about the V-1 rockets.
(Clayton) The what?
(interviewer) I’ll show you in print.
(Clayton) The—
(interviewer) Talking about the—
(Clayton) What is it?
I can’t read—
(interviewer) The V-1 rockets, the buzz bombs.
The buzz bombs—
(Clayton) The V-1, the B-1 bomb.
(interviewer) Right, right.
(Clayton) The—the first time we saw the—that we
saw, or heard, didn’t see—heard the V-1 were—were at night.
We had gone to bed, it was—trying
to think what month it was.
It was not too cold because we were sleeping
in skivvies and—so we were sound asleep
in the noise of these things going over.
And they—they—and the aircraft opened
up at them, and that’s what really woke us up.
We got up to see what the thing is going on
here and—see these about every twenty minutes or so.
A new bomb would come putt, putt, putting over
about fifteen hundred feet over our field,
and it was on its way to London
and an anti-aircraft opened up.
I have to tell you that the people who fire—who
were running the anti-aircraft around our
base knew nothing about shooting.
They knew nothing about leading a moving target
and we stood there and watched them take—they
had braces of four twenty—of machine—caliber
canon, twenty of them—four of them, twenty millimeters.
And they would see one coming and start firing,
and hold it over here until it went over here
and never getting close to the target.
And then, by the time it had gone from here,
over here, they were burned out all the barrels,
and you could see their shells going
like this instead of going like this.
And so, a couple of us stood up on the sandbags
around the gun and tried to tell them how
to use it.
They had to change barrels every time, and
the guy turned the guns on us and says, “You
want to learn about it, we’ll show you.”
But we let them go, they didn’t come close
to shooting anything down, which is good.
The next day, one of our pilots, I think it
was Joe Power, went up and knocked one down
fairly close to the field, and what did it do?
It blew up and blew a hole near the field and
we didn't want that, so we just let them go.
I was—I was also in the air the day the V-2 came off.
I was flying and I can't recall where but I
know we were cruising along, headed north,
and all of a sudden, I saw this trail of smoke
go straight up, and then, “What the hell is that?”
We watched it arch over and head
towards England, and it was a V-2.
It was the first time I'd seen one.
First time—we hadn't heard anything about it.
So, I was able to—to report it but it didn't
do any good, we couldn’t do anything about
it except tell them where they
came so they could go bomb them.
(interviewer) What was it like,
going home for your thirty-day
leave after being gone for so long?
(Clayton) Going home in the first one?
(interviewer) Right.
(Clayton) Well, I was married to a beautiful girl, and
I never will forget it.
When I met her finally, it took—it
took us maybe two weeks to get a ship.
It took us another two weeks to get home to
New York, and then it took me a week on the
train to get across the country.
But when I got across the country I—she
met me, and she was absolutely beautiful.
And I had left a beautiful girl and came
back, and there was a beautiful woman.
We were married fifty-three and
a half years before she died.
It was great, and then I married another
beautiful woman, and I was back where I started.
(interviewer) Was it difficult for you to return to the
war after those thirty days?
Was it hard for you to go back
after being home for thirty days?
(Clayton) I’ll tell you about going back.
The war was on, I figured we're going to do something.
They send me back to rest—we had a thirty-day
leave, and then, they send me back to Atlantic
City where I was supposed to get two
weeks R&R, rest and rehabilitation.
And I was rooming with Gil Talbot from the
355th Squadron, and we sent for our wives.
We’re going to be here two weeks.
We had a beautiful hotel and—we're
going to be here for two weeks.
We told them, “Get the first train”
or “First transportation out here.”
And so, they—they started to do it.
About two days later, a hurricane hit Atlantic
City, and they evacuated our hotel, and we
had to go look for something else.
The water was six feet deep in our lo—not six
feet, about four feet deep in our lobby.
And so, we moved out, got—didn't move out—we
grabbed what we could and got another room,
and our wives finally showed up, and they
were only there for thirty-six hours when
we got orders to transfer out.
Took a physical, which is normal in the service,
and I did—"Physical” means you take off
all your clothes except your shorts, and
you go around from one station to another.
There’s a different doctor testing every
different thing, but I finally got to one
that I'd never been to before, it was a psychologist.
And this—he wasn't out in the open like the
rest, he had little canvased walls around the area.
When it was my turn, I went in and I
have to admit, I had a little hangover.
We drank champagne the night before with our
wives, and I went in and sat down and the
guy says—took a look at me.
I'm trying to look as calm as I can and then
he says, “You want to go back to combat?”
I said, “Hell no.”
He says, “You're normal.
Send the next guy in.”
That was the total exam.
Okay, and it's normal not to want to go
back because, especially if you’re married.
I know that when it came to Korea, I—I left
the service when I—when I—the war ended.
And when it came time for Korea, I did everything
I could to get back in again but I couldn't
make it, which is just all for the best.
Went back to school instead.
(Laughs)
(interviewer) Tell me—tell me about that emergency landing
you made.
Once you got back into combat, tell me about
the emergency landing you made off of Omaha Beach.
(Clayton) The emergency landing, that happened before
I went home, but I flew a mission over the
beach area, and I’d just finished the mission,
dropped bombs, strafed, and started back for
the coast—for England, and I got out over
the Channel, and my—my engine was running a little rough.
Now, that Channel is pretty big—it’s like a
big ocean, and so I went—started out over
it, and no, I’m not going to try that with this engine.
I turned back over land, and it seemed to smooth out.
And when I turned back over the Channel,
and started again—so I circled.
There was a field called A-One—Advanced
Landing Ground One, dug out near the beach.
They were set up just for emergencies, and I
went down and landed there—and my wingman
followed me, and we spent the night with the Infantry.
And they radioed—we radioed home at the base,
and they flew a mechanic over the next
day, and he worked on my plane until we got it
ready, and then we took off the next day—interesting
to spend the night there with them.
They had—they gave us—we had a camp to stay in.
We had a cover to cover us, we slept in our uniform.
We got—they found an extra mess kit
the next day, we ate with them.
We were the first ones on the base—on across
the channel—our group spent the next day,
and then went back.
About a week or so later, the group moved over there.
(female speaker) But you got to talk about Paris, too.
(Clayton) Just to show you this.
I was in, I don't know, maybe thirty dog fights,
and I was undefeated—that's the subtitle
of my book, “An Undefeated Fighter Ace” but
I have to admit that I made one more combat
takeoff than I did, landing.
And just to show you how strange war is, a
rifleman in the German Air Infantry got credit
for shooting me down.
He didn't get the credit because he doesn't
even know it, but he did shoot me down.
We went out on a mission called, “Search and
Destroy,” where we went looking for—the
job is, “Find something to shoot at, and get rid of it.”
And so, we had four planes—I had eight planes,
but I sent four of them off in a different
direction, and we went after four
trucks that I saw parked on the road.
Pardon me, six trucks—and German trucks.
And we went down and burned four of them on
the first pass, and couldn't see any action,
so we made a circle and came back to get the other two.
And I had a wingman who was brand new, never
fired his guns in combat before, and he's
on my right and he got excited and got out in front of me.
So, we go across and burned the last two
trucks and we—I cannot turn right—I'm ten feet
off the ground, because he's in my way.
I motioned him back.
I can't turn left without dragging Tail-End
Charlie in the ground, so I just held it there.
And while I'm holding it there, we cross a
big field with a hundred German soldiers on
their knees with rifles.
Evidently, that's what was in those trucks
that we burned, and they were firing at—we
kind of laughed at it.
And when we were through—when he finally
got back and we’re climbing up, we counted
bullet holes in the airplane—I counted eight in mine.
Wings, wings, one through the motor.
Evidently, it cut the coolant line, and a
liquid-cooled engine will not run without coolant.
And so, I got up as high as eight thousand
feet, and we had set course for home, and
my engine froze up and stopped, and
it began to get hot in that cockpit.
So, I tell people, you—my—I told my flight,
“I'm going to have to get out of here.”
I call, “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.
Give me a homing,” and they gave me a homing
and then said, “You got forty miles to go
to our line, can you make it?”
And I said, “No, forty yards is about it.”
So, I start driving—getting out of the airplane,
I pull the handle and the canopy goes up.
I made three chances—efforts to get out of
the airplane, every time, something stopped me.
First, the shoulder straps were over my shoulders.
Secondly, the radio cord.
Third, my goggles pulled out away from
my—eventually, I threw my helmet on the floor.
Every time something happened, I said goodbye
to my group again, and then I went down.
I jumped out of—I probably got
out at twenty-five hundred feet.
And if you haven't been in a parachute, you
don’t know what the—the quietest place
in the world.
No wind, no nothing but you could hear sound
around you, and down below me, I could hear
a battle going on—heavy artillery, machine gun
fire, small arms fire—all kinds of thing—and
I'm floating down in the middle of it.
So, I hit the ground about—by—in a big field,
very close to a road, and I immediately
rolled my sheet up—chute up, and hid it under the bush.
I hid there, trying to decide what I had to do.
There was a village over here, I don't want
to go that way—they had told us, “Never
get caught by the civilian, they might kill
you because they’ve lost people in the war.
Get caught by the military if you’re going to get caught.”
So, I hadn't decided which way to go when
all of a sudden, I hear a rumbling, and I
look out, and here’s a German half-track, and
there are two soldiers with rifles pointed
in my direction.
They know I'm here, so I stood up and put my
hands up, and I start walking towards it—and
I had gone about half way, when I look, and
over the iron cross was a crudely-painted
white star, and out there, American soldiers,
and it’s a captured German half-track.
I dropped my hands and started to run, they
both raise their rifles, I know they're going
to take a shot at me.
How close it was, I don't know.
I skidded to a stop and said, “Don't shoot!
Don’t shoot! I’m American.”
And both soldiers are from New York.
I get up close to them—they back into me—I
get up there, and the guy says, “Where are
you from?” and I say, “Spokane, Washington.”
“What's the capital of Washington?”
And I said, “Olympia.”
One of them turns the other and says, “Is
that right?” and the other guy says, “How
the hell would I know?”
Then he says, “Who’re the Brooklyn Dodgers?”
and I said they're in the National League.
My team’s The Cardinals.
I can tell you the starting lineup of the Cardinals.
He says, “Get in.”
(Laughs) I spent the night—well, they dropped
me off with the Colonel in an armored jeep
and we stopped at a German fighter—farmhouse,
which he decided to make his headquarters
for the night, so I spent the night with them.
They gave me—I had my parachute, and they
gave me a German blanket which was small and scratchy.
