Steve "The Flying Greek" Pisanos

USAF   Colonel

DFC (US x4),   AM (x4)

Born Spiros Nikolas Pissanos on 10 November, 1919 in Kolonos (near Athens), Greece, the son of a subway motorman.
He desperately wanted to learn to fly so
He got a job as a crew member on a Greek merchant ship.
Arrived in Baltimore knowing no English and with no money.
Made his way to NY working in restaurants & bakeries.
He saved his money & took flying lessons at Bennet Field.
In August 1940 he settled in Plainfield N.J.
Then taking flying lessons at Westfield Airport.
Once he had earned his private pilot's licence, he joined the RAF with help from the Clayton Knight Committee in N.Y. in October 1941, earning his wings as a P/O on 29 January 1942.
He trained at Polaris Flight Academy in Glendale, Cal.
Once in the UK he completed Officer Training at Cosford.
Then OTU at Old Sarum Aerodrome, Salisbury.
Posted then to 268 Sqn. (P-51A) at Snailwell, Newmarket.
Followed by a spot with the 71st Eagle Sqn. at Debden.
Transferred to the 334th FS, 4th FG as a Lt. on 24 October 1942, 10 months after the US entered the war.
On 3 May 1943 he became the first person ever to be naturalized a US citizen outside of the United States.

Steve Pisanos

On 5 March, 1944, the day of his last victory, he experienced engine failure and was forced to crash land S of Le Havre.
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 2 September 1944.
When he returned to the US, Captain Pisanos was posted to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field in Dayton.
Transferred to the 67th Fighter Wing on 9 September 1944.
Took a job as an airline pilot for a short time after the war so he could get a degree and earn a permanent commission in the USAF.
He attended the Test Pilot School & subsequently served at Wright Field & Muroc Lake as one.
Promoted (back) to Captain on 22 April 1948.
Changed his name to Steve Pisanos in 1951 & was promoted to Major on 1 September of that year.
He was promoted to Lt. Colonel on 25 April, 1963 & then to "Full Bird" on 25 June 1968.
The Colonel retired in December 1973 & was living in California when I contacted him some years ago.



By COL. CHESLEY PETERSON AS TOLD TO DONALD ROBINSON, Chief of Tactical Division, Directorate of Operations.
Steve Pisanos didn't want to die that July afternoon in 1944 when he crashed behind the German lines in France. He had a special reason for wanting to go on living.
Steve was born in Athens around 1920, the son of an impoverished Greek grocer. When he was 14 he delivered an order of vegetables to a British Royal Air Force squadron. It was the first time the kid had ever seen an airplane close up. "Teach me how to fly," he begged the RAF pilots.
They said no, of course. He was far too young. He wrote to the RAF commander, to the head of the Greek Army and the head of the Greek Navy, pleading for a chance to become a pilot. Finally he wrote to John Metaxas, the Greek political leader, who granted the boy an interview.
"Young man," he said, "if you want to be a pilot, you'll need a lot more education."
Steve was willing to go to school, but his family hadn't the money for it. He was miserable until a friend of his father spoke to him about the United States. "You can get the best education in the world there—free," he said. So Steve got aboard a ship for New York. I'm not saying how he contrived it.
He got a job shucking oysters near Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, and went to school nights. He saved enough money to take flying lessons, and had over 200 hours to his credit when World War II erupted in Europe.
Steve didn't like Hitler or his pals, so he went to Canada and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force to fight them. He became a fighter pilot.
I met him in England. As soon as he got there, he'd asked to be transferred to the Eagle Squadron, an outfit made up of Americans who had volunteered to fly for the RAF. A grand bunch of guys whom I had the honor to command.
What a pilot that boy was! He shot down 15 German planes over Britain and on raids to the Continent. He once attacked three German planes.
Once the United States entered the war, this Greek boy had a single dream; to fly under the Stars and Stripes. The dream came true in September, 1942, when the Eagle Squadron was transferred from the RAF to the Eighth U. S. Air Force.
Then Congress passed a law providing that any alien serving with our Armed Forces could qualify for American citizenship. The moment he read about the new law, Steve ran to my headquarters.
"Colonel, please, I want to apply to be a United States citizen," he said.
I agreed to put his application through channels.
"We have to do it faster," he insisted. "I know I'm going to get it in the end, but when I die, I want to die an American."
I filled John Winant, the U. S. Ambassador to Great Britain, in on the situation and two weeks later an official of the U. S. Naturalization Bureau arrived in England, just to help Captain Steve Pisanos become a citizen of the United States.
We scheduled a parade and arranged for Ambassador Winant to present Steve with his citizenship papers.
Shortly after D-Day, we took off for a bombing raid on Bordeaux. On the way back Steve's engine conked out. He kept his crippled plane limping along while he searched for a landing place as close to the Allied lines as he could get. The plane smashed into a meadow and he was thrown a good 1,000 feet. He should have been killed but he wasn’t. He landed on his shoulder, cracking it to smithereens. The Jerries came racing up, and he ran into a nearby woods.
All night he ran, and in the morning he made contact with the Resistance. They took him to Paris and hid him for a month, until the Allies liberated the city. When we got there, he wanted to go right up in a plane again. I sent him to the hospital and asked him where he'd found strength to run from the Germans.
"I didn't want to die," he said. "I liked being an American too much."
Steve knew he didn't have enough education for a permanent commission in the Air Force so, after the war, he got a job as a pilot with TWA and went to the University of Maryland on the side. In 1948, he graduated, and applied for that commission. In 1949, he got it. Today, as I write this, it’s Major Steve N. Pisanos, United States Air Force.



Victories Include:

21 May 1943
12 Aug 1943
29 Jan 1944
5 Mar 1944
one FW190
one Me109
two Me109s
two Me109s
destroyed [1]

10 - 6 / 0 / 0

Steve claims 10 destroyed. None of the resources I have mention any claims but the ones shown here except for one source that says he also had 2 probables. The American Fighter Pilots Association has him with 10 kills (no details) which is strange considering the USAF Historical Society has him with 6. The AFPA usually requires proof so I don't take their figure of 10 lightly.
I found no evidence that he scored any kills with the Eagle Squadrons, so I'm not too sure what to make of it - and unfortunately, I didn't ask him when I had the chance.
The info he sent me however says his first kill was on 21 May 1943 (all sources agree) and that he became an ace on 1 January, 1944 (no info) and his 10th victory was on 5 March, 1944 (all sources show this as his last kill).

[1] First listed as damaged but later changed to destroyed


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Thanks go out to

Steve Pisanos for the photos & infos !

On these pages I use Hugh Halliday's extensive research which includes info from numerous sources; newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC); the Google News Archives; the London Gazette Archives and other sources both published and private.

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