Aegis resident lived the adventure before it was a Navy slogan

July 20, 2010

By Kirsten Johnson

Doris Gross taught newly enlisted prospective Navy pilots the basics of flying skills and aircraft functions as a link instructor in World War II. Afterward, she eventually became the first woman to be national vice commander of the American Legion. By Kirsten Johnson

For local Aegis Living resident Doris Gross, life took off in 1941. During that year, as a 20-year-old single woman, she decided to join the Navy.

While she had grown up in Washington state, Gross was sent to serve in the sweltering heat of Corpus Christi, Texas.

“It was a little hot,” she said. “But I enjoyed it down there.”

As an eager young woman, she turned to the Navy looking for new people and new experiences.

“Texas sounded exciting,” she said. “I was pretty young and it was a different area. It was nice meeting new people and to be somewhere else.”

“She had two brothers who were overseas serving, so she decided to serve too,” said Leslye Bergan, one of Gross’s two daughters.While in the Navy, Gross was stationed as a link instructor. Link trainers played an important role during World War II in safely training pilots under realistic, yet safe conditions before allowing them to fly.

“She was an instructor and taught people how to fly airplanes on the ground, teaching them basics and equipment first before they went up in the air,” Bergan said.

Women serving in the armed forces were rare then.

“There were other women, but not a lot at that time,” Gross said. “While nobody thinks anything about it now, back then, it was a change for a woman to be able to serve.”

Despite being a minority as a woman, Gross looks back fondly on the three years she spent in the armed forces.

“We were all so young. I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said. “If I had to do it all over, I would. I enjoyed doing my duty and giving something back.”

After her service to the Navy, Gross attended college on the GI Bill and continued working for the armed forces as an entrance station examiner for new recruits.

“People who had to go into service would go through her to take their entrance tests,” Bergan said.

Shortly after, Gross settled down, married and began her family.

“I enjoyed the Navy, but when you have a family, it’s different,” she said. “You can’t chase around and date guys. Marriage is a different life.”

In her adult life, she became heavily involved in veteran affairs with the American Legion, a veterans organization founded to benefit veterans who have served during wartime.

“At that time, the legion was mostly men as veterans of the war,” Bergan said.

Despite being a female in a male-dominated organization, Gross worked persistently and eventually became the first woman in the United States to be national vice commander of the legion.

“She was really involved in the American Legion and really strove to get younger veterans involved,” Bergan said.

Gross also spent long hours working to establish a cemetery specifically for veterans of the armed forces. Maple Valley Hobart Cemetery is located in Maple Valley.

“She put in a lot of work to get that cemetery established. It is really a nice cemetery,” Bergan said.

Gross put in a lifetime of hard work in the Navy and into veteran affairs to better serve her country.

“Veterans are important. The need is there and the care needs to be there. Veterans understand a lot of things that people who have not associated with them don’t understand,” Gross said. “It was a really nice association to be a part of.”

Kirsten Johnson: 392-6434 or isspress@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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