World War II hero Steve Pisanos passed on Thursday in San Diego at the age of 96, only a few years after the publication of his book “The Flying Greek.”
Born Spiros Nikolas Pissanos in 1919 in the Kolonos neighborhood of Athens, the son of the subway motorman desperately wanted to learn to fly at a young age.
Young Spiros got a job as a crew member on a Greek merchant ship and arrived in Baltimore knowing no English and with no money. He made his way to New York City where he worked in bakeries and restaurants. With the money he saved, he took flying lessons.
In August 1940 he settled in Plainfield New Jersey and once he earned his private pilot’s license, he joined Britain’s Royal Air Force with help from the Clayton Knight Committee in New York in 1941, earning his wings as a P/O in January 1942.
He then trained at Polaris Flight Academy in Glendale, California. Once in the UK he completed Officer Training at Cosford. Then he served successfully as a RAF fighter pilot during the war.
On May 3, 1943 he became the first person ever to be naturalized a U.S. citizen outside of the United States
On March 5, 1944, the day of his last victory, he experienced engine failure and was forced to crash-land south of Le Havre, France. He was seriously injured but eventually hooked up with the French Resistance and began sabotaging German interests in occupied France. He was liberated when Paris fell, making his way back to the UK on September 2, 1944.
Upon returning to the U.S., Captain Pisanos was posted to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field in Dayton. He was transferred to the 67th Fighter Wing on September 9, 1944. Having been credited with 10 victories, he was considered an ace. In 1951, he changed his name to Steve Pisanos.
By the end of his career in 1974, he had received 33 decorations and distinctions.
He wrote “The Flying Greek,” published in 2008, where he has meticulously recorded all of his personal adventures and detailed war fighting experiences. The book is commented by his friends and renowned USAF aviators Gabby Gabreski and Charles Yeager.
Steve Pisanos took off for his final flight in San Diego on June 9, 2016.