B-17G FLYING FORTRESS PILOT
94th BOMBARDMENT GROUP / 332nd BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON
Captain James C. Stopulos was born in Davenport, Iowa, on May 22, 1917, the son of Greek immigrants. His father, Gus Stopulos, was born in Tripoli on March 28, 1871, and in 1902 he emigrated to the United States seeking a better life. His mother Eleni Dimitrakopoulou (Helen Dimitrak) was born in the village of Alonistena on May 21, 1887 and was a descendant of Zambia Kotsaki, mother of Theodoros Kolokotronis. James C. Stopulos, always referred with great pride to the fact that his roots intersected with those of the greatest warlord of the Greek Revolution of 1821. In the first correspondence we had with him, many years ago, the veteran aviator enthusiastically referred to his family relationship with the legendary hero of '21, even though he was not his direct descendant. In January 2007, he wrote to Georgios Chalkiadopoulos the following:
"Thank you for your interest in the story about the 'Athenian Avenger'. The name came about when a Jewish friend of mine suggested that I name my plane that in honor of the Greek patriots and for the Jews in the concentration camps, My mission was to seek revenge for those atrocities. I was born in America, graduated from college and then entered the Aír Force. I was the pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress. I flew 30 missions over France and Germany, about 20 of them as a lead pilot. I did not have any exciting experiences during my tour, luck was with me. My father was born in Tripoli and ny mother was born in Alonistena. By the way, on my mother 's side of the family I can trace my roots to Theodore Kolokotronis, who I understand was a Greek hero in the revolt against the Turks. I visited Greece back in 1973 and have not returned since then. That in a few, short sentences is what I can tell you of myself without going into a long dissertation. I am in the real estate business, was also a motion picture exhibitor, married an Irish young lady, have four children, 13 grandchidren and a great grandchild on the way."
His mother Eleni left Greece in 1915, as a prospective bride, and had to cross the Mediterranean and the Atlantic to meet in New York her future husband, whom she had seen only once, in a photo. So Gus and Helen Stopulos were married to a cohabitation in 1916 and settled in Davenport, where they opened their own grocery store. Their first child, James, was born on May 22, 1917. Two years later, on August 17, 1919, the couple also had a daughter, Eva Stopulos Kalikatsos. Family members lived in the city center, on the first floor above their store, which was located on the corner of 305 1/2 East Mond Street and Pershing Avenue. Many times James would go down to the ground floor as soon as he finished his classes to help his father with their grocery business. As a teenager, he was extremely active, actively participating in various celebrations and events of his school, but also of the Greek-American community, while he loved sports, especially involved in basketball and American football. In 1935 he graduated from Davenport High School and during his studies at St Ambrose University, he dreamed of becoming a journalist. Unfortunately, in 1940, the Second World War had already spread to almost all of Europe. James understood that very soon the United States would be forced to engage in the war and he would be called upon to join.
