Jack M. Goss

[Age 85] The Air Force veteran flew in two wars and served three presidents as flight engineer aboard Air Force One.

March 21, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Jack Morrison Goss, a decorated Air Force veteran who flew in World War II and Korea and later served aboard Air Force One during three presidential administrations, died Sunday of heart failure at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. The Forest Hill resident was 85.

Mr. Goss was born in Bar Harbor, Maine, and raised there and in Washington.

"His father was an interior decorator who worked in Bar Harbor for the Rockefellers, Pulitzers and J.P. Morgan," said his daughter, Jacqueline G. Leach of Bel Air.

His interest in aviation began as a youngster when his father, a pilot and World War I veteran, took him to an airport to watch planes take off and land.

Mr. Goss attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and enlisted in the Army Air Forces after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"His love of flying was intense, and he wanted to be a pilot but couldn't because his eyesight was poor," the daughter said.

Trained as a flight engineer and B-17 top gunner, Mr. Goss was sent to England with the 8th Air Force. On his first mission July 4, 1943 -- aboard a B-17 named Nevada Wildcat, his plane was shot down over enemy territory. The pilot, John Dunbar, managed to escape and later wrote of his experiences in the book Escape Through the Pyrenees.

The rest of the crew was taken prisoner and sent to Stalag 17B in Krems, Austria. On their way to the POW camp, Mr. Goss cut through the wooden floorboards of the rail boxcar with a hidden knife. When the train stopped, he and his fellow crew members escaped -- but only briefly. They were found hiding in a nearby lumberyard.

His family thought that Mr. Goss had been killed in action until a telegram arrived six months later from the War Department at his Bar Harbor home with word that he was a prisoner of war.

"He said it was so cold in the barracks that they would double up under one blanket to keep warm and that he was able to survive because he was willing to eat maggots," his daughter said.

After being marched 281 miles in 18 days to Braunau, Austria, by their German captors, Mr. Goss and his fellow POWs were liberated on April 18, 1945, by soldiers of the 13th Armored Division.

"At the time, he weighed 125 pounds," Mrs. Leach said.

Mr. Goss remained in the Air Force, and during the Korean War was a flight engineer on B-29 bombers. While flying aboard the plane Southern Comfort, it was hit and seriously damaged by enemy fire. Though severely burned on his hands and face and suffering from shock, Mr. Goss used his forearms to crank down the bomber's damaged wheels, enabling the plane to land. Mr. Goss spent two years in a burn unit and underwent 14 skin graft operations to repair his injured face.

For his action in helping to save the B-29 and its crew, Mr. Goss was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His other decorations included two Purple Hearts.

In 1957, he was one of the first to be promoted to the newly established rank of chief master sergeant, and was assigned to the crew of Air Force One as a flight engineer. He served aboard President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Lockheed Constellation, which was later replaced by a Boeing 707 -- the first jet-powered presidential plane.

He lived at Andrews Air Force Base, on call at anytime to fly the president, vice president, Cabinet members or heads of state anywhere in the world.

In 1959, he was aboard Eisenhower's "Flight to Peace," a 19-day goodwill journey of 22,000 miles that took the president to 11 Asian nations.

Mr. Goss recalled Eisenhower as "reserved," and that first lady Mamie Eisenhower worried endlessly about the plane's carpets becoming soiled.

"He adored President Kennedy and said that President Johnson swore like a trooper," his daughter said.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Goss was high over the Pacific flying Secretary of State Dean Rusk to Asia when word of President Kennedy's assassination reached the plane, which immediately headed back to Washington.

Mrs. Leach said her father had numerous mementos from his presidential travels and a globe on which he stuck pins in all of the countries he had visited. "He had hundreds of pins except for China. He never flew to China," she said.

After his 1968 retirement, Mr. Goss worked for 20 years as supervisor of the furniture department at the Hecht Co. store in Laurel.

Mr. Goss enjoyed building model airplanes and reading about the Civil War.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. June 14 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Also surviving are his wife of 61 years, the former Frances Bannon; two sons, Frederick R. Goss and Stephen L. Goss, both of Los Angeles; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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