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Colonel James A. Gianatsis was born on 9 October 1916. Son of a hard-working Greek hat cleaner and shoemaker, my grandfather, named Athanasios Demetrios Gianatsis immigrated with his wife Garifalia, to New York City on 1 November 1907. Athanasios heritage was from Rizospilia village, in Arcadia, Peloponnese, near the famous Dimitsana however my grandmother's place of birth isn't known. The couple married in Greece and came to the United States with the Reine D’ Italia ship, boarding on Piraeus. The couple raised 3 notable children who also went on to become great Americans. My Dad worked his way through college at the University of New York and George Washington University with a degree in Engineering as part of the Greatest Generation he joined the US Army Air Corps in 1941 and trained as a pilot to fight in World War Two. Upon graduation from flight school in Texas, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant on June 23, 1942, trained with his bomber group at MacDill AFB, Florida, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was sent to Great Britain as part of the 386th Bomb Group - The Crusaders. He was promoted to 1st Lt on November 20, 1942. He served as the pilot of a Martin B-26 Marauder bomber with a crew of 5-7 and sent on dangerous precision low-level daylight bombing runs across Europe. However, he began facing the dangers of combat flying even before reaching England when he made a forced landing in Greenland. This incident was documented by The Pittsburg Press and The Chicago Daily News Inc. reporter in London, Nat A. Barrows.
"For a few minutes, out there in the North Atlantic. "Blazing Heat" seemed certain to wind up in an unmarked grave instead of the English base from which she flew against Nazi targets. One of her two engines had failed, and the B-26 Marauder was falling rapidly from her cruising altitude of 10,500 feet. Desperately. Lt. James A. Gianatsis of the Bronx N.Y. ordered the plane lightened and tried to keep her from stalling. The bomber dropped to 5000 feet and then to 4000. Lt. Raymond E. Merritt, of Detroit, the co-pilot, and Lt. Nathan E. Offenhiser, of Clarksdale, Miss., the navigator, began tossing every conceivable object toward the bomb bay. The B-26 faltered down to 2000 feet and its airspeed dropped almost to stalling. The radioman Sgt. William F. King, of 556 Price Ave., North Braddock, Pa., poured more equipment into the ocean through the bomb bay. 1. Extra gasoline was dumped. The tail gunner, Sgt. Fred B. Ellis. of Sanger. Cal. and Sgt. Meyer Levin, of Philadelphia, a ground crew member flying as a passenger, attacked the fittings in the plane. At 1800 feet Lt. Gianatsis was able to hold the plane steady. They were then about halfway between Newfoundland and Greenland. Lt. Gianatsis was determined to attempt a landing on an unfamiliar airfield in Greenland rather than turn back. He knew his SOS had alerted Atlantic Patrol aircraft, and there was a better safety factor in going on, providing he could get enough altitude to overtop the coastal mountains. Two other Marauders hovered about “Blazing Heat" to drop life preservers in the event she did not make it. Lt. Gianatsis got speed up to 150 miles an hour and managed to climb back to 4000-foot altitude. Lt. Gianatsis squeezed over the mountains and made a safe landing despite the dead engine.”

On August 21, 1943, he was promoted to Captain and began flying combat sorties over Europe. His bomber group played a major part in D-Day - the invasion of Europe, by flying many bombing missions taking out German Costal Guns, Supply Depots, Bridges, Headquarters, Troop Concentrations, and V2 Flying Bomb sites in the weeks before the Invasion. And then close support of the Allied troops on the Normandy beaches on D-day morning, taking out German positions overlooking the beaches just minutes before the Allied troops came ashore. Probably the best account of these hours before the invasion comes from the book "The Story of the Crusaders, The 386th Bomb Group.

