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Steve Pisanos was a Greek-American ace who served as a fighter pilot with the 71 Eagle Squadron of the RAF and later with the USAAF 4th Fighter Group. Pisanos was born in Athens, Greece. The son of a railroad engineer, he was fascinated as a boy by airplanes and became obsessed by the wish to become a flyer. He searched for a chance to go to the U.S. where he knew he could take private flying lessons. In 1938 he was employed as a merchant seaman but at first chance he fled his ship while in Baltimore and made his way to New York. While an illegal immigrant he worked in a bakery, then in Plainfield, New Jersey hotel. He spent most of his income for English and flying lessons, finally earning a private pilot’s license in 1939. After the war broke out and Greece was attacked in 1940, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). After initial training in Canada and England, Pisanos joined the American-manned No. 71 Eagle Squadron while still a Greek citizen. He mainly flew the Spitfire fighter on low-level strafing attack missions over occupied Europe.

When the Eagle Squadrons transferred to the U.S. 4th Fighter Group, Pisanos was allowed to join the U.S. Army Air Forces even though he was not an American citizen. Pisanos’ comrades convinced the U.S. government to grant him citizenship, which it did on May 3, 1942. While returning from an escort mission over southern France on May 5, 1944, his engine quit, and he crash landed in France. Pisanos was helped by the French Resistance to evade the Germans and he was given a false identity. He stayed in the French Resistance and was later moved to Paris. From there he established contact with agents of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, collecting information about German traffic movement in the area, and participated in a number of local fights alongside the French until the liberation of Paris. After rejoining U.S. forces, Pisanos was moved back to the U.S., where he became a test pilot for a new U.S. jet aircraft.

Pisanos was credited with shooting down 10 enemy aircraft. Post-war, he achieved the rank of colonel in the United States Air Force, flew in the Vietnam War and, by the end of his career, had received 33 decorations and distinctions.


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Flying the Hump—Across the Himalayas
February 18, 2023
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