Ross L. Gload, who helped save crew members after a World War II airplane crash, embraced his stepchildren as his own and gave their dates the “macaroni and cheese” test, died of heart failure Monday, a stepson said.
Gload lived in Coram for years before moving to West Windsor, New Jersey. He died at a Cranbury, New Jersey, nursing home at age 91.
“He touched so many people’s lives,” said Jack Millrod of Coram, an assistant managing editor at Newsday.
Gload was not only a Navy first ordnance man during the Guadalcanal campaign, but also a New York City police officer, firefighter and Army reservist. He also was a car salesman when he met Claire, who became his second wife after he sold her a sporty yellow Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.
“This was a guy who really loved his life and lived it well,” Millrod said. “I was never surprised when he found someone he knew in the least likely place; not everybody can do that, there’s a gift to being charming.”
On April 30, 1944, Gload, just 19, was flying with a squadron photographing enemy installations in the South Pacific when he saw one of the Liberator’s engines fail, Millrod said.
As the plane lost power and hurtled toward the sea, Gload told Millrod, he wasn’t scared. ‘‘I took this chief that they had on board as a backup man, and I took hold of him. ‘Sit next to me, chief. Put your head in my chest. And when we go in, I’ll have you here. And whatever happens after that happens.’ ’’
They were the last two to escape after the plane ditched. Gload again took charge on the raft because an officer was too shocked to order the crew to rescue the rest, struggling in fuel spills and 8-foot swells.
A rescue plane capsized, killing some of its crew. With those survivors, they drifted about two days until a destroyer spotted them. Fearless as always, Gload began swimming to the ship until he was warned of sharks, Millrod said.
After the war, Gload held several jobs at once before, at age 29, he became a New York City police officer in Brooklyn, where he was born. Next, he joined the FDNY’s Ladder 111 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, retiring on Nov. 4, 1962, after falling through the collapsing floor of a burning building.
He went on to become a first sergeant in the Army reserves stationed at Rocky Point, and a car salesman, and married Claire, a widow with four children, one year after delivering her keys. They were wed for 45 years.
“I don’t use the term stepfather; we were the ready-made family that became his family when they got married,” Millrod said. The family settled in Coram.
If dates were not offered some of the prized outer crust of his famed macaroni and cheese casserole, it was not a good sign, Millrod said.
Gload later moved with his wife to West Windsor.
He always followed the career of his grandson, a professional baseball player named after him. But he was not in touch with his son, grandson or his first wife.
Gload is survived by another stepson, David Millrod of West Windsor, and two stepdaughters, Roberta Leonard of Rocky Point and Debbie Allen of Monsey.
A private memorial service will be held Sunday in New Jersey.