"The D-Day Invasion on June 6th was led by the 386th BG. Its Commander Colonel Kelly learned that the 386th by its high record of accurate bombing, had been selected by General Omar Bradley himself to be the last Group to bomb the beaches at Normandy before the troops went ashore. This was a signal of honor to be paid by so high a personage to the accomplishments of the Group. The formal briefing was little different from the ordinary briefings except the messages from Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Brenton, and Anderson were read to the Group. The mission itself, except for the fact it took off before dawn, was little different from any of the 180 missions the Group had previously run. Their mission was to bomb gun positions on the beaches just 5 minutes before the actual landings began. Before they left Colonel Kelly addressed the crews, "Man" he began simply, "Today is D-day. We land in France at 6:30 am." For a moment there was dead silence, then if someone had pressed a switch, the whole assembly broke into prolonged cheering, for a while it was pandemonium. Col. Kelly called for silence. Then he continued, "At this moment the parachute troops have landed in northern France. We will be flying in support of American troops who will be landing on the beaches here." He indicated a strip of beach on the huge map in the briefing room. "Our targets will be positions on the beach on which our troops will land a zero hour, and we have been paid the signal honor because of our record, of being the last group to bomb before the invasion commences. We must bomb between 6:23 and 6:25, that is before the 6:30 am landing is to take place. If we arrive over the target after 6:25 we will be unable to bomb. Our job will be to keep the Germans from manning their guns until the assault troops come ashore. You must not and you can't make any mistake. The lives of thousands of soldiers depend on your accuracy. The crews, arriving at the airplanes on the field were greeted by Black and White stripes on both the wings and fuselages of their B26 Marauders. Under great secrecy and the cover of darkness, the ground crews had painted the "D-Day Stripes" on the airplanes. The planners had hoped that by marking all allied aircraft scheduled to be in the beachhead area with the high visibility stripes, enemy aircraft would find it more difficult to penetrate the area. In many ways, the mission was a milk run for the Group. No heavy flak was seen although considerable light flak was encountered, only two aircraft received light damage, and all returned safely to base. The mission execution was something else. The briefing had called for bombings at 12.000 feet, the normal altitude for the Marauder. They had also been briefed that if the weather was bad, they could bomb as low as 1500 feet. The formations bombed between 2,000 and 6,000 feet depending on the height of the base clouds. The assigned targets were all well hit which was a tribute to the excellence of the combat crews and of the target material which had been provided for them." 

My dad's plane(s) were hit three times, but each time they made it back over the English Channel to crash land in England and return to the war with a repaired or new plane. There was a life expectancy for American B-17 and B-24 bomber crews of just 25 runs, at which point those surviving crews were sent back home to America. At the same time, B-26 bombers had a much higher survival rate and stayed in Europe until the end of the war. You can see in the one picture of his plane "Blazing Heat" with his name painted beneath the window, his plane and crew had 105 bombing runs completed when this picture was taken. He and his crew survived the war and helped liberate Europe my father logged 76 combat missions and on June 23, 1945, he was promoted to Major. His awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross which I still hold for him as well as the Air Medal with 12 Oak Leaf Clusters and the French Croix de Guerre (1939-1945). The latter was awarded in a ceremony in Washington by the assistant chief of the French Air Force, General Andre Hartemann.  As a kid, I often asked my dad what it was like in the war, but he wouldn't say much about it. It must have been hard losing so many other planes and friends from his squadron and having to bomb so many targets with civilians. He stayed in the Air Corps after the war, which became the US Air Force, and married my mother Gloria Moss from Detroit in 1947, they had two sons, my brother Kim and I.