But they—between the two, I was able to dose
a little until the middle of the night,
when I heard somebody talking, and I wake
up, and there was a colonel who was talking
to a Frenchman in a black outfit with a black
face, with a black beret—with a belt that
had more weapons on it than I have ever seen
on one man, with knives stuck in his boots—and
he talked to this colonel for a while, and
finally left, and I said, “Who was that?”
and he says, “Free French.
We drop him every night behind the lines,
and he disrupts things as much as he can,
and kills as many, and then, he comes back
to our lines and rests up and we take him
out again the next night.”
The first time in the war, I’d felt sorry for
the Germans because some poor German boy
was going to get a gird around his neck, and
then—anyway, the next day, they flew me
back to my base.
I had my parachute on my lap.
When we landed at my base, I got out,
and there were a bunch of pilots there.
My parachute lasted maybe three minutes before
they start cutting it up for scarves—white scarves.
(interviewer) Had they reported you missing in action yet?
Had they reported you missing in action yet?
(Clayton) They hadn’t.
That made me mad.
This is not exactly positive.
My poor wife—I wanted her to know that I
had been missing so she’d feel sorry for
me, but they hadn't even bothered to report
me missing yet, and I was gone overnight.
That bothered me a little.
She didn't even know, so I never got any sympathy.
Of course, it probably would have shaken my
mother and father up, so it was probably good
that they didn't.
(interviewer) Well, tell me—you get shot down.
Tell me about P-47s.
(Clayton) P-47?
(interviewer) You got—you got those soon after, right?
(Clayton) When I came back—
(interviewer) I’ll remove this, if that's okay.
(Clayton) Yeah.
(interviewer) Yeah
(Clayton) When I came back from my leave—my thirty-day
leave, we were flying the Mustang.
I flew them long enough to shoot down my fifth plane.
I flew a—I flew a C model on that bailout
mission, and when I got back, they were changing planes.
They had—the Ninth Air Force decided—or
probably, the Eighth Air Force decided they
needed all the Mustang, and so, they were
converting all their groups from P-47s to Mustangs.
The P-47 was a very good, rugged fighter but
those of us who had flown the Mustang, hated it.
I have to tell you that I did get shot down
by rifle fire in a P-51, but I—in a P-57 at Bastogne.
I took a 20-mm canon shell in the engine of
a P-47, and that blew two cylinders out of
my radial engine, and I did not know I’d
been hit until I landed, and I had people
running alongside the airplane, pointing at
it, and I looked out, and the whole right
side of my airplane was covered
with oil—it didn't even run rough.
So, it was rugged but to me, it was, “Would
you rather fly an airplane that will take
punishment, which may mean you have to take
it, because it isn't quite as maneuverable
as—as a P-51, or as fast, or would you rather
fly one that gets you out of trouble without
gambling with it?”
And I never met a P-51 combat pilot who would
like to—we had the P-47s for about two and
a half months.
I was flying one on January 1, 1945, when
the Germans made their last big attack.
They sent—the first time they’d attack our
airfields, and they did it with hundreds
of fighters—and I was in the air, and we
were on our way to dive-bombing Belgium, I
think, and the controller said, “We have
bandits in the area,” and I said “Where?”
And he said, “I can't get you a direction right now.”
They sent us, two or three times, in different
directions, and there was nothing to shoot
at, and they finally told us to go
on our mission and drop our bombs.
So, we did, and when we got back, we found
out there’d been hundreds of German fighters
over our—over fields.
They didn't attack our field, but they did
a lot of them, and we could’ve had some
great shooting.
They were down on the ground—under the cloud,
and we were up above them, nobody could tell
us what to do—one of my great disappointments.
I never shot an airplane down with the
P-47, but I did a lot of ground shooting.
I turned a train over on its side by shoot—shooting
at it from the side, and it didn't blow up—just
the impact turned it over.
And I can guarantee you, having been shot
up by a P-47, that impact is terrible.
It's great.
(interviewer) How did the—how
did the P-47 handle differently
from the P-51?
(Clayton) How did it?
(interviewer) How did it handle differently compared to
the P-51?
(Clayton) It was—you pull it back to go up, and you
push it forward to go down, and so forth—just like that.
Whether it was more sensitive or
not, that wasn’t the problem to me.
The first P-47 ride I ever had was a terrible experience.
I had been shot down in a Mustang, and bailed
out and took—I used to have horses, and
the old axiom was, “If you get bucked off,
you get right back on and ride again before
you get scared.”
So, I wanted to go back in the air
but we had a different airplane.
So, I waited a couple of days, and when I
did, they said, “Here's an airplane that
needs a hundred-hour check.
Take it up and see what you think.”
I did my cockpit check to make sure everything—I
knew where everything was—I took—and we
were on a field in France with a wire marked
for a run way on a pasture and—and with
a Mustang, you could take it off in half the distance.
With the P-47, it took the entire length of the field.
In fact, there were about five or six trees—the
French palm trees along the side—every six
feet, or ten feet or whatever, and they had
at least one guy fly into them and knock one
of them down—trying to get off the ground.
When they got—told me to take it, I pushed
her wide open, and I'm down there, and I'm
waiting for it to get up, and
it doesn't seem to want to go.
Finally, I got to the end.
I'm either going to go through the trees or
get it up, so I pulled it off with all my
strength and got it off the ground, and just
barely cleared the trees and I was—got up
there, now—the problem was to hold it there.
It didn't want to go stay there so, I hooked
the—any pilot knows if you're having trouble
staying, you roll the trim tab back.
I rolled it back, and it went down instead
of up, so I rolled it forward, thinking it
must be different in this—and it
made it go, and I finally came up.
From that moment on, I hated it.
(Laughs) But I did fly out for two and a half months.
And as I said, it was rugged.
It did—it did a lot of damage.
I didn’t in the airplane, but, generally—the
rule was—the rumor was that General Quesada
was—was very proud of the record we had
in aerial victories over the 56th and 4th group.
And so, he wanted—when we had the P-47,
our margin was going down, and so he gave
us back our P-51, so we got them back in February
or March, and from then on, we flew them the
rest of the war.
(interviewer) Tell me about shooting down the jet—the 262.
(Clayton) The first time I saw the jet was—it was
like seeing the V-2 rocket, or the V-1.
What the hell was that?
Somebody said, “Bogey at two o'clock,”
and I turned and said, “I got them,” and
as I—halfway through my turn, this plane
goes by me, and through the bomber box and,
“Well, what the hell was that?”
We found out right away, it was a jet.
They were at least a hundred miles an
hour faster, maybe more, than we were.
I had another incident with one, I saw one
try to attack us while we were dive-bombing
but they couldn't hurt us.
When we see them coming, you just
pull up, and they go a mile by you.
But this particular day, I was cruising on a
search and destroy mission, and I spotted
movement down below me.
I was at twelve thousand feet, and I spotted
movement at two thousand feet, and I check,
and it's a silhouette of a Messerschmitt 262,
and I was so intent on getting him that I
rolled over and I go down, and I might have
even used power to start with, but by the
time I got about half way down, I'm
in what's called compressibility.
I'm going so fast that my area is going over the
wings without following the flow, so there’s
no control—my controls were like this, and
I forgot all about the jet—all I wanted
to do is live through this day.
And I—as I got down lower and lower, I began
to feel little—feel—and I eased back slightly,
holding the—hoping the wings would stay on,
and I came leveling out, and when I did,
the jet was right in front of
me, and I almost ran over him.
And I hit him immediately—I don’t think I
changed more than two degrees, and I set
his left jet on fire, and part of his left wing came off.
I overran him, so I pull off, and when
I turn back, he is going straight up.
Jets will go straight up, but not propeller
aircraft—and I tried to follow him a little,
and I thought he's going to get away but he
got up a little way and stopped, and started
sliding back down—and the pilot
jacketed, and then, he jumped out.
I got a jet—it was so exciting, I tell you.
I said—at that moment, I felt I could whip
the whole German Air Force all by myself,
and I thought for a minute, I—we had a chance.
I got my flight back together again—they
had been able to see it, so they saw what
happened, and we joined up and started back
for the base, and when we did, I see—we're
climbing, and I see about thirty—forty radial
engine airplanes, and I thought they were
Focke-Wulf 190s.
And if we’re going to fight forty
of them, we need a little altitude.
So, we’re climbing, and they went
under us without even noticing us.
If they did, they recognized it.
And we recognized them as P-47, and I was upset.
I thought they—I was hoping they’d be
German, so we could take care of them.
I met the pilot of the jet in 1995.
In 1977, I was president of the American Fighter
Aces, and I was invited to Germany for the
German Fighter Meeting, and I had so much
fun talking to the people that I’d been
fighting against, that I went back
five more times and over the years.
And in 1995, I met the pilot of the jet that I shot down.
The reason I hadn’t met him earlier
is that he was wounded in that.
His story of the shootdown was exactly the
same as mine, and that he was wounded in the
left side and didn't have to fly anymore.
He went to the hospital for treatment, and he
says there are so many wounded from armored
battles on—the Americans coming from the
west, and the Russians coming from the east.
Nobody had time to look at me, so I put a towel
over my wound and climbed out the window,
and hitchhiked back to my base, and stole a
light plane, and flew it to Czechoslovakia,
where I checked myself into a hospital.
And he says that very shortly after that,
“The Russians lowered the Iron Curtain,
I couldn't get back out until Reagan brought
the wall down,” and then he was able to
get back out and be with his pilots
that they’ve been flying with.
He had—he had sixteen victories over us, so—I
was hoping he was one of the two hundred
victory aces, but he wasn’t.
(interviewer) Wow.
What—let me see.
About what was the date that you shot the jet down?
(Clayton) What?
(interviewer) About what was the date that you shot the
jet down?
(Clayton) It was April of ’45.
I don't know the date.
(interviewer) Well.
How did the—how did the last few
weeks and months of the war go?
Was—how did the last few weeks and months
of the war, how did they go for you?
Was there a lot of opposition in the area?
(Clayton) The last month, we couldn't find anything
to shoot at.
There was—in fact, the day I went to London
with the sergeant to get married, May 8, I
was on the end of the runway, ready to
take off, when eight P-51’s came out.
And it was led by a friend of mine, Fred Fehnsenfeld,
and the tower told me the mission takes priority
over you, so back off.
So, we had to let eight planes take off.
I talked to Fred later, and he says, “We were
dropping leaflets, telling them to surrender.
That's all we were doing—no shooting, no nothing.”
There was nothing—really, the shooting—the
opposition from the air got—got less and
less as we went through, and very understandable
for them—they were hiding their plane.
Did I tell you the story of Brueland and I,
flying a two-man mission to raise our score?
