By Pierre Kosmidis
USAF Col. (ret.) Spiros N. “Steve” Pisanos, passed away on June 6, 2016.
“The Flying Greek” as his fellow airmen at the RAF and USAF called him, was born in Greece, immigrated to the United States, served with the British Royal Air Force before America entered World War II, became the first person in history to become an American Citizen on foreign soil, shot down 10 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, was shot down and fought with the French Resistance, and had an amazing career in the U.S. Air Force after World War 2, before his retirement in 1973.
When young Pisanos arrived in the U.S. in 1938, he worked, studied English, and learned to fly.
He earned a private pilot’s license in 1941, and soon after Germany invaded Greece, he volunteered for the embattled British Royal Air Force.
He served with the 268 and 71 Eagle Squadrons. The 71 Eagle Squadron was one of three Eagle squadrons comprised of U.S. volunteers.
In 1942, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen while in London, England.
He was the first individual in American history to become a citizen while outside the U.S. border, and his becoming a citizen allowed him to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Pisanos recounted his combat record, from fighter sweeps and bomber escort missions to dogfighting, flying the Spitfire, the P-47, and the P-51 in his classic book The Flying Greek: An Immigrant Fighter Ace’s WWII Odyssey with the RAF, USAAF, and French Resistance
While flying a P-47 named Miss Plainfield, he scored his first aerial victory on May 21, 1943.
By January 1, 1944, he had become an ace.
After his tenth confirmed kill, he crash-landed his P-51 in France and spent six months with the French Resistance, successfully evading capture.
Spiros N. “Steve” Pisanos
British Royal Air Force 1941-1942
U.S. Army Air Forces 1942-1946
U.S. Air Force Reserve 1946-1948
U.S. Air Force 1948-1973
World War II 1941-1945
Cold War 1945-1973
Vietnam War 1967-1968
Steve Pisanos was born on November 10, 1919, in Kolonos, a suburb of Athens, Greece.
He joined the Greek Merchant Marine in March 1938, and sailed aboard the freighter P. Margaronis to Baltimore, Maryland, where he left the ship in late March to make his home in America.
The P. Margaronis was later sunk by a German U-boat on March 9, 1940, with no survivors.
Pisanos began training as a civilian pilot in August 1938, and was awarded his private pilot’s license on July 22, 1941.
He joined the British Royal Air Force on November 6, 1941, and trained at the Polaris Flight Academy in Glendale, California, and later at Lancaster, from November 1941 to February 1942. Pilot Officer Pisanos arrived in England in March 1942, and then attended RAF Officer Training School followed by RAF Flight School.
After completing his operational training in July 1942, he was posted to the RAF’s 268 Fighter Squadron, flying his first combat mission in August 1942. Pisanos joined the 71 Eagle Squadron of the RAF in early September 1942, and was absorbed into the U.S. Army Air Forces with the rank of 2d Lt on September 29, 1942.
Lt Pisanos flew with the 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group from September 1942 until he was forced to ditch his P-51 Mustang in France on March 5, 1944.
He met up with the French Resistance and served with them until the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, when he was returned to his unit. Pisanos transferred to the 67th Fighter Wing in September 1944, and returned to the United States in November 1944.
His next assignment was as a test pilot with the Aircraft Test Division of Air Technical Service Command at Wright Field, Ohio, where he served from November 1944 to January 6, 1946, when he left active duty to fly for TWA.
During World War II, Pisanos was credited with the destruction of 10 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, plus an additional 2 probable air victories.
He was also the first person in U.S. history to become an American Citizen on foreign soil, when he took his oath of allegiance in England on May 3, 1943. After serving with TWA for nearly two years, Pisanos returned to Active Duty with the new U.S. Air Force on October 30, 1948.
He served at the Air Force Division of the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon from October 1948 to 1952, and then served with Allied Air Forces, Southern Europe in Italy, from 1952 to December 1954.
Pisanos next completed a Bootstrap assignment at the University of Maryland, where he was awarded his Bachelor’s degree in June 1955. From June 1955 to June 1957, Pisanos served as Chief of Flight Operations with the 27th Air Division at Norton AFB, California, and then attended Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell, AFB, Alabama, from June 1957 to June 1958.
He then returned to the 27th Air Division at Norton, where he served until late 1959. Col Pisanos served with Air Defense Command from 1959 to 1964, and then served at Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe from 1964 to June 1967.
After completing C-7 Caribou combat crew training, Pisanos was assigned as Operations Officer of the 457th Airlift Squadron, 483rd Airlift Wing, at Cam Rahn Bay AB in the Republic of Vietnam, in January 1968.
In May 1968, he was given command of the 457th Tactical Airlift Squadron and he served in this position until he returned to the United States in October 1968.
He next served as the Deputy Commander of Maintenance for the 308th Ballistic Missile Wing at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, from October 1968 to May 1971.
His final assignment was as the Chief of the Air Force Section with the military mission for aid to Greece in Athens, where he served from May 1971 until his retirement from the Air Force on December 1, 1973.
Col Pisanos flew 110 combat missions during World War II in Spitfires, P-47 Thunderbolts, and P-51 Mustangs, and another 375 combat missions during the Vietnam War flying C-7 Caribou transport missions to supply Army Special Forces camps throughout Southeast Asia.
Steve married Sophie Mary Pappas on June 30, 1946, and they have two children, Jeffrey and Diane. He was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in September 2009.
Steve Pisanos died on June 6, 2016.
His 5th Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel Steve N. Pisanos distinguished himself by heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force near Cung Son, Republic of Vietnam, on 6 December 1967.
On that date, Colonel Pisanos made a tactical emergency airdrop to a besieged patrol of special forces personnel in danger of being overrun by a superior hostile force.
After overcoming extremely adverse weather conditions and mountainous terrain to locate the patrol, and overruling the patrol commander’s warning not to attempt the drop due to hostile activity, Colonel Pisanos, in complete disregard for his personal safety, airdropped the needed supplies to the patrol.
His unusual skill and determination was directly responsible for the preservation of the special forces unit, which was subsequently rescued.
The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Colonel Pisanos reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.