SABE LEGATOS MEMORIAL SERVICE IN SACRAMENTO CALIFORNIA
NICK ALEXANDER & GREEKS IN FOREIGN COCKPITS TEAM
NICK ALEXANDER INTRO DUCTORY SPEECH
We are here today to tell you the story of one of our forgotten parishioners who was killed and listed as missing in action during World War II. His story was revived when Fr. James' brother, George Retalas, produced the documentary "The Eleven" which was debuted here at our church on Veterans Day 2017. This film honored US Navy fighter pilots during World War II. Following the showing of the film there was a salute to veterans from our parish that served in the US Armed forces. While observing the salute to Veterans from our church, I recalled that we may have missed honoring one of our parishioners that was listed as missing in action and presumed killed during World War II. His name was Sabe Legatos (everybody called him Sam). I knew Sam only by legend as I was born 10 years after the end of World War II. Sam was a member of the Legatos Family who were instrumental in building our church here at the Alhambra Blvd Location.
Sam was the son of Gerasimos and Veneko Legatos and brother of the late Eleftarios (who everybody called Fred) Nick, Tasia, Georgia and Teresia Legatos. Sam's lone remaining next of kin is Ms. Barbara Taylor of Los Angeles CA. Because I was curious about Sam's service, I searched the internet for the details. What I discovered was that Sam was a very distinguished US Navy Carrier pilot and decorated hero. I am honored to tell you that Sam was:
- A F6F Hellcat pilot and member of Fighter Squadron 12 of the Aircraft carrier USS Randolph.
- He had shot down four opposing planes. One short of an Ace.
- He was awarded the Purple Heart
- He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the battle of Leyte Gulf on October 25, 1944
- He was awarded the Silver Star on February 16, 1945.
He and Imperial Japanese Navy Pilot Ensign Yoshinori Matsunaga met their fates when the shot each other down in a head to head encounter near Mito City Japan. At the age of 22, Sam was listed as missing in Action and presumed dead on February 17, 1945. Because the crash was in Japanese held territory, no rescue efforts were made and Sam's remains were never recovered.
Surprisingly, my internet inquiries led to other people with an interest in Sam's Naval Service and I received responses from a Greek Historian, Mr. Dimitrios Vassilopoulos. Mr. Vassilopoulos a historical researcher and the Author of Greeks in Foreign Cockpits and provided the biographical information in the handout at your tables. I had other inquiries from our honored guest here today Japanese Historian Mr. Kenji Sudo. Mr. Sudo knows a living eye witness to the aerial combat between Lt Legatos and Ensign Matsunaga. His name is Toshio Iijima and he knew the location of the Crash site near his mother's home in Mito City.When Mr. Sudo told me knew the location of the crash site, my thinking was that perhaps we can bring Lt Legatos' remains home to Sacramento?
While post war efforts to recover Lt Legatos' remains were unsuccessful, the information provided by Mr. Sudo and Mr. Vassilopoulos was very valuable. I contacted Congressman Tom McClintock's District Director, Mr. Rocky Deal. Ironically, Mr. Deal is a former Naval Aviator and the former Captain of the Aircraft Carrier the USS Constellation. Also instrumental in our efforts is Congressional staff member Mr. Greg Holt. Mr. Holt is also our guest here today. Through the combined efforts of our team, we were able to supply Congressman McClintock with sufficient information to request that the Department of Defense POW/MIA accounting agency reopen the inquiry into Lt. Legatos' crash., This led to an examination of the American Graves Registration Service records that did reveal the unidentifiable remains of a Naval aviator near the area where Lt Legatos' plane was lost were actually recovered in the years following World War II. These unidentified remains were ultimately buried as an unknown service member at the American Cemetery in the city of Manila, Philippines and possibly may be the remains of Lt. Legatos.
Lt. Legatos niece, Ms Barbara Taylor has provided a DNA sample and the POW/MIA accounting agency has begun the process to disinter the remains of the unknown service member in the Philippines for scientific testing. While there is no guarantee that the remains are of those of Lt Legatos, God willing we hopeful that they are so Lieutenant Legatos can return home to Sacramento after nearly 75 years.
May the memories of Lieutenant Legatos and Ensign Matsunaga be eternal.
Having said that I wish to invite our honored guest Mr. Kenji Sudo to tell you about his quest to find Lieutenant Legatos and the story of Ensign Matsunaga.
KENJI SUDO SPEECH
Even now there is a scene that is burnt in my mind. It is an event when I saw Mr. Takao Sato who has given talks about war in elementary schools and so on after the war as a ‘war talk club’. Takao gave me encouragement, thank-you for your letters, and valuable materials related to Mito South Airfield as a mobilization student, but I was late to ask for greetings while I was at work. The first visit, also serving as a thank-you, has become a meeting with the deceased. He had already died that morning. The war narrative section is rapidly decreasing after seventy years after the war, regardless of whether there is a public activity like Takao. When I posted to a local newspaper and asked for information, I was able to hear from more than a dozen people. I have been able to get here by meeting with many people regardless of the prewar and post-war birth times in the game with time, and also by chance meeting. Of course, that chance could have been obtained just because they took action. At the same time, I think that I must remember that I was able to get here by being supported by such a large number of people across the country.
