389th TACTICAL FIGHTER SQUADRON
DA NANG, VIETNAM
Colonel George Jatras was born in Clairton, Pennsylvania on March 29, 1931. His parents were both from Lakonia, with his father Agisilaos Iatreidis from (to the best of Jatras’s knowledge) from Melitini (also called Zelina) and his mother Coula (Poulikakou) originally from Mani but having grown up in Stefania. Jatras’s wife of 60 years, Stella (Stavroula), who died in 2013, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, to parents from the same region: Louis (Leonidas) Katsetos from Krokee’ (also called Levetsova) and Marini (Sakellariou) from Tarapsa (also called Vasilakion). After graduating from Anderson High School, Indiana in June 1948, Jatras attended Ball State Teacher’s College, Muncie, Indiana; the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland; and graduated from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana in May 1954 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics and a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He also holds a Master of Science Degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California and is a graduate of the USAF Squadron Officer School and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Jatras began his active duty service in February 1955 when he reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas for preflight training and then Marana Air Base, