Dr. Clayton Kelly Gross - USAAC Captain
Dr. Clayton Kelly Gross was born in Walla Walla, Washington on November 30, 1920. He graduated from Lewis & Clark High School in 1938 and attended Gonzaga University until 1941. While attending school he attained his private pilot's license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. In 1942 he entered the service as an Aviation Cadet and completed pilot training at Kelly Field (class 42-H).
In 1943 he was sent to the European Theater flying the P-47 Thunderbolt with the 354th Fighter Group until 1944 when he transitioned into the P-51 Mustang (his aircraft dubbed 'Live Bait'). Upon converting to the P-51, Gross started realizing dramatic successes in air combat. In 1944 he was credited with 5 aerial victories over German Bf 109 fighters, promptly achieving his status as an ace. However, in 1945 he successfully shot down a German Me 262 jet fighter. The Air Force's official roster of aerial victories does not list this as a kill, it was recognized during the war as well as the by the American Fighter Aces Association. The Me 262 pilot was injured but managed to bail out and in 1995, Gross was able to finally meet the pilot, Kurt Lobgesong. Because of Lobgesong's injuries, he was unable to fly in combat again, yet told Gross "you saved my life."
For his actions during the war, Gross received the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, and Distinguished Unit Citation. He was discharged from the Army Air Corps as a Captain in September of 1945.
Gross received his D.M.D. in 1958 from the University of Oregon and practiced dentistry for 40 years before retiring in 1998. In addition to his dental practice, he established a travel agency (Kelly N-I Travel) which he retired from in 2005. Gross was also the National Vice President of the Air Force Association from 1978-1977 as well as the National President of the American Fighter Aces Association from 1979-1980.