Right now, I have a lot of people in Sacramento in front of me. The story I heard from my mother when I was a child triggered me, and about half a century later I met with the bereaved of Ensign Matsunaga and Lt. (j.g.) Legatos. It is everyone here that have also become an important part in the narrative to tell about the war. It is from this time. Under the slogan “Establishment of 100 years after World War II”. Depending on the age, living environment, and ability, any trivial matter is acceptable, so let’s continue to tell about the war. For the happiness of people. Especially for children who will live from now on. So what should we pass down from parents to their offspring? They had a keen desire to protect their beloved family and their beloved hometown, and had a keen desire for peace. What are the two pilots in Japan and the United States trying to protect in exchange for their irreplaceable lives on the battlefields in their own country and in foreign countries? Maybe Ensign Matsunaga deeply loved his daughter and his wife. Lt. (j.g.) Legatos must have been a beloved parent and beloved brother who raised him in the difficult environment of a Greek-American immigrant.
Furthermore, in the immigrant society of that time, the second generation Greek Americans such as Lt. (j.g.) Legatos in particular were considered to have tried to show the strength of loyalty to the United States. As you know, in this regard, from the perspective of the Japanese, we can not but mention the existence of the Nisei unit born in Hawaii. Although there is a common point of making allegiance for the motherland, the big difference is that they inevitably get the blood of the Japanese who is the enemy of the time. I would like to leave out talking about their feelings and actions at that time, and their position in the postwar American society. If you would like to know more, I would like to recommend Mr. Hiroshi Ara’s “Japanese Eyes, American Heart”, like Nisei youth, the second generation Greek American of that time, including Lt. (j.g.) Legatos, should have lived on the battlefield in the same way.
Lastly, I would like to conclude the book with the contents of the lecture I gave to junior high school students as a social studies teacher during junior high school teachers and as a narrator of war. We are now gathering at the gymnasium and spending our time together. What does this mean? I think that it is nothing but “encounter and life”. The fact that you could receive life on earth by your parents. That there was magnificent work of life before you were born. The parents of your parents, their parents ... With all the generations inherited, you are here now. You are alive. However, there was a time of war when there were people who could not live even though they wanted to live. In the questionnaire on “What is peace” that everyone thinks, many people answered that “a thing without war and war is peace”.
Some people said, “We can not say peace without war.” Many people gave specific examples. It turned out that there are many people who are interested. And it was written that you had to cherish “peace” and that you had to work hard for that. I became a little bit happy. Furthermore, it seemed unreliable. Even in young people, even though I did not experience war as I did, I felt that I had a desire to talk about war and go on. “I live now” “I live hard now” This may not lead to peace.
Hitachi City Toyoura Junior High School
Saturday class lecture
“We think about peace together”
From February, 2016
You can watch the Kenji Speech in the following link:
DIMITRIS VASSILOPOULOS MESSAGE
ON BEHALF OF GREEKS IN FOREIGN COCKPITS
My dear Sacramento Greek Americans
I'm very happy and satisfied with the memorial you scheduled for your honorable member, Sabe Legatos. Through the 20+ years of research regarding Greek parentage pilots and crews from WW1 until our days, Sabe's story always intrigued me. The first time I read about him was in Christopher Shores' epic book, regarding American Aces of WW2, entitled STAR & STRIPES. In the ending pages of that book, there was a reference for pilots who were near aces, like Legatos who had 4 Japanese aircraft shot down and 2 more destroyed on the ground. His Greek name stuck on my mind and my only purpose was to learn more about him. Although I manage to retrieve his personal military records and after-action reports from the squadrons he flew I was unable to find his relatives, so for me to learn more about his personality and heritage. Two years before with the help of Nick Alexander, I managed to trace his niece, Barbara Taylor and a few months later my friend Kenji Sudo, a researcher from Japan, helped us to understand his final moments before he was shot down by Imperial Japanese Army Air Force pilot, Yoshinori Matsunaga. Flying head to head, in dark times for humanity, these two young, brave pilots met their destiny over the land of Japan. As we speak there is a combined effort from the US Government, Kenji, and our research team, to try to identify his remains in order for this Greek American hero, return back in Sacramento. I wish this effort will produce results and Sabe finds his rest back home, and personally be able to be there to honor him. I'm sending you from the GREEKS IN FOREIGN COCKPITS research team, our regards, and appreciation for this memorial event. We will tribute Sabe Legatos in the third volume of our research which will be published next October and on our website, so every Greek worldwide to learn about his sacrifice, especially those whose heritage is from the beautiful island of Kefalonia.
May his memory be eternal.
Picture of Kenji interpreting the photo of JAAF airmen .
Grave of mother Veneko Legatos.
Kenji with Congressional staff member Greg Holt.
Picture of Kenji praying at Legatos
Kenji with 102 year old George Nicolau who has memories of Lt Legatos and his family.
Picture of Kenji and Nick in front of historical Legatos home.
Grave of Brother Nick Legatos.
Greek Church member Maria Cazanis welcoming Kenji in Japanese.
Picture in front of monument commemorating the first location of the Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento.
Father James Retalis welcoming Kenji to Sacramento.