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Greek American WW2 veteran and USAF Colonel, James Gianatsis in an official portrait. Gianatsis had a distinguished career while serving with the USAAF and USAF not only as a combat pilot over the Normandy beaches but also as a commanding officer in various units of the United States Air Force. (Jim Gianatsis Jr.) 
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Captain James Gianatsis and his crew of their B-26 "Blazing Heat" in 1944. Over 100 missions and counting! (Jim Gianatsis Jr.)
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Gianatsis and his B-26 41-31585 "Blazing Heat" AN-J in 1944, before the D-Day over France. The airplane sports some 57 mission markings at the time. The 386th involvement in D-Day was not a random decision, but a well-thought-out plan. Most Marauder groups were assigned to bombing enemy defensive concentrations on the beaches. The 386th was selected to be the last formation of bombers to bomb just before the first assault troops hit the beach. General (Omar) Bradley, who had studied bombing patterns and bombing accuracy for several months before the invasion, selected the groups. He made his selection based on the concentrated patterns and high record of accuracy maintained over months of bombing by the 386th. The bombs that were dropped targeted 12 supply dumps and depots, eight coastal guns, seven defended villages and troop concentrations, seven marshaling yards, five bridges, two headquarters, and two flying bombing sites. The supply dumps and depot were the easiest. The selection of each target had a specific purpose and each was tactical. Several of the guns were attacked with the infantry's push into Cherbourg and one was attacked after taking the port of Cherbourg when a group of diehard Nazis held out on the Northwest tip of the peninsula and were firing into the city while American troops were clearing the town. On this particular occasion the guns were firing away as the 386th dropped the bombs, said Spiers. It was one of the group's best strikes. More than 150,000 Allied troops made it onto the beaches that day and their success was due in part to the successful, extensive bombing attacks.  (Jim Gianatsis Jr further info by Robert Spiers, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing historian)
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The crew of "Blazing Heat" at Boxted, 1943. From left: J.A.Gianatsis (P), R.D. Lowe (CP) in his new flak suit, N.E. Offenhiser (N/B), C. James (E), R.J. Martin (R), F.B. Ellis (G). The photo was taken during the early development days in Europe, judging from the only five mission markings. (R. Conner via Jim Gianatsis Jr.)
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Lt. Gianatsis gives the "go ahead" or "OK" signal, probably to the ground crew before taking off with his bomber, "Blazing Heat" for his fifth mission during WW2. The Greek American pilot would fly a total of 76 combat missions earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his achievements. (Jim Gianatsis Jr.)
386th BG, 353rd BS B-26 Marauder 41-3 "BLAZING HEAT" was James Gianatsis's personal bomber which he flew from the United States to England and flew the majority of his missions with it. The bomber never betrayed him as he was lucky to escape hazardous situations not only in the combat missions he flew but also during his transatlantic flight. The bomber carries more than 70 bombing mission markings as well as the D-Day stripes. The 386th BG and her squadrons are famous for Operation Neptune where the group attacked 43 targets while its aircraft dropped 2,375 tons of bombs. The cost to the group was five aircraft lost and 195 of its planes battle damaged, however, not all bombings took place on D-Day. Two of the 386th's most challenging missions took place well after D-Day in St. Lo and Caen. They were two of the seven defended villages and troop concentrations and had to be bombed multiple times. Of the two cities, Caen was more difficult for the 386th. It was held by strong formations of Panzer units and its anti-aircraft defenses were concentrated and effective. The bombing in Caen is known as the greatest air blow of all time. It was bombed for over two hours at five-minute intervals. The Marauder was an important weapon in the war against the Axis powers. B-26 crews flew over 100,000 sorties and dropped approximately 150,000 tons of bombs, primarily against Nazi Germany. (Copyright Bertrand Brown aka Gaetan Marie, further info by Robert Spiers, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing historian)

My mother told me in her last years, they were stationed at Kessler AFB in Mississippi maybe in 1948. They rented a house on the Gulf Coast beach, and he would fly overhead, and they would wave at each other. Kessler was a Flying Training Base, and he would be stationed back there twice more in 1966 and they would retire and buy a house there, which is where I finished school with my brother. I was born Feb 1st, 1949, at Bowling Air Force Base in Washington DC which is where the President's plane is kept. My father completed the Electronics Officers Course in 1948, the Air Tactical School in 1950, and the Aid Command and Staff school in 1951.  Then in 1952 we were transferred to Germany and lived on 3 bases for 2 years - Rammstein, Munich, and Wiesbaden. My father was now in Air Traffic Control and his department handled air traffic over Europe, I'm not sure if it was just Military or Commercial as well, as the Military still controlled a lot of things after the War. In 1955 we were back in Washington DC again and he worked at the Pentagon in Air Traffic Control air, possibly USA or Global. In 1958 Col. Gianatsis graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College. In 1962 he graduated from the Air Force senior professional school, Air University War College in Maxwell AFB, and got to fly a C-47 and F-100 to keep his pilot's license current. In 1962 we were transferred to Clark AFB in the Philippine islands, where he served as a deputy commander of SEA Region AFCS and assistant deputy chief of staff of Communications and Electronics, for the 13th AF Operations. An amazing father he flew a transport plane to Tokyo in 1963 to get me my first motorcycle, a Honda 55 Sport Cub!
In 1964 we were transferred to Scott AFB Illinois where he worked in as a deputy commander in the MATS Military Air Transportation Service. And two years later we were back at Scott AFB Mississippi where he was deputy commander of the Electronics Training School there. We bought a house in the town of Biloxi there and our family settled there outside the base. From July 1968 to July 1969, he was sent to South Korea by himself for one year to manage a spy satellite station in Osan Korea, specifically the 2146th Communication Group, director of Communications – Electronics 314th Air Division, 5th Air Force, as deputy chief of staff Communications – Electronics for Air Force Korea, under the UN Command. Then around 1971 he returned to Keesler AFB and his family and was again Deputy Commander of the Electronics Training Center at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS until he took an early retirement in 1982 after 42 years of service. The next 7 years he spent his retirement building a 36-foot Trimaran sailboat in our backyard and enlarging the house with additional rooms and a 2-car garage. The sailboat was almost completed except for paint and finishing when he was diagnosed with Prostate cancer, and he died one year later at age 72. He got to watch his sailboat sail off into the sunset with a new owner, without his ever being able to sail it himself. I remember my Dad and Mom did go to Greece to visit his home village with his cousin for the first time, just after retirement. There were some people there that did remember his parents who immigrated to New York in 1919. In 2016 as a tribute to my father, and to learn more about what he did, I visited the Normandy beaches and the German targets my father took out with his bomber group some 70 years earlier.