ENTER USAAF & 94th BOMBARDMENT GROUP
On October 1, 1943, he graduated as pilot of the U.S. Army Air Force, promoted to Second Lieutenant and proudly received his Silver Wings. Having been selected as a multi-engine bomber pilot, he was assigned his own crew and sent for training at Roswell Air Base in New Mexico. Over the next 6 months the ten aviators were trained in B-17 Flying Fortress and in early May 1944 arrived at Roughan Air Base in Bury St Edmunds, east of England, having been posted to the 94th Bombardment Group. The crew was assigned to the 332nd Bombardment Squadron and after a short period of adjustment they began to participate in the operations. Initially Jim flew two missions on May 20 and 22, 1944, attached to another crew as co-pilot in order to gain experience. The baptism of fire for Stopulos and his crew came on the 23rd, flying on a mission against targets in Chaumont, France with his personal bomber, the B-17G, #42-102694, XM-K, 'Athenian Avenger'. The Greek American pilot, knowing about the hunger and torture experienced by his compatriots in occupied Greece, as well as the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the concentration camps, felt that he had an obligation. He had to take revenge for all that was happening and at the instigation of a Jewish friend of his, as he mentioned above, he decided to name his bomber "Athenian Avenger". The next mission was particularly difficult. On May 24, 1944, their target was Berlin. The capital of the Third Reich was one of the most protected cities in Germany, and its heavy anti-aircraft guns, combined with the continues attacks of the German fighters, was a real nightmare for every Allied aviator. However, the crew returned unharmed to its Base, and flew two more bombing missions, on 25 and 27 May, against targets in Brussels and Karlsruhe. The missions for the young pilot and his crew continued uninterrupted. On the 28th they flew against the city of Königsborn in Germany and on 29 May 1944 the target was the oil refineries in Leipzig. Unfortunately, the mission to Leipzig did not develop well. As the B-17G, #8007 they manned that day, was flying at 20,000 feet, in formation with another fifteen B-17G, it was badly hit by the fragments of anti-aircraft fire, resulting in the catastrophic failure of the oxygen system. To face the danger of hypoxia, Stopulos was forced to abandon the formation and rush down to 10,000 feet, for the situation to be more bearable. But now the lone aircraft was easy prey for the Luftwaffe fighters and if an Fw-190 or Me-109 attack them, that would mean certain death. Someone shouted at the intercom that it would be better to head to neutral Sweden and land there, but Stopulos disagreed. The voices of protest thickened and then someone suggested that they vote on how they should act. The 9 men of the crew voted in favor of the proposal, saying they preferred to go through the war as prisoners of the neutral Swedes, rather than end up dead. However, the captain strongly disagreed with them and had not yet said his last word. Stopulos' conscience did not allow him to remain in the security of captivity, while his colleagues in the Squadron, faithful to their duty, would continue to participate in missions and be killed over the skies of Europe. Angry, he interrupted his men in the intercom and called them out in a loudly voice:
"The hell we will. I’m boss, I’m not giving up a $300,000 plane and allow you guys to sit out the war."
In the intercom the voices fell silent, but James felt the atmosphere electrifying. It was very bad for a pilot to feel that he was not liked by his crew because his decisions were not liked, but his sense of duty was above all of them. Eventually Stopulos, following a course as far away as possible from the enemy fighter bases and going in and out of the clouds, managed to reach the North Sea with the hit aircraft. After an agonizing flight, he landed safely at Roughan Air Base in Bury St Edmunds, east of England. They were the first crew of the 332nd Bombardment Squadron to do so. By that time, any aircraft that had been forced to abandon the formation had not survived. The veteran aviator remembered:
"My crew didn’t speak to me for two weeks, but we made up."
Official USAAF portrait photo of James C. Stopulos taken probably after his graduation from his training and promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. (Stopulos Family)
James smilling in front of a T-6 Harvard during his advanced training. The young Greek American gained his nickname, 'Jim the Greek' during his training period. (Stopulos Family)
Β-17G, 42-102694, XM-K, 'Athenian Avenger' rest on the ramp in Roughan Air Base, Bury St Edmunds, east of England, home of the 94th Bombardment Group. According to James the man waving his hand from the cockpit is the 42-102694 Crew Chief. (Stopulos Family)
B-17G-55-BO 42-102694 'ATHENIAN AVENGER' was the personal bomber of the Greek American pilot, Jim Stopulos. The bomber was delivered in Cheyenne on March 26, 1944, in natural metal finish. It was transferred to Kearney on April 15, 1944, and then to Grenier on April 29, 1944, before being assigned to the 332nd BS/94th BG in Rougham on May 3, 1944, as XM-K. Later it transferred to the 333rd BS as TS-K and returned back to the USA, in Bradley on July 9, 1945. Three days later flew to the 4168 BU in Sth Plains before it was finally scrapped in Kingman on November 18, 1945. According to John Wernick Jim Stopulos told him that when he graduated from flight school, he was given the choice of fighter or bomber pilot. He said he didn't want to fly by himself - he wanted somebody to talk to! He said when war was imminent, he figured if he was going to die, he wanted to go quickly, so he chose the Air Corps. Regarding the name when he was in England, he was stationed near a good friend of his he knew from back home in Davenport, Iowa. This friend (army infantryman), told Jim that he should name his plane 'Athenian Avenger'. Jim said; "Why is that Bill"? Bill said; "for all the bad stuff the Germans are doing to the Greeks". Jim put in a request....the rest is history! There is a dispute regarding the name of 42-102694 as it is also referred to as 'ATHENIAN AVENGER II'. However, neither the photo nor Jim himself confirms the existence of such a nose art or name on this specific B-17. (Copyright Bertrand Brown, further info by John Wernick and Bertrand Brown)