Once you get in this thing of shooting people
down, you want—everybody wants to raise
their numbers—get more, get more.
Shoot somebody else down,” and we stopped
to think—this is—I’m not sure when it
was—it was in March or April of—of ’45.
We decided that—they're hiding their planes from us.
They hide them someplace, and they move them
back out after we've gone home—so, we went
to the commanding officer, and we said—they
were going to—they're obviously waiting
till we're out of contact, and then they're coming in.
How about letting us take off at dusk, and
we can find out where they are, and we can
shoot them down, and then you got a—the
fields are temporary fields with no lighting,
so how will we land in the dark?
So, they got every vehicle on the base, and
lined it up with headlights so we could see
where we were, and we had radial to bring us back.
We went out, and it worked out
exactly the way we had planned.
We cruised along—there was broken clouds
at about twenty-five hundred feet or so.
We were at three thousand above them, or—and
we looked down through there, and through
the clouds, we saw maybe sixty German Messerschmitts
in formation—in what we used to call a “Gaggle.”
We’re going to attack them from above,
and they don't know we’re there.
I picked out—we separated like this,
and I pick out three or four.
I said, I’ll get all three—maybe four,
maybe more before they knew we’re here,
and we start down, and Brueland pulls
up, and I said, “What's the matter?
Pull up with him.”
And he says, “Well, I got oil all over
my windshield, I can't see anything.”
So, he says, “You’re going to have to
lead,” so we make a circle and look for
them again.
Now, we got to find them again, and we’re
looking up here, and I look over at Brueland,
and here comes a Messerschmitt on
his tail, and I scream “Break.
Break,” and we do—we find out we're
under attack instead of attacking.
We managed to get out of there, and never fired a shot.
They—those poor German boys that would have
died, lived through it, and—we got back—and
I swear, this is true.
When we checked Brueland’s plane to see why
it made oil all over the windshield, they
couldn't find one single thing wrong.
So, I happen to—I happen to think God intervenes
now and then, and he may have done that, because
they—how stupid to kill a few more young
German boys when they’re not going to affect
the war?
It would have raised our numbers—the
numbers were already there.
Just like the picture was, right there.
(interviewer) Wow.
All right, would you—would you tell me about
some of the guys that you flew with during
the war?
(Clayton) Okay, I’ll tell you about some of the guys
in my outfit, first.
I roomed, starting with—right at the beginning
of the war, with two of my flight mates, (s/l
Redd) Emerson, and Lowell K. Brueland.
Brueland was a very quiet guy from Clarinda,
Iowa, which—we used to call him: “Clarinda,
Iowa’s only ace with twelve and a half victories.”
Redd was also from the Midwest
Country—I think it was Nebraska.
After the war, he did just what I did—he
went back to school and became a dentist,
so—well I didn't hear from him for years until
we were both dentists, and we’ve finally
got together again.
Redd was—was wounded in a—by a Messerschmitt 210.
A shell went through his canopy.
One fragment went across his chest, cut his
parachute straps, and burned a hole—I mean,
burned his chest as he went by.
And the same time, a fragment went through
his neck—that went in one side, and out
the other—about a half inch from his spinal column.
And he had no permanent injuries from either
one of those—if it’d been a little ahead,
one fragment would have killed him.
The other one—the one in front, if it’d
been back a little, would have killed him,
but he would—spent some time in the hospital,
and went home—he had six victories.
Brueland was such a quiet guy—you’d
never know what he was doing.
And, he was a—a great pilot.
I recognized that when he first
got to my group—my squadron.
He was very good—very good, and it turned
out, in combat, he was even better—and he
had twelve and a half victories, in Europe, I
think, and then had two more in Korea before
he retired.
He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Redd and I both left the service after the war.
Bob Stevens entered the 355th after I
did—a very good pilot, a great leader.
He and I did not hit it off quite so well.
He was—he thought I—I was leading a flight one
day, and he tried to tell me what he did—what
I did wrong, and I said, “You do—when
you,”—he didn’t do what I told him to.
I said, “When I am leading, you do what I say.
When you are leading, I’ll do what you say,”
and evidently, he went to Bickell, and from
that time on, Bickell and he
were closer than Bickell and I.
So—but he was a good pilot, and a good—and
he turned out to be squadron leader—and
he did a good job, but he didn’t last long after the war.
He made it through the war, and then, he was
killed when an F-80 flamed out on takeoff—and
he was killed after the war—it could
have happened to me if I had stayed in.
His daughter was the first one the Aces
made a scholarship recipient from the Aces.
Who else? (s/l Cusson Lascoe).
Lascoe was a—was a—a Clark-Gable-type—that’s
what he looked like, and he had a Clark Gable
moustache—good guy.
We were all jealous of the way he looked to
the ladies—although I was married and didn’t
care—I swear.
(Laughs) He eventually was transferred to
another group to take care of—command of
a squadron.
Ken Martin, our first commander, was a—was a
go-by-the-book type of guy, which is a good
way to do it.
Sometimes, I thought he was a little too much
so, but he went one day—they called him,
“Never Break Martin.”
They really didn’t, but he’s got a
reputation now as being called that.
Don Blakeslee came down to lead the group the first time.
I was sitting in the front row, all—to listen
to every work, and Blakeslee said, “Now,
in the case of this head-on pass, the guy
who breaks first is at a disadvantage.
If I see you break first, I’ll come
after you and shoot you down myself.”
I thought, “What an ass.”
That’s not what you do to your
people if they make a mistake.
Martin said—got up on the stage, and
he says, “If that’s the way it’s done,
that’s the way we’ll do it.”
I led—Martin led the group one day from a
355th Squadron, and I was Operations—I
set myself as his Element Leader, so I’m number
three in his flight, and we are attacked
by a bunch of Focke-Wulf 190s as we crossed the coast.
Martin—we dropped our gas tanks, and Martin
says—when I made a move with my controls,
I found out I was not under control.
I was flying an airplane, not my own, and
the control cables had been left slack.
And when I move them, nothing happens for a while.
I went into a spin, and I dropped maybe twelve,
fifteen thousand feet, and I’m attacked
by about eight Focke-Wulf 190s, and I’m all
alone, and I scream for help, and Martin
says, “Do not break formation.
We have a mission to run.”
I had nothing to do, except—I couldn’t
control it, so I just started climbing as
steep as I could under full power, and these
guys made passes from the side but never hit
me at all.
I got back up to our level, and then, somebody
who had another minor problem said they would
escort me home.
So, we go home—that was the mission where
Martin ran into a Messerschmitt 109 on a head impact.
He did just what he said.
“Don’t break first,” and neither did the other guy.
I personally had a little saying, “I won’t
break, but I’m going to flick my wing to
let him know which way I’m going when I do
break,” and then, I never ran into anybody.
He was—he wound—the war, in a prison camp.
He escaped just before the war ended.
Some of the big names, Jack Bradley.
Jack—Jack was in the 353rd Squadron
to start with—I was in 355th.
He was very good, and he was a leader.
He and I turned out to be very good friends after the war.
He—he had a battle with Glenn Eagleston,
who was another friend of mine.
To tell you the truth, the 353rd was today,
like a lot of—like the New York Yankees.
Everybody in the other group—in our group
disliked him, because they were—they would—they
drafted people out of our squadron.
If somebody who—like Jim—Jim—I’m thinking
of one of our pilots who was pretty good,
who went to them and says, “Put in a request for me.
I want to be with your squadron,” like the
Yankees, collecting all the expensive and
best pilots that they could, and they did
have the best record from squadrons, but the
squadron is a team game, and then, we
were the—we also had good records.
Eagleston and Bradley had a great race to see
who would be the leading Ninth Air Force ace.
Eagleston finally won it, and the story of
how that happened was—that I heard, was
not—not denied by either one of them.
Bradley was scheduled—they were very close—almost
even neck and neck, and Bradley was set to
lead the mission—on a very early mission,
and Eagleston told the chief, “Jack isn’t
feeling too well.
I’m going to take the mission, don’t wake
him,” and so, Bradley woke up and found
out the mission had gone off, and Eagleston
led it and shot down three planes, and wound
up the leading ace in the Ninth Air Force.
And how did that happen?
I mean, how did that play out?
They were great friends, it looked like, but
I—the three of us, and one other pilot—I
think it was Turner somebody—Dick Turner,
went home together—the first pilots to go
home after the first tour.
The first tour was two hundred combat hours,
and I—Gil Talbert and I were the first two
in our squadron—Bradley and Eagleston in their 353rd, and
the 356th was Earl (s/l Hebner), and Harry Fisk,
and they—we went home together—to
get home, you go back to England, and
you sit there in a base, waiting.
You’re supposed to be—confined to the base.
We went over the fence, as usual, to get
to town, and we—we got whiskey—we bought
all we could get a hold of.
I know we had two bottles, and four of us—two
bottles of whiskey, and we were drinking it
pretty straight.
I don’t think anybody felt any pain.
Eagleston laid down on the top bunk—we
got a room with two double bunks.
I was sitting on top of a wall locker, up
above both of them, and Eagleston was laying
there, and Bradley came over and patted him
over the head, and then, put his arm around
his neck and got a—and threw him from the top
bunk to the concrete floor, and we thought
he’d killed him.
We—we got down—we got, “What the
hell are you trying to do?”
He says, “I wasn’t trying to hurt him.”
We got Eagle back up on the top bunk, and
he seemed to be all right—all his arms and
legs moved, and Bradley was over there, pouting.
He said, “For God’s sakes, be careful.”
We went back to what we were doing, and Bradley
comes over and gets another headlock and throws
him down again.
So, you got to think that somewhere in the
deep—he really was upset about that, but that’s life.
They were both great pilots, and they both
turned out to be very good friends of mine.
Bruce Carr, also 353rd, he was not drafted—he
was—he was a wild man in the air, if there
ever was one.
He—I would not—if I had my choice of who not
to fight, I think it would have been him.
I could have fought with all the others, I
think, but I don’t want to fight Bruce Carr—he
was good.
He was wild.
A story of him getting shot down, and pending
the time, and stealing an airplane to get
back, and he found a German fighter, and got
it started, and flew it back to our base on
the ground.
He managed to get it on the ground before
they shot at him—that kind of branded him.
There’s other stories that happened with
Bruce that I—that were not after the war.
He was a great guy.
He finally died.
Eagle was a great guy, he died.
Jim Dalglish was the guy that was with our
group, who got drafted by—who volunteered
to leave our group—our squadron,
to go with the 353rd—the big guys.
Don Beerbower was the—maybe the greatest of all.
He was the leading ace in everything until
he got killed on a ground-strafing mission.
