While living on Fort Riley, Kansas, T. Ross Milton crossed paths with Major "Hap" Arnold at the post's airfield. Arnold asked Milton and his friend if they had ever flown in an airplane. When the boys responded "No," Arnold smuggled them aboard a single-engine aircraft for their first flight. Born at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in 1915, the son of a West Point cavalry officer, he planned on attending West Point and becoming a cavalry officer like his father, but he never forgot that flight. He tried to gain an appointment to West Point but his initial attempts failed.
The determined Milton, however, did not give up. In 1934, he enlisted in the Regular Army, attended the Academy Preparatory School, and won a Presidential Appointment to West Point in 1936. Following his graduation from the Academy in 1940, he entered pilot training. In early 1943, after flying submarine hunting patrols off both coasts of the United States, Milton went to England as the first operations officer of 8th Air Force's 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy). He rapidly gained combat experience flying the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. On 12 August 1943, he led 43 B-17s against a German refinery at Gelsenkirchen. Having proved his leadership in battle, he became the deputy commander, 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy).
Then on 14 October, Milton unexpectedly found himself in the position of leading a force of 291 B-17s in the second raid against the Schweinfurt ball-bearing industry. When bad weather caused the lead element to become separated, he took charge of the large formation and drove deep into the heart of Germany without fighter escort. They accomplished the mission, but not without cost--60 B-17s were lost and 600 airmen were killed, wounded or missing. On 6 March 1944, he led 730 B-17s and B-24s on the first successful American daylight raid on Berlin. He ended the war as commander, 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy).
Following the war, Milton served as chief of staff, Combined Airlift Task Force during the Berlin Airlift. Later he was director of operations of the new Military Air Transport Service, and then appointed executive assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. From 1958 to 1965, he served in the Pacific, leading the 41st Air Division in Japan and 13th Air Force in the Philippines. In 1969, following a series of staff assignments, he served as deputy chairman, NATO Military Committee. Later, promoted to general, he became the US representative to the committee.
General Milton retired from an illustrious 40-year career in 1974. His military decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, and Purple Heart. From the Allies, he received the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre with palm. He is the 1985 recipient of the Thomas D. White National Defense Award for his contributions to the national defense and security of the United States.
On 14 October 1943, a typical wet and foggy October morn in England, T. Ross Milton took off in his B-17 Flying Fortress. The mission: to bomb the ball-bearing industry in Schweinfurt, Germany. As 291 of the "Mighty Eighth's" bombers struggled to form up over the foggy British coast, Milton found his formation had the lead. He took charge and led the bombers deep into the heart of Germany without fighter escort. Despite the heavy loss of 60 B-17s and 600 airmen, they accomplished the mission. Germany had received another devastating blow from American airpower.