Jim Harbilas was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts to Nicholas and Angelika Harbilas. He and his siblings, William, Julie, John, and Sophie were the first generation to be born in the United States after their parents immigrated from Kouteli, Kalavryta, Greece. After graduating from Holyoke High School, Jim joined the US Navy as an Apprentice Seaman on May 28, 1940, and was selected to receive pilot training at Pensacola in 1942, joining the ranks of enlisted aviators known as Mustangs in a program entitled Silver Eagles which was an experimental pilot training program to train enlisted sailors as pilots, due to extreme war needs. He was designated as Naval Aviation Pilot on May 18, 1942, and although most of the enlisted pilots either left the Navy or were rated as Warrant Officers, Jim became a Commissioned Officer and was named a Naval Aviator on December 23, 1943. He was assigned to VPB-34 Squadron while operating under Fleet Air Wing Eleven, based at Guantanamo Bay from October 1942 to June 1943. The core of the squadron's operations was training in a low-altitude bombing at night...
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