That was—by the way, when Bradley was commanding
the 353rd Squadron, when he and I went home
together the first time, and when he left,
he turned it over to be—to Don Beerbower,
and Don Beerbower got killed on a mission that morning.
And he turned it over—it was given to Wally
Emmer, another great fighter pilot and ace,
and Wally was shot down that
afternoon, and died in a prison camp.
So, the 353rd had three—Bradley, Beerbower,
Emmer, and a fourth one took command the same
day—four commanders in one day.
We got home—we got back, we didn’t know all this.
I think Bradley would have got
off the boat and got back there.
They—the fourth commander was—took over
before we’d ever got—left England—left France.
Who else?
Let me see.
Gil Talbert was an ace in the 355th.
He was the quietest guy in the world.
He—we called him a deacon.
He was almost a reverend, and—but he—he shot
down five planes, but he did it so quietly,
you wouldn’t know, and he was not—a gung-ho leader.
He was—Dick Turner—pardon me, Jim Howard, who
was the only fighter pilot in England—in
the European Theatre to earn the Medal of Honor.
I flew with him two or three times.
He was a very wild pilot—very hard to follow,
and that’s why I put myself on his wing,
to make sure—you couldn’t follow him.
If you couldn’t follow him, how could the enemy follow him?
He shot down—he was all alone behind the Boxer
bomber that was attacked by Messerschmitts.
He shot down four, and the—the bomber
crew claimed he shot down six.
He was given credit, I think, for three,
and one—and two damaged, or something.
He got the Medal of Honor for it, and he deserved it.
They immediately took him off flying, and he
went to—wound up being a Brigadier General
in headquarters, which was—made him upset.
Who—there’s so many other guys that I know.
I know them all—if they were—Jim Dalglish, came in late.
He claims he never got his own airplane.
He always flew somebody else’s airplane.
He had been—he was a little older, and he
had been training pilots in aerial gunnery,
and he was very good at it.
He came in and immediately started shooting down airplanes.
I never heard of him before we went home,
and when I got back, he’s already an ace,
and wound up with a dozen of—he’s
a super guy, a friend of mine.
We call each other.
He calls me, and says, “This is number
one, how are you doing, number two?”
And if I call him, I say the same thing.
He’s number two to me, and I’m number one.
Anybody else?
(interviewer) Tell me about Smitty.
Tell me about Smitty, your crew chief.
Tell me about Smitty, your crew chief.
What was he like?
(Clayton) When I first got my airplane, I was a flight
commander—and I got my first airplane, and
P-39, and the crew chief was a guy named,
C.E. Smith—Smitty, and—a super guy.
He and I became good friends.
He—he was my crew chief from all the way
through training, and through combat, and
when I left, he was still my crew
chief—when I left after the end of the war.
And I—I felt so much for him.
When I was home on a thirty-day leave after the
first tour, I—my father had made a fortunate
buy when the war—when the—whiskey turned
into a—became a—a liquor store had gone
broke, and my father had made a bid on the
stock, and got it, and we had every type of
whiskey in the world in the basement.
And when I got home—you could not buy a Bourbon in Europe.
You could buy Scotch if you were lucky, and
so—I asked my dad if I could have a case
of Old Grand-Dad bourbon to take back to England.
He gave it to me gladly.
I wrapped a rope around both sides, and made a rope handle.
Officers had to carry their own baggage during
the war—you didn’t get people to do that for you.
I carried that case of whiskey from Spokane,
Washington, across the ocean to our base,
deep in France, before I got back.
And when I got back, I took the case open, and
I took six bottles out for me, and locked
six bottles in there, and took it
down to Smitty, and gave it to him.
It made him the most popular sergeant
in the Air Force at the time.
He was a great guy.
I wish he was still around to look
at Live Bait the way it sits now.
Can you cut that off for a minute?
(interviewer) Sure.
Captioned by AdeptWordManagement.com

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Clayton Kelly Gross was born in Walla Walla, Washington, a town so pretty they named it twice. Gross remarks it is famous for onions now, but it was famous for him too. He came by his military service naturally because his father was an infantry officer in World War I. His uncle commanded the 161st Infantry of the Washington National Guard. Gross joined the Civil Military Training when he was about 15 years old and had a few years in that and then joined the National Guard at the urging of his uncle who wanted him in his unit. His uncle put him battalion headquarters and Gross was there during his three year enlistment during which he rose to Private First Class or maybe Corporal. War in Europe was brewing and his enlistment was ending with the National Guard and he decided he wanted to be a pilot so had taken both the Army Air Corps and Naval Air Corps tests as they came through Spokane Washington where they lived. He passed both tests and they told him he had to decide which one he Clayton Kelly Gross was born in Walla Walla, Washington, a town so pretty they named it twice. Gross remarks it is famous for onions now, but it was famous for him too. He came by his military service naturally because his father was an infantry officer in World War I. His uncle commanded the 161st Infantry of the Washington National Guard. Gross joined the Civil Military Training when he was about 15 years old and had a few years in that and then joined the National Guard at the urging of his uncle, who wanted him in his unit. His uncle put him in battalion headquarters and Gross was there during his three year enlistment during which he rose to Private First Class or maybe Corporal. War in Europe was brewing and his enlistment was ending with the National Guard and he decided he wanted to be a pilot so had taken both the Army Air Corps and Naval Air Corps tests as they came through Spokane, Washington where they lived. He passed both tests and they told him he had to decide which one he wanted. He chose Army with the reasoning that if he went to war and took off on a mission in the Navy, then you did not know if your landing field was going to be there or not when you get back because it might be on the bottom of the ocean. With the Army he knew it may have holes in it but at least it would be there. They put him on a waiting list and his uncle was unhappy with him and wanted him to reenlist. Gross told him he just could not do it and it was a good thing, because the war started and he got a telegram a week later telling him to report and the National Guard unit got sent to Okinawa, so he would have ended up on Okinawa as an infantryman. He was very happy and his training went well. He already had a pilot’s license through civil pilot training so the flying was no problem for him. He went to Randolph and Kelly Fields and graduated with a large class of 156. They picked two people and sent them to fly fighters. Everyone wanted to fly fighters and he got it. He got sent to a P-39 [Annotator’s Note: Bell P-39 Airacobra] training replacement training group. He flew P-39s for months and months. They knew they would not fly them in the war, but it was good training and he could whip anything the Navy had by the time they flew some six months. Then a very lucky think happened to him. They came to the group and told them that half of the group would be sent to fly P-38s [Annotator’s Note: Lockheed P-38 Lightning] and the government had really pushed the P-38 because they did not have anything else worth pushing. He did not get to go and stayed with the group flying P-39s. This worked out great because they took 12 of those men including Gross and formed the 354th Fighter Group which was the best fighter group in the war if you count it by aerial victories—the best one in the European theater at least. So that is how he ended up in the 354th. He was a flight leader to start with as C Flight Commander in the 355th Squadron and that’s the way they went to war. Gross recalls leaving for war in September of 1943 and landed in England in around November of 1943 and were sent to Greenham Common [Annotator’s Note: Royal Air Force Station Greenham Common in Berkshire, England]. They took three pilots out of the group and Gross was one of them. Jack Bradley was another and Bob Stephens was another. They were sent to an English base where they checked out in a brand new airplane they had never heard of called the P-51 [Annotator’s Note: North American P-51 Mustang]. Actually the version they checked out in was the dive bomber version called the A-36[Annotator’s Note: North American A-36 Apache]. They checked out in that and were supposed to go back and check out the rest of the group. Typical of the Army Air Corps, of course, when the men got back the unit was being checked out at another base, so their trip was not really for anything except they were the first ones to do it. They got the B model P-51 before they first went into combat. They moved from Greenham Common to Boxted [Annotator’s Note: Royal Air Force Station Boxted in Essex, England], a better base to fly to Europe from. They flew from there on their first mission on December 11th or 12th led by Don Blakeslee, who had commanded the 4th Fighter Group. The 354th had nobody with any combat training, so Blakeslee was sent down to help out. The only exception of that in the 354th Fighter Group was Jim Howard who had been a “Flying Tiger,” who was already an Ace in Japan with five Japanese victories. So Don Blakeslee checked them out. From there they started and became the greatest group in the whole war. Gross says when he goes to an air show now and sees various aircraft from the World War II era, the one that he really wants to get into and fly is the P-39. It had the engine behind the pilot and if you hit the ground you got an awful nudge in the back. He became the Assistant Operations Officer and one of his jobs was to investigate crashes. He did that several times on P-39 crashes. There was a saying that if you lived through the first hundred hours in the P-39, then you loved it. The reason was because there were different flight characteristics and they lost a lot of pilots who did not master that and were lost early. He flew 500 hours in the P-39 and he loved the plane. He says he would taxi it with the nose wheel on the ground like a hot pilot would, then shut the power off about a block off of the parking spot and coast in just to show you knew what you were doing. Gross recalled having a lot of cockpit time when they got the P-51 and talking with people about the characteristics. The A-36 was the first model of the P-51 and it had an Allison engine and three bladed prop [Annotator’s Note: propeller]. It was a pretty airplane and he recalled flying over England thinking about how the Battle of Britain took place in these skies and he would look around to make sure it was not starting again. He would have taken after the Germans with his A-36. When they got the P-51 B Model it had the Rolls Royce Merlin engine with the four bladed prop. It was gorgeous and it gave them a little of an advantage against anything they fought against. Gross thinks it was hard to judge if it was the airplane or their own skill that was better. He fought one guy that he thought was the reincarnation of the Red Baron [Annotator’s Note: German top ace of World War I, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen]. He was a tremendous pilot and Gross got on his tail and hit him pretty good and the German made an evasive maneuver and Gross was overrunning him and started coming back down and when he did the German was coming up at him and wound up on his tail. Gross went into a Lufbery circle [Annotator’s Note: defensive air tactic from World War I] as tight as he could turn and he guesses they made 150 circles. The first 50 the German was aiming square at Gross in the cockpit area. Every time Gross looked he would see the 20 millimeter cannon firing, but the shells went behind him. It took Gross 50 to 70 turns to start gaining on him and the German knows he is about to have Gross on his tail. Whether that was because of his skill or the airplane he does not know. Gross remembers him being a great pilot. He fought some people who were not great pilots and he is not sure if they even knew how to fly. He wishes he could have had more of those as his score would have been better. Now he does not want that. Nowadays, as he gets closer to getting his great reward, he does not want people killed. He has friends in Germany and has been to their meetings six times now.

