Robert F. Gries. Core Founder. Navigator. Manager.

Robert Gries fills needed roles for Veterans Air

For the entire time the company existed, Veterans Air Express Robert F. Gries was there.  We’re still trying to figure out the company’s exact “timeline,” but Gries was integral for the duration – all the while completing college courses he had begun before the war.

Before his enlistment on 15 May 1942, Bob had his heart set on becoming a Navy pilot. But, when his eyesight prevented that, he trained in the Army Air Corps to be a Navigator. During the war, he advanced to lead Navigator of his 392nd Bomb Group.

Gries also flew as Navigator for Veterans Air – on some  flights. However, he was good with numbers and people. So he mainly worked the management end of the business. I would expect his mix of skills brought appreciated experience to the organization.

Robert Gries, Army Air Corp formal photo.
Robert F. Gries in WWII uniform. Marilyn had never seen this photo until recently. Photo source: Mighty 8th Air Force Museum website.

Love to have been Bob’s shadow…

Imagine Bob Gries departing one early Tuesday morning on a Veterans Air Express flight as Navigator. And then on Thursday rolling up his sleeves in the Veterans Air Express hangar office. Or getting involved out on the operations ramp the next few days. Would I love to have been Bob’s shadow!  To watch him orchestrate his role in the day-to-day complexities of running this passenger/cargo air service.

Back then, in the early days of commercial aviation, cargo largely translated to U.S. Mail.  At Veterans Air Express it meant flying hatching eggs, baby chicks, flowers or livestock.  What moving parts of the business did Bob Gries handle? The fleet? Crews? Maintenance? Scheduling? Interior conversions? Finance? Marketing? Hiring? Uniforms?  More research remains.

I “met” Marilyn Gries last Thursday…7/9/2015

Robert Gries. WWII Navigator & later dual-role Navigator & Manager of Veterans Air Express.
Robert F. Gries, WWII Navigator in Army Air Corp

What I’ve learned so far about Robert Gries came directly from Marilyn Gries, his 1942 bride (who, by the way, he had known since high school at Weequahic High in Newark, NJ.)  Marilyn accompanied Bob as far as Navigator training, before he was shipped out.

I met Marilyn on July 9th, one week ago today — telephonically.  It was a thrill.  We promised to speak again soon.  Afterwards, I sent her a small package on my research and am hoping to hear more about their adventures from this delightful woman.  And photos!!!  How I hope to get you some photos!  For now, you can read Marilyn’s very own Veterans Air Express “hostessing” story here.

All these 70+ years later…

Marilyn told me Bob flew 30 missions from a base in England with his 392nd Bomb Group in a bomber named “Pregnant Peg.”  And then, all these 70+ years later, in a grateful, loving voice, she said softly, “I was so fortunate to have him come back home to me!”

UPDATE: All photos posted today (8/29/2015) were obtained during my visit with Marilyn Gries in Florida earlier this month.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top