About a year ago, Mary Reeves wrote an insightful piece about John Ross in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. She even interviewed director, Michael Hemschoot about John’s initial resistance to being the subject of a film. Though, once Ross realized the experience and background that both Hemschoot and Travelin’ Productions producer Sean Bridgers brought to the project, he saw that this could be another adventure in his life.
Here are a few segments from the article that capture some fascinating things about John Ross, but be sure to check out the full story on the Shelbyville Times-Gazette website.
Ross was born in 1918 and lost his father when he was only 8. He started working as a boy, doing everything from chopping cotton to running a dairy.
Ross hopped a train during the Dust Bowl and the Depression, joining many other out-of-work men. Of course, he was a lot younger than most. He’d get off in one place and work on a farm for a while, the move on to something else. His longest job before joining the service was working for an oil company, learning every aspect of the job, from gopher to roughneck.
Ross had seen a pilot fly by and realized that was what he really wanted to do.
“I love speed,” he said. “Even when I was a kid, I drove wide open.”
The first time Ross took the exam to see if he could go into pilot training, he failed miserably. Understandable, since he hadn’t even finished grade school, much less college.
Pearl Harbor had already happened, and Ross found himself in San Francisco, welding together the massive battleships for the war effort, but he still had his eye on the sky. His determination impressed one pilot, who tutored him every night after Ross left work.
The rest, as they say, is history. While he was spying on the Germans and getting shot out of the sky (the recon planes had no weapons so they were lighter and faster — but vulnerable), his wife Leona was at home, collecting articles and saving them. When the officer showed up at her doorstep for the third time to tell her he was shot down and presumed dead, she only rolled her eyes and said “He’ll be back.”
One of the most decorated pilots in history, Ross was pivotal in winning the Battle of the Bulge. He was the only reconnaissance pilot — meaning spy in the sky — to make it back from a scouting run with information crucial for the Allies. It was information that led to their victory over the Germans in the pivotal, costly battle.
(Ross) was shot down three times, including one incident over the North Sea. Being shot down in the P-38 was especially dangerous because the plane had a dual tail with a cross bar between them. When the pilot ejected, it was all too easy to be whipped back and thrown against the bar — called the Pilot Killer — and end up with a broken back and an almost certain fatal wound.
When Ross ejected over the North Sea, he arched back as he flew out of the cockpit and grabbed the Pilot Killer with his hands, flipping himself over it.