Piloting pandemonium

July 16, 2013

By Evan Pappas

Timber Ridge veteran shares his WWII adventures

As the former pilot of a B-17 bomber named “Pandemonium Reigns” during World War II, Robert Ploss has had his fair share of adventures.

By Greg Farrar Above, Bob Ploss enjoys sharing the stories of the lifelong friendships he made with the men of the B-17 bomber crew he served with during World War II. Below, Ploss (front row, left) and his World War II B-17 crew pose in December 1944 at Drew Field in Tampa, Fla.

By Greg Farrar
Above, Bob Ploss enjoys sharing the stories of the lifelong friendships he made with the men of the B-17 bomber crew he served with during World War II.

The 91-year-old veteran and resident of Timber Ridge recalls his adventures and experiences through life with captivating style, and a knack for storytelling led him to start a monthly newsletter at Timber Ridge, which he calls “The Splinter.” In the newsletter, Ploss shares stories, jokes and poems.

Before joining the U.S. Army, Ploss went to the University of Buffalo, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in history, English and political theory. After that, he joined the Reserve and then the Army in 1945.

“I signed up for aviation cadet school because I always wanted to be a B-17 pilot. And fortunately for me, I got right into cadet school and after several hairline escapes from being wiped out, I passed,” Ploss said.


Taking the silverware

During the war, the Army had a rapid training program where Ploss and his peers would advance every six weeks from primary, to basic, to advance, and finally operational where he got to fly the plane intended for combat. Ploss and his crew flew the Atlantic as they took the plane to their base in England.

“We picked up our own plane in Savannah and we flew the crew from there to Bangor, Maine, to Goose Bay, Labrador, to Greenland, to Iceland, to Wales, delivered the plane, and went to our base in England,” Ploss said. “We were our own ferry pilots. Coming home was the same way.”

About a week after the war was over, Ploss was called for one more mission — fly to Linz, Austria, and pick up some French POWs who had been imprisoned by the Germans for years.

Once in Linz, Ploss met his old friend Jerry Montgomery, who offered him a trade for various items liberated from the castle on the hill.

“He said, ‘We got guns.’ I said, ‘I don’t need any guns.’ They had this gold-plated demitasse silverware and I thought, ‘My wife will wet her pants, I’ll take the silverware,’” Ploss said.

Ploss then loaded 20 French officers onto his plane and set out for Chartres, France.


Luck over intelligence

“As we came in, they told us, ‘You can’t circle the Eiffel Tower.’ And of course we had all these Frenchman on board and they went nuts when they saw the Eiffel Tower. So of course, we circled the Eiffel Tower along with 20 other planes that were doing it.” Ploss said.

Ploss has written many of his stories in The Splinter; one of his favorites is his mission over Holland.

Ploss recalled his experience airdropping food to the Dutch in great detail. It was May 4, 1945. The Germans had conquered Holland and the first thing they did was start stripping the country of all its resources and food. However, by the end of the war, Holland had been surrounded and the Germans knew their defeat was likely.

“I’ve always said I’d rather have luck over intelligence, because we got there just at the time the war was turning. The Germans were on their knees by the time we got there,” Ploss said.

It was then that the Germans made a deal to not shoot at the plane when it came in to drop food to the Dutch.

“We came in from the south, loaded with K-rations in the bomb bays and we were flying at 200 feet at 125 miles an hour,” Ploss said. “You couldn’t use a parachute. Leading the formation, you had to make every turn very slowly or you would stall out at that speed. The most dangerous mission I think I’ve ever done.”


Everything full bore

After the war was over and Ploss returned to the United States, he went back to the University of Buffalo, became a medical student and eventually became a practicing anesthesiologist in California.

It was during his time living in Oakland that he started a newsletter for his homeowners association that he titled “The Shriek.”

“I did that for 15 years. So when I came here, I started ‘The Splinter.’ ‘The Splinter’ is now in its seventh year.” Ploss said.

The newsletter has become quite the hobby for Ploss. He publishes about 300 copies every month for the Timber Ridge residents and staff.

Ploss’ wife, Jean Ferry, said her husband’s attitude about life and his work ethic are what bring him his success and enjoyment from life.

“I think he thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of his life.” Ferry said. “He never does anything half way. He goes into everything full bore, and I’m sure he’s done that all his life.”

Madelyn Parrett, a resident of Timber Ridge, said she is amazed at how much Ploss has contributed to the community. He donated two pianos, started a “Life Adventures Speakers Program,” donated to the wood working supplies and much more.

Parrett said Ploss’ eighth-grade teacher, Helen Fisk, gave him important advice that he carries with him to this day.

“Wherever you live, you should try to make that place a better place in which to live.”

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