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Clayton Kelly Gross should have been on the first combat mission, but when it happened he was in the hospital with a strep throat infection. They flew two missions before he got back. He flew the third one. The first mission they just crossed the Channel into enemy territory so they could say it was done. The second was not much more. The third mission which was his first was the first one where they actually had something happen. What happened was not good. They were attacked by German fighters and Stud Hall [Annotator’s Note: uncertain on the name, as it may be Hull] from the 356th Squadron was shot down. The weather in December in that area was terrible too; terrible in England most of the time. Gross recalls being in a fairly strange aircraft and you are crossing the English Channel in freezing cold weather and you are going to enemy territory where there are people who want to kill you and the weather is so bad they have trouble seeing each other. Then to have someone say, “Break left,” then your heart beats pretty fast. You eventually get back and find out it was not much. On his first mission he cannot remember if it was the group or squadron that went up. They usually flew four plane flights and a squadron was two or more flights but they always flew three or four, so there were always 12 or 16 in a squadron and three squadrons would make it 36 to 48 depending on how many they had. There was one mission of note. They always maintained radio silence and you were not allowed to say anything because the enemy could track you. Jack Bradley led the mission and the only way you could talk on the radio was to push the button. When you did, you transmitted your voice but you could not hear anything else. When they did somebody’s button had been stuck. When they were crossing the channel and entering France or Germany, the guy was singing a popular song from the day that was popular as hell. It was “Mairzy Doats.” This kid was singing out loud and Bradley shouted, “Turn off your radio!” Of course the guy could not hear it and goes on singing. So Bradley tried something else and said, “Everybody who can hear me, rock your wings and everybody rocked their wings. Of course the guy that’s sitting there doesn’t know what is going on, so he does it too. So Bradley didn’t learn anything. So they crossed the Ruhr Valley where there was tremendous anti-aircraft fire and it started to burst around them. The singing stopped immediately and you could hear heavy breathing from the guy. Bradley shouted at him, “Sing now you son of a bitch!” Gross does not remember much else about the mission; that was all he remembers, but when they finished the mission, Bradley said, “When we land, I want every pilot lined up and I want to talk to you.” Of course when they landed and got everybody lined up he went down the line and asked, “Was that you on the radio?” Of course the guy doesn’t know anything, but he isn’t going to admit it. Gross does not think that Jack ever found out anything about it. Nobody knew who it was, including Kelly. It was not him, although he knew the song. When Gross was in the hospital, they got a request for a pilot to come and speak to the aircraft factories. Nobody wanted to be a public speaker and him number one. He did not want to be one. But he was the only one not there, so they voted him to be the guy. It turned out to be kind of fun and he met some great people, but he had to talk to three factories, one each day. He was so nervous that he would rather fight an enemy aircraft than talk to people. Nowadays, he is a ham, but not back then and now he has had 23 years of Toastmaster training since then. Gross recalls the P-51 B model had four 50-caliber machine guns and it was already a long range fighter compared to others, but to make it longer they had the possibility of carrying extra fuel tanks of 75 gallons, with one under each wing. If they were not doing that or were dive bombing or something, they could carry three bombs, with one under the belly and one under each wing. He can’t remember if they carried three bombs on the P-51 for certain, but he knows they did when they had the P-47 [Annotator’s Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt]. The 50 caliber machine guns were adequate. When they finally added two more it was even more adequate. When they first started with the P-51 with four guns they would get into a tight turn pulling Gs [Annotator’s Note: G-force acceleration] and it would cause the guns to stop firing. He thinks one of the crews invented something that fed the guns better. Your shooting depended on how much you did. Possibly because of his 500 hours of combat training in the P-39 he developed a habit of firing from very close and not from long distance. He thinks some people started firing before they got within a half of a mile of the target. Because of that he does not think he ever finished a mission with no guns. He knows he never ran out of ammunition even when they had just the four guns. Short bursts from close distance worked better. When Gross was first designated a plane of his on with the P-39, he had the chance to name it anything he wanted to name it, so he used the secret nickname of his wife, “Lil Pigeon.” And it worked fine for him. But they had more pilots than they had planes, so when somebody else flew his plane and he had two or three crash, he had to paint a new name on them. He was still deciding when he went overseas what to name his plane. It was on an early mission when he was coming home that he was separated from the group which happens a lot in combat. He wound up with one other pilot and they were flying home in mutual support so they could watch each other. They were cruising along and the pilot told Gross to stay there and he was going to go up into the sun and see if they can draw some action. Gross asked the pilot, “What do you think I am live bait?” And the pilot said, “Yes.” Gross does not remember who it was, but he thinks he was outranked by the man, because he did what he said. They did not draw any action, but when they got back Gross told Smitty, his crew chief, to paint “Live Bait” on his airplane. Smitty and an artist came up with the design and Gross used it the rest of the war. He had maybe six or seven airplanes that all were named “Live Bait” and all were beautiful.

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Clayton Kelly Gross recalls the first mission he shot any airplanes down was when he was flying with a wingman named Billy D. Harris and they called him “Bucky” after the baseball player [Annotator’s Note: Bucky Harris]. They were on the right side of a bunch of bombers, B-17 [Annotator’s Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress] bombers and someone said there were bogeys [Annotator’s Note: unknown aircraft] at two o’clock. Gross looked at the two o’clock area and there were a large group, estimated at 35 Messerschmitt 109s, cruising parallel to the bombers and up above them. Gross and Harris turned over and started up underneath them to get to them. Like all live fighter pilots in combat you check six [Annotator’s Note: six o’clock direction] to make sure nobody is coming up behind you. Gross looked back and a group of about 35 more starting to come in behind them. So they held their distance and throttled back a little to let them pass over the top of them. Nobody seemed to notice Harris and Gross. They let them pass over and checked their six again before pulling up behind the last poor “Tail End Charlie [Annotator’s Note: flying last in formation]. They started shooting and spread out. Billy got one burning and Gross got one burning and they damaged a few others. Meanwhile the tracers going through the group and probably their radio talk let them know they were under attack. The whole group of about 70 planes was going in every direction. To attack 70 from behind is one thing, but to attack them head on at 68 to two of them was tough. Gross and Harris dove down and they spotted another plane by himself. Gross hit him and the pilot bailed out and Gross looked to be sure nobody else was around and flew by the German to show him the name of his plane so he could go back tell them who got him. It was one of the most exciting missions he ever had. He has a painting in his room of shooting one down off a B-17. Gross was coming back from a mission and spotted one wounded B-17 all by himself down low. Coming in on his tail was a Messerschmitt. That was the one time he started shooting from over 75 to 100 yards. He had to because the German was starting to shoot at the B-17. Fortunately Gross hit him and knocked him down and saved a B-17. Gross recalls he was a good shot. He was on the rifle team at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane. They finished in the top three in the nation of rifle shooting. You used to be able to carry a rifle to school and put it in your locker until after school when you had rifle shooting. They don’t do that anymore, he doesn’t think. He recalls having great competitions. Gross recalls flying along the side of the B-17 and waving at them and they waved back thanks. They were going too slow and Gross would have been out of gas before they got back, so he flew with them for a while and then had to leave them. That story reminds him of another mission. They were on a mission to Berlin escorting B-17s when they were attacked by bundles of 109s and everybody was separated in this battle. A dogfight can be 10,000 feet high and 10,000 feet wide. Gross found himself on the tail of a 109 and checked his six to make sure he was clear, because he was all alone. He found two P-47s coming in on his tail and he thought, “Great, I got help!” He went back to the 109 and had some great hits on him and does not know what happened to him and he may have gone down. The next thing Gross knew, the world exploded and he did an involuntary snap roll and went into a spin and had a blow on the back of his neck he thought was a baseball bat. As he went in the spin he put his hand on the back of his head and it was red which turned out to be hydraulic fluid. He realized he was alive for the moment and went through a spin recovery and looked back and saw the P-47s coming up on him and he waved his wings and the P-47s came up right alongside him. When he looked over they realized what they had done and he could read the code on his airplane that said “HV” which was Gabby Gabreski’s squadron which is in the 56th Fighter Group. Gross had lost a big piece of his canopy and had over 100 holes in his airplane, but the engine worked and the radio worked. He was all alone, because the P-47s peeled off and left him instead of escorting him home. Gross was all alone and saw the B-17s still heading for Berlin. He contacted the B-17s and said he was all shot up and asked if he could come up and get near them. The leader said he had Gross in sight and told him to come up and get on his wing. As he sat under the B-17’s wing a group of about 20 or more Messerschmitt 109s made a vertical pass on this group of bombers but did not shoot anything down. He sat there thinking about whether or not he should go after them but did not know if his plane would keep flying or not. So he did not do anything but he kept calling and got Lowell K. Brueland to fly alongside the bombers until he found Gross and escorted him home. He got a new plane immediately and flew up to the 56th Fighter Group to talk to them about everything. Incidentally behind the pilot is a cutout of a man right behind the pilot [Annotators Note: part of the seat] and one shell had hit the neck area of that steel that was about a half inch or more thick. It had moved out four inches but did not go through. Evidently it was what hit him in the back of the neck. He got back and talked to Gabby and he denied everything. Gabby and Gross became good friends later through the Aces Association and used to go to church together, but he would never admit who ever did it. He thinks he introduced Gross to a guy who thought he shot at a Mustang but didn’t hit it. Gross told him he was the best shot they had in the group. After he left Gabby and thanked him and shook hands with the guy and told him to be careful. He walked out of Gabby’s office and got about ten steps down the hall and thought about the gun camera film and what a souvenir it would be. He went back in without knocking and Gabby was standing there talking to this pilot. Gross asked if he could have the gun camera footage and Gabby told him it was accidentally exposed when the crew chief dropped it and the cap popped off.

