San Diego World War II Hero to be Awarded...
San Diego World War II Hero to be Awarded French Legion of Honor Medal
Ceremony to take place at San Diego Air & Space Museum
San Diego, 2.28.2010
On Saturday, March 6th, the French Republic will recognize Colonel Steven Pisanos of Rancho Bernado with the Legion of Honor Medal for his remarkable accomplishments during World War II. The Medal, created by Napoleon in 1802, is the highest honor France bestows upon people who achieve remarkable deeds which benefit France.
On May 5, 1944 while on a bomber escort mission in a P-51B, Pisanos achieved four confirmed aircraft kills raising his total to 10 enemy airplanes destroyed—a "double Ace." Returning to base in England, his aircraft experienced mechanical problems and he was forced to crash-land his Mustang near Le Havre, France, sustaining minor injuries. He avoided capture for five days and was sheltered by the French Resistance. Over the next several months he participated in a number of dangerous nighttime sabotage missions before Paris was liberated in August 1944 and he was returned to his squadron in England. Colonel Pisanos was an elite member of the three famed Eagle Squadrons, consisting of just 244 Americans and 16 Royal Air Force pilots, fighting on behalf of England before America's entry into WWII. Colonel Pisanos is 90 years old, one of only 12 Eagle Squadron pilots remaining.
Pisanos, a San Diego Air & Space Hall of Fame inductee, is scheduled to receive the prestigious award on Saturday, March 6th near the Museum’s historic Eagle Squadrons collection. The Museum is "Home" to the Eagle Squadrons and displays more of their artifacts than anywhere in the world, as well as a Royal Air Force Spitfire.
"Colonel Steve Pisanos is a true international hero deserving of our special recognition, we're proud to be the home of the Eagle Squadron pilots and especially pleased to host the upcoming Legion of Honor Medal presentation," says Jim Kidrick, President and CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. "It will be a morning to remember, everyone at the Air & Space Museum loves Steve, he's a very special person... and with his wife of over 60 years, Sophie, they represent what's right about America."
Spiros Pisanos (now Steven Pisanos) was born in Athens in November 1920 into a family that included five boys and one girl. As a youth he became fascinated with aviation and helped at the nearby Tatoi aerodrome. He arrived in the US in early 1938 after jumping ship from a Greek freighter, got employment, taught himself English, and had his pilot's license by late 1940. In 1941 he joined the Royal Air Force under a special program for allied volunteers. After flight training he flew British and American fighter aircraft against coastal targets with the nickname "Steve" or "The flying Greek." He received his US citizenship after joining one of the American Eagles RAF volunteer squadrons, and was integrated into the US Army Air Forces in September 1942. Lt Pisanos' first confirmed aircraft kill was in May 1942 in a P-47. On May 5, 1944 while on a bomber escort mission in a P-51B, he achieved four confirmed aircraft kills bringing his total to 10. On the return, his aircraft had mechanical problems and he crash-landed near Le Havre, France, sustaining injuries. He avoided capture for five days and was sheltered by the French Resistance. Over the next several months he participated in a number of dangerous nighttime sabotage missions before Paris was liberated in August 1944. His combat flying in World War II totaled 300 hours over 110 missions. In September 1944 he returned to the US and became a test pilot flying captured enemy aircraft and early jet fighters. He was discharged in April 1946 and after a short term as a civilian pilot he was recalled to active duty in the USAF in October 1948. He married his sweetheart Sophie in June 1946 and they had two children, Jeff and Diane. His USAF career included assignments in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia, in the pilot and missile fields, and lastly as Chief of the USAF military assistance mission to Greece. His significant military decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the French Croix de Guerre and the Vietnamese Medal of Honor. After retirement from the USAF in November 1973, Steve lived briefly in Kansas until moving with his family to San Diego in 1978. He enjoys writing, traveling and playing golf. He is a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Aviation Hall of Fame.
History of the National Order of the Legion of Honor
During the French Revolution all the orders of the kingdom were abolished. It was the wish of Napoleon, the First Consul, to create a reward to commend civilians and soldiers regardless of their stature in life. In 1802, a Légion d'Honneur, (Legion of Honor) was established as the first modern order of merit. The Légion was open to individuals of all ranks and professions. The order is France's highest award and is conferred upon men and women, either French citizens or foreign nationals, for outstanding achievements in military or civilian life. The President of France is the Grand Master of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order - by convention, on the advice of the Government. Its principal officers are the Chancellor and Secretary-General. The order has five classes: Grand-Croix (Grand Cross); Grand Officier (Grand Officer); Commandeur (Commander); Officier (Officer); and Chevalier (Knight).
For more information on the San Diego Air & Space Museum please visit: www.sandiegoairandspace.org.