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force:
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations1 have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
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Lt. Gianatsis inside the cockpit of "Blazing Heat" which carries a total of 27 mission markings at the time. (Jim Jianatsis Jr.)
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My first look ever at my great-grandparents and their family from a small village in Greece. Viki's grandfather is the son on the right, so my grandfather is one of the other 3 sons, possibly by looks, the youngest on the left. In the mid-1925 my grandfather Dimetri Gianatsis immigrated to America with his new wife and settled in New York City, working as a shoe cobbler. They had three children, Arthur, Liz, and James my father. James grew up and graduated from the University of New York with a degree in Engineering, entered the Army Air Force, and became a B-26 bomber pilot in WW2 liberating Europe, followed by a distinguished career as an officer in the USAF. (Jim Jianatsis Jr.)
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The three photos above show James Gianatsis B-26 Marauder "Blazing Heat" after he forced landed in n Great Dunmow, Essex, England because of the extensive combat damage received on the June 23, 1944, mission. The airplane balances on its nose and the damage on the bombardier's compartment is visible. In the center photo, Jim and his crew pose in front of their damaged bomber. (Jim Gianatsis Jr. and Roger Freeman Collection 7837 & 7784 via
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The 386th BG played a significant part by clearing the coastal defenses that enabled the seaborne invasion allowing soldiers and sailors to come ashore that day. (Robert Spiers, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing historian)
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Bomby atmosphere. The boys gathered around the 1,000-pound bombs at a 9th AF bomber base in England, are all from New York State. Left to right are: Cpt. James Gianatsis, Bronx, Sgt. Herbert Taub, Brooklyn, Sgt. Ken Kuznetzoff, Brooklyn, Sgt. Henry Hoppe, Syracuse, Lt. John Gietl, Buffalo, Sgt. Walter Milne, Staten Island, and Sgt. Ted Edelman, Yonkers. (Daily News Sunday 26/3/1944, p.p. 125)  
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Mid-way through the war, probably the winter of 1943-44 in England, with everyone dressed up warm. Temperatures in the plane could drop below freezing during a bombing mission. (Jim Gianatsis Jr.)

Meet the Author!


Jim Gianatsis Jr.


Producer, Advertising Director, Photographer at Gianatsis Design. Designer, Engineer, Professional Racer. Publisher of Calendars & Books -

Special thanks to Jim Gianatsis Jr. for writing this exceptional biography of his father and providing us with his archival material


1. Jim Gianatsis Jr. Archive.

2. The Story of the Crusaders: The 386th Bomb Group (M in World War II), ISBN:978-0962161711, Barnett B Young; 2nd edition (April 1, 1998)

3. The Pittsburg Press, Friday 20 August 1943 issue, p.p.2

4. Daily News, Sunday 26 March 1944 issue, p.p.125

5. Detroit Evening Times, Saturday 01 September 1945 issue, p.p.7

6. Sun Herald, Saturday 13 August 1966 issue, p.p.10  

7. Sun Herald, Saturday 25 July 1970 issue, p.p.1

8. Sun Herald, Wednesday 22 July 1970 issue, p.p.9