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Clayton Kelly Gross cannot recall if the Messerschmitt he shot down off of the B-17 was his third or fourth kill. He cannot forget five [Annotator’s Note: his fifth kill] since it made him an ace, or six which was the jet [Annotator’s Note: Me262]. Gross had a 30-day leave at home after he finished his first 200 combat hours. He got back after two and half months, including travel time. When he got back he got into the Mustang and had not flown in a couple months. He flew one flight and felt right at home. He went on a combat mission the next day and nothing happened, but the second mission after that, he got into combat with a bunch of Me109s. He was separated from everyone else. While looking for somebody he spotted two P-51s in front of him, side by side and headed for home, so he tried to catch up with them. They had solid clouds underneath them at about a 2,000 foot top. They were cruising right above that when up out of the clouds came a 109 [Annotator’s Note: Me109] and he pulled in right behind them, but he did not look back and see Gross behind him. Gross remembers it did not take much to turn into him and fire and he hit him very well. The German did a slow roll and started down through the clouds. Gross had to go see what happened to him because it was number five and he wanted number five very much. Gross got down through the clouds not knowing if there was a mountain or anything, but he was about to find out. When he got down there, he saw there was a hole where the plane crashed and apparently the pilot did not get out. Gross says that is one of the penalties for not checking your six [Annotator’s Note: checking behind you]. They got suckered one day and lost two airplanes. They were in a long range mission and why they were separated he does not know and he cannot recall any air battles, but he and his wingman Tony Radidich were joined by another element from another squadron. Jack Turk was the wingman. They were flying mutual support. Gross was on the right, with Tony on his right, and they spotted a lone 109 on the clouds and they made a race to go after him. Just as they were diving at him, the Me109 ducked down into the clouds. They watched for a while and when he did not come back up, they pulled up. In the meantime, he came popping up again and they made another run at him. He ducked into the clouds again and they should have known somebody was telling him when they were leaving. They started climbing up again and looking for him and Gross checks his left side and suddenly spots four Focke Wolf [Annotator’s Note: Focke Wolf 190] on Dalglish’s tail and Jack Kirk’s plane was already on fire and slowly turning. Gross yelled, “Break left,” and Dalglish broke left and Gross turned to get behind the 190s and as he did, he hollered, “Tony, stick with me” and got no answer. Gross looked back and he had four on his tail too. They shot Tony down and Jack. Tony lived and was captured, but Jack did not. Gross felt bad about that. He told Dalglish he was going down and Dalglish said he was going up. Dalglish climbed as fast as he could and Gross dove as fast as he could. He pushed it through war emergency, which there is a little extra half inch of power on the throttle. There is a sign that says, “Do not exceed for more than five minutes.” He pushed it through that to get down and went through the clouds and he is not sure how fast he was going. He leveled out at ground area and crossed Germany and shot up a train and a building. He crossed a German airfield with about ten airplanes in the air. As they were getting ready to land, he crossed over the center of the field. Nobody was able to catch him as he headed for the English Channel. He thought then that he had made it and as he crossed the Channel and was still at about ten feet off the water when the engine quit. He pulled up immediately and realized his gas tank was empty. He changed tanks and thanked God it caught again. When he landed, he found that he had been in War Emergency for about 45 minutes instead of five. Packard who was building the Merlin engine sent representatives over and they took the engine apart to see how much damage there had been, but they could find no damage to it. It was a great engine. Gross took his leave after D-Day [Annotator’s Note: 6 June 1944]. He recalled D-Day was a big day and they knew it was coming and they had been confined to the base for about two weeks which meant it was very difficult to sneak over the fence to the pub. He thinks the statute of limitations was gone but they did go to the pub every now and then. They had the men put planes out on the runway with pilots in the cockpits with the engine warmed up for immediate takeoff. The first few days they did that, they had all the veteran pilots in the planes because they did not want to miss the action. After several days of sitting there with nothing happening, they started putting the rookies in the cockpit. Then on the night of June 5th, it happened. They finished dinner and went to the club and ordered a beer. They were drinking beer when Bowers Espy, the Executive Officer of the group, came in and yelled to close the bar. He said, “Close the bar, they are going to fly.” Gross said he thought he was out of his mind since the weather was terrible with about a 1,500 to 2,000 foot maximum ceiling and you could not see your hand in front of your face. They were ordered to briefing and they were told they were escorting gliders in with the airborne troops. They got ready and had three squadrons of 12 planes each. They took off and met the C-47s [Annotator’s Note: Douglass C-47 Skytrain] towing gliders. The only way they could see anybody was by the exhaust stacks on the engines. It was brutal, but they made it to the French coast. When they got to the French coast they saw an absolute wall of fire coming up from the Omaha Beach area. He recalled the C-47s had to fly right through that. How many made it he does not know, but he knows it was absolutely brutal. Gross recalled his group turned around and came back, but their base was closed in, the weather was so bad, so they landed at another base that was an empty RAF base with nothing on it. Colonel Bickell got on the phone to find out what they were going to do. It is 1:00am on 6 June and he came back and said they were going to takeoff on a second mission because they could not get the planes back for the replacement pilots. They tried to sleep for a couple of hours and at about 3:30am, they had a briefing again and took off about 4:00am. They met more gliders and C-47s, but this time was a sight he would never forget. Down below them on the Channel as the light of dawn was coming up there were so many ships he could see that you could not imagine it. They were over them and watched the gliders go in again and the ships were headed to the beach. Gross and the others could do nothing but see that no enemy aircraft came in to disrupt it. They headed back, and this time, were able to get back to their base. When they got back King Peter of Yugoslavia was in their briefing room to congratulate them because eventually his country would be freed again. Gross remembered telling somebody not to worry if they went down in the Channel because they could walk back to England on the ships, there were so many of them.

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Clayton Kelly Gross remarks that a fighter pilot cannot talk without using his hands. He recalled getting to England and the bombing going on from there. They were assigned to the 9th Air Force and he recalls getting to Greenham Common and having to put their bunks together because nobody would do it for them. He was rooming with Brueland and Emerson [Annotator’s Note: Lowell K. Brueland and Wallace Emerson] who were men who became aces in the unit along with Gross. They were in the middle of putting the cots together. Brueland and Emerson were on their knees trying to put them together and Gross was tired and standing at the moment when someone knocked on the door and then it opened and a gentleman stepped in and said hello and that his name was Pete Quesada and he wanted to introduce himself. Gross introduced himself and as he stuck out his hand he noticed the star on the gentleman’s collar as he extended his hand. Gross called for the others in the room to come to attention. They looked up and Quesada said to stay where they were and don’t get up. He said he was commanding the 19th Tactical Air Force and “You are part of my unit and the first fighter group in my unit and I have great plans and feelings about how you are going to do.” He was right; they turned out to be number one. That night he said hello to everyone in the squadron one at a time. They were assigned to the 8th Air Force for escort duty and did that on a regular basis to start with. But eventually they were going to get to their own job of supporting the ground troops with doing dive bombing and strafing. They had done a little of that before, but they started carrying bombs. They usually carried 500 pound bombs, one under each wing, and they could do great damage if you hit what you were aiming at. They had practiced in the P-39 throwing garbage sacks out the window and it was not the same. They had to experiment to see how to get the bomb on the right place. He recalled one mission in the Omaha Beach area and was given the job of breaking rail lines. He found a little station area with cross tracks that was a good place to do it. There was a little house nearby and so he went down and dropped his bomb and pulled up and looked back and the little white house disappeared and not the train tracks. He hoped that it was a German headquarters and not a French family living there. He did better later. He did one, dive bombing on a little village where they had some tanks held up and he dropped a bomb that went right through the roof of the building he was in. He came back and in debriefing he told them he hit it right on the button. He was Operations Officer at the time and about a week later he was sitting at his desk and he picked up the latest issue of “Stars and Stripes” and he looks at the article on the front page that says “Pilot Claims Hole in One” and then it said the pilot says the bomb went down the chimney and he thought, “Well, isn’t that stupid? How in the hell can you tell if it went down the chimney or not.” Then he read the next line and it said Lieutenant Clayton K. Gross. He called Browning and asked what he was doing to him. They had another thing they dropped that was a wicked weapon called napalm. You usually ran those to skip bomb to the target and then pull up and away. He would hate to be in the middle of it and was sorry about it. He feels sorry about a lot of things now, but also feels like they just did what they had to do though. He also notes he is not anti-military now and he is anything but. Gross recalled if you hung around London long enough, you got to where you really did not like it at all. In fact when they were stationed there they would go spend two or three days and it was plenty and you would get fed up with it. Once they got to the Continent they felt it would be nice to have people to talk to who were speaking their language instead of French. It became kind of a job to get a job to go back to England every now and then which they could do. They could go back and spend a couple of days in London. London during the war was blacked out and the people were accepting of what was happening. They had their bomb shelters if the sirens went off. He was in London a couple of times when there was a siren. He did not know where to go, so he just stood there and waited and thankfully it did not land anywhere close. Gross feels somebody up above was watching out for him the whole war. Besides that he was very lucky. Gross recalls the greatest entertainment was to go down to Piccadilly Circus at night and see the life and the people—the newspaper men selling “London Times” and condoms. The ladies seemed a little loose, in fact too loose for him, so he ignored them. They had a lady join a friend of his and he and she got between them and hooked both their arms. She said, “You know what I like about you Yanks?” They said they did not know. She told them they had silk shorts and patted them both on the rear. Gross told her if he had a spare pair then he would give them to her but he did not. He recalls it was an education in life to be there. He happened to fly back to England in a Mustang with a back seat on it. It was called a two-seater because it was designed to carry Eisenhower to look over the bridge holding them up in Normandy. Pete Quesada flew Eisenhower in it and they kept the plane. The name of it was “Stars Looked Down.” They asked Gross to fly a sergeant to London on 8 May to be married the next day and so Gross put him in the back seat and flew from the Munich area to London and it took about three hours including sightseeing. Gross showed him some of the damage to the German cities by circling over them. In one small village where there was a road coming in from each direction and in the center, there was nothing but a pile of bricks. There was nothing and that was what was left of the city. They flew to London and landed at a big airport and a big air field but nobody came out. He taxied around looking for someone to talk to and, “Where is he supposed to park?” and, “What is he supposed to do?” He even taxied with his tail wheel up, going about 90 miles an hour, just to get around the field a little bit. They finally found a place with several buildings, so they stopped and parked their own airplane. They went into the building and in the building they could hear sounds in the distance. They followed the sounds and it turned out to be a party because the war had ended while they were in the air. It took them about five hours to get downtown and all the offices were closed and he could not get a license and Gross does not know if he found his intended bride as he did not end up seeing him again. He did recall being in London when they cut the lights back on and he enjoyed being there to watch it. There were great stories about parties at the end of the war. He talked about hearing one about a pilot that survived the war and then got drunk with a bunch of his buddies and they all piled in a jeep and he sat on the hood and the driver was drunk and ran into a wall and cut the pilots wings off at the knee. He also heard of a B-17 group where they were firing their guns in the air and then leveled their guns across the field and that went back and forth until they probably wrecked two or three B-17s. It was a great day for people who had been fighting it.