D-DAY & LEAD CREW
Contrary to his crew, his superiors greatly appreciated his bravery and determination, and a few weeks later he was promoted directly Captain! He soon began to fly with his aircraft as lead of the 332nd Squadron and lead the formation in many missions. On 17 of their missions, Captain James C. Stopulos and his crew flew as a Lead Crew. After the adventurous mission on Leipzig, he flew three more missions before the big day. On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy, and as he said, this was the most monumental day of his military service. In his memories of D-Day he stated:
"We knew two days in advance that it was coming," he said of the D-Day invasion. On the morning of June 6, 1944, a couple of hundred men assembled for directions, getting their assignments. The briefing officer pulled down the screen, showing where they were expected to drop their bombs. We also learned that if they returned from the first mission, they would fly a second one after lunch. Each bomber group was assigned a different altitude. When we got up in the air, there were more airplanes than I’d ever seen in my life! It almost blotted out the sun. When we got over the English Channel, it was covered with boats, an amazing sight I’ll never forget."
Indeed, the Greek American pilot flew two missions that day with the 'Athenian Avenger', one against targets at Caen and one at Argentan – Alencon. Stopulos said that the idea that he would not return from battle never crossed his mind. He preferred to always think positively and in order to exorcise bad luck, just before each mission, he would tell his friend, the doctor of the 332nd Squadron, to prepare the cards to play a game of bridge, as soon as he would return. Many years later, in various interviews, he said that he managed to survive without scratching, because he was just very lucky:
"My secret was simple! Luck, luck, luck! It is true that I had more luck than brains!"
On the 8th he flew against Nantes and on the 11th against targets in Le Touquet, France. This was his last flight with the 'Athenian Avenger'. From that time onwards, Stopulos would fly any bomber assigned to him by the flight schedule, mainly with planes equipped for pathfinders, i.e., planes that lead the major formations and targeted the area of interest with their bombs. In October 1944 he completed 30 combat missions and received orders to return to the U.S. having been decorated with the Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross. As the crew waited to board the transport that would take them to the U.S., one of his machine gunners approached James and sat next to him. At one point she said to him in an apologetic tone:
"You know something Captain? All the time we were flying together, I didn't always agree with the decisions you were making. To be honest there where times when I wanted to shoot you! However, in every mission you have always brought us back and now we are returning safely back to the States and our homes. All in all, you're OK Mr Stopulos"
BACK TO CIVILIAN LIFE & USAF RESERVE
After the war he remained in the Reserve of the U.S. Air Force and was demobilized in 1965 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During his civilian life, Stopulos briefly sold life insurance and then became involved in film companies, operating until 1976 a chain of movie theaters in various cities. He originally opened the Coronet Theatre on Washington Street in Davenport, at the suggestion of his brother-in-law, Ernie Pannos, who ran an art theater in the city of Iowa. Later, it expanded by opening new halls such as the Sierra in Moline, the Spruce Hills Twin in Bettendorf, the Central in Geneseo and the Strand in East Moline. As he said, he really liked his involvement with the business of theater and film, because he had the opportunity to meet personally, various Hollywood stars, such as Paul Newman. From 1977 onwards he was involved in real estate business with great success, remaining active professionally until the age of 92. He and his beloved wife Jeanne Sullivan (1921-2019) were married on December 29, 1945, and as he proudly said, she was the first woman from Iowa to enlist in the Marine Corps during WWII. The couple was blessed with three sons, Patrick, Michael and Thomas, and one daughter, Kathleen, as well as 13 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. In 2014 he published his autobiography in a book under the title "That's What It's Been for me: Luck, Luck, Luck". The veteran aviator in May 2017, made his last flight with a B-17, flying as a passenger, during an air show. Getting off the aircraft, the 100-year-old Greek/American was photographed smiling, full of memories. As he said excitedly, it seemed to him as if it was yesterday, standing in front of his plane, after his first solo, touching the wing of the "queen of heaven", as they then called the B-17. James C. Stopulos managed to surpass a century of life, having died full of days, on January 19, 2018, at the age of 100 years and 8 months! May his memory remain eternal!
