P-38H LIGHTNING PILOT
9th Fighter Squadron / 49th Fighter Group
George Haniotis was born in 1920, the son of Konstantin Haniotis and Maria Peristeri in Okmulgee Oklahoma. Konstantin was from Smyrna in Asia Minor and first came to the United States in 1906. Speaking fluently Greek, English, French, and Italian he was immediately employed in the theater business and a few years later he opened his own, the Yale Theater in Okmulgee. He went back to Smyrna and married Maria in 1914 and after a honeymoon trip in Venice, the couple traveled to the United States. They were blessed with five children, two girls, and three sons, unfortunately, the first daughter passed away very early. World War 2 found all three brothers serving in the armed forces. George entered the Army Air Force and trained as a fighter pilot. He told his parents that he enlisted in order to fight for a good cause, God, and his country. He was a great character and obsessed with fitness. He was so passionate about his physical status that later, during his service in New Guinea, his fellow pilots called him "fitness freak". Just before he completed his flight training he married his sweetheart Mildred Ann Knuckle. Upon the successful completion of his training he was posted for operational training in a P-38 Lightning group, the 360th FG, and on 17 August 1943, he was posted for duty in South West Pacific. The place was Dobodura in New Guinea, those times called "the fighter pilot paradise", exactly like what RAF pilots called Malta during the difficult years of 1941-42. George actually entered the famous ACE RACE region, the theater of the war where the most notable USAAF aces in the Pacific raced for first place regarding the number of kills they succeeded. He was also lucky because he was posted to the famous 49th FG, and the 9th FS known as the "Knights", flying along with none other than Richard Bong and Gerald Johnson. In fact, he was placed as Bong's wingman, and judging from his aggressive attitude it was the best thing to happen to him. Soon George began flying escort missions and sweeps. On September 6, 1943, a few days after he arrived in Dobodura he damaged a Betty bomber. The Greek American pilot continued his missions and on October 16, 1943, he was credited with one kill, a Ki-43 which he and the rest of his squadron members misidentified as a Zeke. George used 150 rounds from his 0.50 machine gun and 20 rounds from his 20mm cannon to shoot down the Japanese Army Air Force fighter. In the next days, the "Knights" flew escort missions for the bombers which raided the Japanese stronghold in the South West Pacific, the Rabaul. He engaged in various dogfights shooting at enemy planes without seeing results, however, according to William Wolf's "The Fifth Fighter Command in WWII" he was credited with one damaged. Credited or not he did confirm many of Bong’s kills during these sorties. On November 5, 1943, it was Rabaul once more. George flew again on Bong’s wing. According to the ace statement:
"Lieut. HANIOTIS was flying my wing when we went over Rabaul escorting B-24s on a strike. We saw two Zeros, and dove' to attack. He left me for a couple of minutes then rejoined me. I tangled with another Zero at about 12:30, and he was with me then. In the ensuing engagement, I lost him again. He probably left to shoot at one on one side of me, but I didn't see him again. As I was just leaving the area, about two (2) miles from Tobera strip, someone called me on the radio and asked if I had left the area yet. He called twice and I answered both times, but apparently, he didn't hear me. I believe, from the sound of his voice, that it was Lt. Haniotis who called. He called at about 12:40/L, and since then there has been no news of him."
Without knowing if he was hit by enemy fire or experienced a catastrophic failure in one or both of his engines Haniotis managed to extract himself from the doomed Lightning and parachuted to safety. He was later seen by his comrades on board his life raft waving his arms. His Commander and friend, the great ace Stanley Johnson in his biography, written by the expert on ACE RACE and writer of the same title book, John Bruning speaks about his agony in flying search and rescue missions to find George. And although he and the rest of his flight managed to find him again and actually guide a rescue boat in his position, George was lost forever, the boat never finds the raft and a few days later it was found empty. Johnson in a letter to his wife Mildred wrote, "he was a great chap and valuable pilot, and couldn’t be replaced." It is said that Bong was devastated by the fact that George was the third wingman he lost in a short period of time and he wanted to fly alone in the missions that followed. Mildred didn’t believe that George was lost. She entered the USN Women's Reserve specifically the WAVES (Women Accepted For Volunteer Emergency Service) because she heard that they were going to serve in New Guinea, hoping to find her husband, however, WAVES was never employed in the region. She lost her hopes on December 1945 when George Haniotis was declared officially KIA. George was awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart. Mildred never married again and honored him by raising the American flag every morning for the rest of her life. She passed away on December 14, 2020, but every day she always "hear" inside her George, singing to her while boarding the plane for New Guinea: "I’ll see you again when springs break through".... they were finally together again.
Further details can be found in Volume C of 'GREEKS IN FOREIGN COCKPITS'