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Clayton Kelly Gross says the 354th Fighter Group was so proud of the 701 kills from the air that they had and in finishing on the top. They went over with some 90 pilots and had 187 pilots killed or captured during the war. Gross recalled the first time he saw the V-1 rocket [Annotator’s Note: German V-1 flying bomb] was at night. They had gone to bed and they were sound asleep and the noise of these going over and the antiaircraft opened up on them and that was what really woke them up. Every 20 minutes or so, a new bomb would come putt, putt, putting about 1,500 feet over their field on its way to London. Gross says the people running the anti-aircraft around their base knew nothing about shooting and knew nothing about leading a moving target. They stood there and watched the men with braces of four 20-millimeter cannons and would start firing on one end and follow the target to the other instead of leading it and would never get close to hitting the target. By the time it had gone from one end to the other they had burned out the barrels and you could see the shells no longer going in a straight line. Some of the pilots went over and tried to tell the guys how to shoot and change the barrels out faster but the crew turned the guns to them and said if you want to learn about it we will show you. Gross remembered they let them go and just not get close to hitting one. The next day one of their pilots, Gross thinks it was Joe Power, went up and knocked one down and it blew up and blew a hole near the field. They did not want that, so they just let them go. Gross was in the air the day the V-2 [Annotator’s Note: German V-2 rocket] came off. He was flying and knew they were cruising along headed north. All of the sudden he saw a tail of smoke go straight up and then turn over and head toward England. It was the first time he had seen or heard of it. They could not do anything about it other than report where it came from so it could be bombed. When Gross went home for his 30 day leave, he was married to a beautiful girl and he will never forget how it took about two weeks to get a ship, then it took another two weeks to get home to New York and then it took him a week on the train to get across the country. When he got across the country, she met him and he thought she was absolutely beautiful. He had left a beautiful girl and came back to a beautiful woman. They were married 53 and a half years before she died. Then he married another beautiful woman. Gross was sent back to Atlantic City {Annotator’s Note: Atlantic City, New Jersey] where he was supposed to get two weeks of rest and rehabilitation. He was rooming with Gil Talbot and they sent for their wives since they had a beautiful hotel and would be there for two weeks. They told them to get the first transportation out there. About two days later a hurricane hit Atlantic City and they evacuated their hotel and had to look for something else. The water was about four or six feet deep in their lobby. They grabbed what they could and got another room and their wives finally showed up and they only had 36 hours together before Gross and Talbot got orders to transfer out. They took a physical, which is normal in the service. That means you take off all your clothes but your shorts and go from one station to another while the doctors test everything. He got to one he had never been to before and it was a psychologist. He was not out in the open like everyone else. He had little canvas walls around the area. When it was his turn, he went in and he had a hangover from drinking the night before with their wives. Gross walked in trying to look as calm as he could and the doctor looked at him and asked if he wanted to go back to combat. Gross said, “Hell no.” The doctor said you are normal and send the next guy in. It’s normal not to want to go back especially if you are married. Gross knows when it came to Korea he left the service when WWII ended and he did everything he could to get back in, but he did not make it. He went back to school instead.

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Clayton Kelly Gross had to make an emergency landing on Omaha Beach before he went home. He flew a mission over the beach area. He dropped bombs and strafed and started back for England and he got out over the Channel and his engine was running a little rough. The English Channel is pretty big like a big ocean. He started out over it and did not want to try flying over the Channel with that engine, so he turned back over land and it seemed to smooth out. When he turned back toward the Channel, it seemed to start again. He circled a field called A1 which was Advance Landing Ground 1, dug out near the beach for emergencies. He went down and landed there and his wingman followed him. They spent the night with the infantry. They radioed home to the base and they flew a mechanic over the next day and he worked on the plane until they got it ready and they took off the next day. It was interesting to spend the night there. They gave Gross and his wingman a tent to stay in and a cover. They slept in their uniform and were given an extra mess kit the next day and they ate with them. They were the first ones to land across the Channel in their group. About a week or so later the 354th Fighter Group moved over to France. [Annotator’s Note: There is a break in the interview where his wife needed to talk to him]. He was in about 30 dogfights and he was undefeated, which is the subtitle of his book. He has to admit he made one more combat take off than he did landing. Just to show you how strange war is, a rifleman in the German infantry got credit for shooting him down. He did not get credit, because he does not even know it, but he shot him down. They went out on a mission called “Search and Destroy.” The job is finding something to shoot at and get rid of it. They started with eight planes, but he sent four off in a different direction. They went after six trucks they saw parked on the road. They went down and burned four of them on the first pass. They did not get any action, so they made a circle and came back to get the other two. He had a wingman who was brand new and had never fired his guns in combat before. He was on the right and got excited and got out in front of Gross. They went across and burned the last two trucks and they cannot turn right and are ten feet off the ground. He cannot turn left either because “Tail End Charlie” may hit the ground. Gross and the pilots following him cross a big field with about 100 German soldiers in the field with rifles aiming at the planes. The soldiers were firing at them and the pilots laughed at them. They counted bullet holes in their airplanes later and Gross had one round through the motor that evidently cut the coolant line. Without that the engine cannot run, so Gross climbed up to 8,000 feet and they set a course for home. His engine froze up and stopped and it began to get hot in the cockpit. Gross told his flight he would have to get out of there after calling “Mayday”and finding out he had 40 miles to go to the line. He pulled the handle to release the canopy and then made three efforts to get out of the airplane. Each time something stopped him. First time, it was the shoulder straps on his shoulders, second was his radio, and third was the goggles had pulled away from his head. Eventually, he threw his helmet down on the floor. Each time he tried, he said goodbye to his group again and then he went down. He jumped out at probably about 2,500 feet. If you have not been in a parachute, it is the quietest place in the world with no wind and no sound except for below him he could hear a battle going on with heavy artillery and machine gun fire and small arms fire. He is floating down in the middle of it, so he hit the ground in a big field very close to a road and immediately rolled his chute up and hid it under a bush and hid trying to decide what to do. There was a village nearby but he did not want to go that way because he had been told not to get caught by the civilians because they had lost people in the war and may kill you. He was told it was best to get captured by the military if you are going to get caught. He had not decided which way to go when he heard a rumbling and suddenly saw a German halftrack. There were two soldiers with rifles pointed in his direction. They knew he was there, so he put his hands up and started walking toward them. As he got about halfway there he saw an Iron Cross with a crudely painted white star. They were American soldiers in a captured German halftrack. He dropped his hands and started to run at them but the GIs raised their rifles at him. He knew they were about to shoot at him and is not sure how close they were, but he skidded to a stop and said not to shoot and said he was American. Both soldiers were from New York. As Gross got closer to them they asked where he was from. He told them Spokane, Washington and then they asked what the capital of Washington was and he told them Olympia. One turned to the other and asked if it was right. The other guy says how the hell would he know, so he asked Gross, “Who are the Brooklyn Dodgers?” Gross told them they were in the National League and said his team was the Cardinals and he could tell them the starting lineup. The GI said to get in. They dropped him off with a Colonel in an armored jeep and they stopped at a German farmhouse, which he made his headquarters for the night. He spent the night with them and had his parachute and they gave him a small German blanket, but between the two he was able to doze a little until the middle of the night when he heard some talking and woke up to see the Colonel talking to a Frenchman in a black outfit with blackface and a black beret and a belt with more weapons on it than he had ever seen on one man and with knives stuck in his boots. And he talked to this Colonel for a while and finally left. Gross asked the Colonel who that was and the Colonel told him it was a Free French man that they drop behind the lines every night and he disrupts things as much as he can and kills and comes back to US lines and rests to go back out. It was the first time in the world that Gross felt bad for the Germans. The next day they flew Gross back to his base and he had his parachute on his lap. When he got out there were a bunch of pilots there and his parachute lasted maybe three minutes before they started cutting it up for white scarves. He wanted his wife to know he had been missing, but he had not even been reported missing yet while he was gone over night. That bothered him a little and she never even knew it, so he never got any sympathy, but it may have shaken his mother and father up, so it is probably good that they did not.

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When Clayton Kelly Gross returned to his unit after his 30 day leave, they were flying the Mustang and he flew it long enough to shoot down his fifth plane. He flew a C model on the bailout mission. When he got back they were changing planes. The 8th Air Force decided they needed all the Mustangs. They were changing from P-47s to Mustangs. The P-47 was a pretty good fighter, but those that had flown the Mustang hated it. He did get shot down by rifle fire in a P-51, but at Bastogne he took a 20-millimeter cannon shell in the engine of his P-47 and it blew two cylinders out of his radial engine and he did not know he had been hit until he had landed. There were people running alongside the airplane pointing at it. There was oil running down the bottom side of his airplane. It did not even run rugged. To him it was: Would you rather fly a plane that would take punishment, which may mean you have to take it because it was not as fast or maneuverable as a P-51 or as fast? Or would you rather fly one that gets you out of trouble and gives you gambling with it? They had the P-47s for about two and a half months. He was flying one on 1 January 1945, when the Germans made their last big attack. First time they attacked their airfields and they did it with hundreds of fighters and Gross was in the air. They were on their way to dive bomb Belgium and the controller said they have bandits in the area. Gross asked, “Where?” And the controller said he could not give the direction. They went three different directions and each time they did not see anything. They were told to go on their mission and drop their bombs. When they got back they found out there were hundreds of Germans that had bombed their fields, but did not attack the 354th field. They did attack a lot of them and Gross thinks they could have had some great shooting since the Germans were below the clouds and he and his men were up above them. It was one of his great disappointments. Gross never shot a plane down with the P-47, but he did a lot of ground shooting. He turned a train over on its side by shooting at it from the side. It did not blow up, but impact turned it over. He can guarantee after being shot up by a P-47 that the impact is terrible and it is great. Gross recalled the first P-47 ride he ever had was a terrible experience. He had been shot down and bailed out. He used to have horses and the old axiom was if you get bucked off the horse, then you get right back on and ride before you get scared, so he wanted to go back in the air, but they had a different airplane so he waited a couple of days. When he did, they had an airplane that they said needed a 100 hour check, so to take it up. He did his cockpit check to be sure he knew where everything was. They were on a field in France with a wire mat for a runway on a pasture and with a Mustang you could take it off in half the distance. With a P-47, it took the entire length of the field. In fact there were five or six trees at the end of the runway that had had at least one guy fly into them and knock them down trying to take off. When they told him to take it, he ran pushed it wide open and was waiting for it to get up, but it did not seem to want to go. They got to the end and he is either going to go through the trees or get it off. He pulled back on it with all of his strength and got it up and just barely cleared the trees. He got up there and now the problem was to hold it there. It did not want to stay there. Any pilot knows if you have trouble staying there, you roll the trim tab back. He rolled it back and it went down instead of up, so he rolled it forward and it made it go and he finally came up. From that moment on he hated it. He did fly it for two and a half months. It was rugged and he did a lot of damage, but he did not get any airplanes. The rumor was General Quesada was very proud of the record they had in aerial victories over the 56th and 4th Fighter Group. When they had the P-47s, the margin was going down, so he gave them back their P-51s in February or March of 1945 and they flew them the rest of the war. Gross recalled the first time he saw the jet was like seeing the V-2 or V-1 rocket. Somebody said bogey at two o’clock and he turned and said he had them. As he was halfway through his turn, this plane goes by him and through the bomber box. They found out right away it was a jet and they were at least 100 miles an hour faster or more. He had another incident with one when he saw one try to attack them while they were dive bombing, but they could not hurt them. They could see them coming and you could just pull off and they would go a mile by you. On this particular day he was cruising on a search and destroy mission and he spotted movement down below him. He was at 12,000 feet and he spotted movement at 2,000 feet and he checked and it was a silhouette of a Messerschmitt 262 and he was so intent on getting him that he rolled over and went down and might have even used power to start with. By the time he got halfway down, he was in compressibility meaning he was going so fast that the air was going over his wings without following the flow, so there was no control. He forgot all about the jet and all he wanted to do was live through this dive. As he got lower and lower he began to get a little feel and started leveling out. When he did the jet was right in front of him and he almost ran over him. He hit him immediately and he does not think he changed more than two degrees. He set his left jet on fire and part of his left wing came off. Gross overran him so he pulled off and when he turned back, the jet was going straight up. Jets would go straight up, but not propeller aircraft. He tried to follow him and thought he was going to get away, but he started sliding back down and then the pilot ejected and jumped out. He got a jet. Gross recalled it was so exciting and at that moment he felt he could whip the whole German air force all by himself and he thought for a minute they had a chance. He got his flight back together again. They had been able to see it and saw what happened. They joined up and started back for the base. They started climbing and he spotted 30 or 40 radial engine airplanes that he thought were Focke-Wulf 190s and if they are going to fight 40 of them they need altitude. The 190s went under them without even noticing Gross and his men above. But Gross recognized the aircraft as P-47s, but they were hoping they would be German so they could take care of them. Gross met the pilot of the jet in 1995. In 1977, he was president of the American Fighter Aces and he was invited to Germany to the German fighter meeting. He had so much fun talking to the people he had been fighting against that he went back five more times over the years. In 1995, he met the pilot of the jet they had shot down. The reason he had not met him earlier is that he was wounded in the shoot down and his story was exactly the same as Gross. He was wounded in the left side and did not have to fly anymore and went to the hospital for treatment and said there were so many wounded from armored battles from Americans coming from the west and Russians from the east that nobody had time to look at him, so he put a towel over his wound and climbed out the window and hitchhiked back to his base and stole a light plane and flew it to Czechoslovakia, where he checked himself into a hospital. Shortly after that, the Russians lowered the Iron Curtain and he could not get back out until Reagan brought the wall down and he was able to get out and be with his pilots that he flew with. He had 16 victories over the US and Gross was hoping he would be one of their 200 victory aces, but he wasn’t.