James Stopulos Crew. Top Row: Noel W. Edmundson (TT), John Hackney (R), Gabriel Kushner (WG), Joe Lee (WG), Walter Bloom (BG), Frank Toth (TG) Bottom Row: James Stopulos (P), John I. Ellis (CP), Ray Temple (N), George W. Woodfin (B) (Stopulos Family further info 94th Bombardment Group Facebook Page)
Portrait photo of 'Jim the Greek' during his training, taken for his Class yearbook. During an interview on a newspaper when he got back home he stated: "We could tell Germany was nearing the end. In the earlier days, when we were mainly bombing industrial targets, we ran into heavier fighter opposition. The later days we saw fewer German planesin the air, and less flak. Then, our main objectives were transportation and communication lines. We knew because of the dwindling German air power and mechanized equipment that our raids on factories and oil reserves had been effective." (Stopulos Family, further info by 'The Daily Times' newspaper)
JAMES C. STOPULOS ADDITIONAL PHOTOS
JAMES STOPULOS COMBAT MISSIONS
|GROUP MISSION |
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||20-05-1944||135||B-17G, #2574||Liege Belgium|
|2||22-05-1944||136||B-17G, #2583||Kiel Germany|
|3||23-05-1944||137||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Chaumont France|
|4||24-05-1944||138||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Berlin Germany|
|5||25-05-1944||139||B-17G, #2583||Brussels Belgium|
|6||27-05-1944||140||B-17G, #1788||Karlsruhe Germany|
|7||28-05-1944||141||B-17G, #7846||Konigsborn Germany|
|8||29-05-1944||142||B-17G, #8007||Leipzig Germany|
|9||30-05-1944||143||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Watten France|
|10||02-06-1944||145||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Boulogne France|
|11||04-06-1944||149||B-17G, #2574||Versailles France|
|12||06-06-1944||151||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Caen|
|13||06-06-1944||152||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Argentan - Alencon, France|
|14||08-06-1944||154||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Nantes France|
|15||11-06-1944||155||B-17G 42-102694, 'XM-K', Athenian Avenger||Le Touquet France|
|16||07-04-1944||INC||B-17G, #153||Angouleme France|
|21||12-07-1944||173||B-17G, #7566||Munich Germany|
|22||20-07-1944||178||B-17G, #7596 PFF||Merseburg, Germany|
|23||25-07-1944||-||B-17G, #7156||Brussels Belgium|
|24||28-07-1944||182||B-17G, #7596 PFF||Merseburg, Germany|
|25||05-08-1944||188||B-17G, #7596 PFF||Magdeburg Germany|
|26||16-08-1944||196||B-17G, #7566||Rositz Germany|
|27||27-08-1944||201||B-17G, #768||Berlin Germany|
|28||08-09-1944||206||B-17G, #7566||Mainz Germany|
|29||10-09-1944||208||B-17G, #7681 PFF||Giebelstadt Germany|
|30||12-09-1944||210||B-17G, #7769 PFF||Bohlen Germany|
|31||26-09-1944||216||B-17G, #7643 PFF||Bremen Germany|
|32||02-10-1944||219||B-17G, #7668 PFF||Kassel Germany|
1. Personal Correspondence of George Chalkiadopoulos with Jim Stopulos.
2. Personal Correspondence of John Wernick with Jim Stopulos.
3. 94th Bomb Group Load List
4. 94th Bomb Group War Diary Reels B185-187
5. 94th Bomb Group Forum Facebook Page
6. 94th Bomb Group Database Facebook Page (@94thBombGroup)
Special thanks to the late Jim Stopulos, Donald Mounts (@globalmilitaryresearch) and Roger Watts.