WWII fighter pilot, Spiros Nicholas Steve Pisanos, was honored at a memorial luncheon held at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Pisanos was born in Athens in 1919 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1938 to live the American Dream and become a pilot.
He started his life in the U.S. speaking no English at all, after arriving as a crew member on a merchant ship which docked at Baltimore. All he could do at the time was work in bakeries and restaurants in New York.
He worked hard to save up for flying lessons and soon obtained his private pilot’s license.
As WWII progressed, Pisanos enlisted in the British Royal Air Force, as he was not eligible to join the U.S. military. As a pilot, he was a member of the 71 Eagle Squadron who flew Spitfires at Debden RAF Aerodrome. In 1943 he targeted a German FW-190 which was flying over Belgium and downed the plane. In less than a year, his victories saw him earn the name ‘The Flying Greek.’
Flying over Le Havre, France, Pisanos’ aircraft had an engine failure and crashed landed in the area. There he became part of the French Resistance and worked alongside the American OSS to destroy the German army. Following the liberation of France, he made his way for the U.K. and returned to London.
His heroic efforts as a pilot during WWII compelled his naturalization, and he became the first person to gain American citizenship outside of the United States borders while he was in London. News reporters, Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, flew to London to have a personal interview with Pisanos on the special occasion, and the three of them became lifelong friends. His son Jeff referred to it as the proudest moment of his father’s life.
Pisanos retired in San Diego and was involved with the Air & Space Museum for many years. As a member of the team which acquired the Spitfire, the museum is proud to have been affiliated with him for such a long time and treasure the Spitfire exhibit on their premises.
Pisanos earned several awards, including the French Legion of Honor, the highest award offered by the French Republic for his contributions during the French Resistance. He was also awarded the Purple Heart and received many honorable tokens, including being inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
Even in his later years, he had an amazing memory, made evident in his handwritten memoirs which were published as ‘The Flying Greek’ in 2008. He wrote a total of 1700 pages, of which 300 were published. He was disappointed that not all of his writing was published, but his son plans to compile his memoirs into one book to be kept as an archive, and so that the family can have a few copies too.