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Clayton Kelly Gross recalled the date he shot the jet down was in April of 1945. The last month of the war they could not find anything to shoot at. The day he went to London [Annotator’s Note: 8 May 1945] with the sergeant that was to get married, he was on the runway ready to take off when eight P-51s came out, led by Fred Fehsenfeld. The tower told him the mission takes priority over Gross so that he needed to get out of their way and let them take off. He talked to Fred later and found out that they were dropping leaflets telling the Germans to surrender. That is all that they were doing. No shooting or anything. The opposition from the air got less and less as they went through and it was very understandable. Gross recalled a two-man mission that he and Brueland went on to raise their score. Once you got into shooting people down, you wanted to raise your numbers and get more. It was March or April of 1945 they decided that the Germans were hiding their planes and moving them back at night, so they went to the commanding officer and said the Germans were obviously waiting until the Americans were out of contact and pulling their planes out. Gross and Brueland wanted to take off at dusk to find where the Germans were so they could shoot them down. The fields were temporary with mat and no lighting, so how would they land in the dark? So they got every vehicle on the base and lined them up with their headlights on so they could see where they were. They had the radio to bring them back. They went out and it worked out exactly the way that they had planned. They cruised along and there were broken clouds at 2,500 feet or so. They were at 3,000 above and they looked down through them and saw maybe 60 German Messerschmitts in formation in what they used to call a “gaggle.” Gross and Brueland were going to attack them from above. They did not know they were there. They were separated and Gross picked out three or four and figured he would get three or four or maybe more before they know they are there. They start down and Brueland pulls up and Gross asks what’s the matter and pulls up with him. Brueland says he has oil all over his windshield and could not see anything. He told Gross he will have to lead. They made a circle and look for them again and are trying to find them. Gross looks over at Brueland and here comes a Messerschmitt on his tail and he screamed, “Break! Break!” They find out they are under attack instead of attacking, but they managed to get out of there without firing a shot. Those poor German boys that would have died lived through it. They got back and when they checked Brueland’s plane to see why it had oil on the windshield they could not find one single thing wrong. Gross happens to think God intervenes now and then and he may have done that, because how stupid was it to kill a few more German boys when it was not going to affect the war, but would have just raised their numbers. But their numbers were already there. Gross roomed, starting with the beginning of the war, with two of his flight mates, Warren Red Emerson and Lowell K. Brueland. Brueland was a very quiet guy from Calendar, Iowa, who he used to call the only ace from Calendar, Iowa with 12 and a half victories. Red was also from Midwest country. After the war he went back to school and became a dentist. Gross did not hear from him for years until they both became dentists and finally got back together again. Red was wounded by a Messerschmitt 210 when a shell went through his canopy. One fragment went across his chest and cut the parachute straps and burned his chest as it went by. At the same time a fragment went through his neck and went in one side and out the other, about a half inch from his spinal column. He had no permanent injuries from either one of them. If it had been a little ahead of him one fragment wound have killed him and if the one in front had been a little further back it would have killed him. He spent some time in the hospital and had six victories. Brueland was such a quiet guy you would never know what he was doing. He was a great pilot and Gross recognized it when he first got to his squadron. He was very good and it turned out in combat he was even better. He had 12 and a half victories in Europe and had two more in Korea. He retired a Lieutenant Colonel, but Red and Gross left the service after the war. Bob Stephens joined the 355th Fighter Squadron after Gross did. He was a good pilot and great leader. He and Gross did not hit it off quite so well. Gross was leading a flight one day and he started telling Gross what he did wrong after he did not do what he told him to. Gross reminded him when he was leading, then Stephens will do what he says. When Stephens was leading, then Gross would do what he says. Evidently, he went to Bickell and from that time on Bickell and he were closer than Bickell and Gross. But he was a good pilot and turned out to be squadron leader and did a good job, but he did not last long after the war. He made it through the war and then he was killed when an F-80 [Annotator’s Note: Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star] flamed out on takeoff after the war. His daughter was the first one that the Aces Association made a scholarship recipient from the Aces Association. “Cousin” Lasko was a Clark Gable type. He looked like him and had the mustache—good guy and they were all jealous of how he looked to the ladies. Although Gross was married and did not care, he swears. He eventually was transferred to another group to take command of a squadron. Ken Martin, their first commander, was a go-by-the-book type of guy which was a good way to be. Sometimes Gross thought he was a little too so. He went one day and they called him, “Never Break Martin.” They really did not, but he has a reputation now of being called that. When Don Blakeslee came down to lead the group, the first two times Gross was sitting on the front row to listen to every word. Blakeslee said in the case of a head-on pass, the guy who breaks first is at a disadvantage. If I see you break first, I will come after you and shoot you down myself. Gross thought what an ass because that’s not what you do to your people if they make a mistake. Martin got up on the stage and said, if that is the way it is done, then that is the way we will do it. Martin led the group one day from the 355th Squadron. Gross was his element leader, so he was number three in his flight. They were attacked by a bunch of Focke-Wulf 190s as they crossed the coast. They dropped their gas tanks and when Gross made a move with his controls, he found out he was not under control. He was flying an airplane that was not his own. The control cables had been left slack. When he moved them, nothing happened for a while. He went into a spin and dropped 12,000, maybe 15,000, feet and he was attacked by eight Focke Wulf 190s and was all alone and screamed for help. Martin said, do not formation and that we have a formation to run. Gross had nothing to do except he could not control it so he just started climbing as steep as he could under full power and the Germans made passes at his side, but never hit him at all. He got back up to the group level and then somebody who had another minor problem said they would escort him home. That was the mission where Martin ran into a Messerschmitt 109 on an open pass. Gross personally had another deal where he would not break, but would flick his wing to let the German know which way he is going when he does break. He never ran into anybody. Martin wound up spending the war in a prisoner of war camp. He escaped, but it was just before the war ended. Jack Bradley was in the 353rd Squadron to start with and Gross was in 355th. He was very good and was the leader. He and Gross turned out to be good friends after the war. Bradley had a battle with Glenn Eagleston who was another friend of Gross. Gross says the 353rd Squadron was a lot like the New York Yankees. Everyone else in the group disliked them because they would draft people out of other squadrons if somebody big came along in another one. They would beg to be in the 353rd. It was like the Yankees collecting all the best players. They did have the best record from squadrons and it was a team game but the 355th Squadron also had some good records. But Eagleston and Bradley had a great race to see who would be the leading 9th Air Force Ace. Eagleston finaly won it and the story Gross heard was not denied by either one of them. They were almost neck and neck and Bradley was scheduled to lead the mission on a very early mission and Eagleston told the chief [Annotator’s Note: Crew Chief] that Jack was not feeling too well, so I am going to take the mission, so do not wake him. So Bradley woke up and found out the mission went off and Eagleston led it and shot up three planes and wound up the leading ace in the 9th Air Force. How did that play out? They were great friends it looked like. But the three of them with Gross and one other pilot went home together as the first pilots to go home after the first tour. The first tour was 200 combat hours and Gil Talbot and Gross were the first two in their squadron. Bradley and Eagleston the first in the 353rd Squadron and 356th Squadron was Earl Dapner and Harry Fiske and they went home together. To get home you go back to England and sit on the base waiting and you were supposed to be confined to base. They went over the fence as usual to get to town. They got whiskey and bought all they could get a hold of, two bottles of whiskey for four people and were drinking it pretty straight. Gross does not think anybody felt any pain. Eagleston lay down on the top bunk in a room with two double bunks. Gross was sitting on the top of a wall locker up above both of them and Eagleston was laying there and Bradley came over and patted him on the head and then put his arms around his neck and threw h
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All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You will be purchasing the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only specific clips. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to two weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address. See more information at http://ww2online.org/faqs.