SAN DIEGO, CA – Steve “The Flying Greek” Pisanos, a decorated fighter pilot with both the British (Royal) and United States Air Forces, died on June 6 at age 96, the San Diego Times reported.
Born in Athens in 1910 and the son of a railroad engineer, the young Pisanos was always fascinated with becoming a pilot, and would frequent local military airfields to watch the planes.
His dream was to go to the United States to take flying lessons, and in 1938, while working as a merchant marine, he jumped ship in Baltimore and traveled to New York, where he worked in the shadows.
Well-liked by employers and friends alike, Pisanos (now called “Steve – his birth name was “Spiros”) was able to become a lawful immigrant, though not a citizen.
When WW II broke out, Pisanos, who by then had earned his pilot’s license, wanted to fly for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). But in 1940, with the United States yet to enter the war and still maintaining a position of neutrality, there were no combat missions to be flown. Instead, Pisanos became a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF).
His success in combat missions became well-known, and even though by 1942 the United States had entered the war the fact that Pisanos, though a legal permanent resident, was not a U.S. citizen, prevented him from flying full combat missions for the USAF.
The solution was for Pisanos to become a citizen. On May 3, 1943, he did so, and made history as the first person in American history to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen on foreign soil (in London), the Times reported.
Legendary reporters Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, with whom he remained lifelong friends, attended the naturalization ceremony, the Times noted.
Tom Cleaver, Pisanos’ friend for over 30 years, told the Times that Cronkite had described Pisanos as “the single most interesting individual it was my privilege to meet during the entire Second World War.”
Cleaver added: “With Steve’s passing, there are no more Eagle Squadron pilots, and he was the last living ace of the 4th Fighter Group, the most successful American fighter unit ever.”
In 2006, Pisanos was inducted to the International Air & Space Hall of Fame, the Times reported, and in 2010, Pisanos was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the French Republic’s highest decoration, in a ceremony at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
The award, presented by the consul general of France in Los Angeles, recognized Pisanos’ achievements in World War II as a fighter pilot and in support of the French Resistance, the Times reported.
The Times also announced that hymns will be said at 7PM on June 29 at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Encinitas, with a funeral at on June 30 at the Church, with burial following at Miramar National Cemetery
A celebration of life is set for June 30 at 2PM at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.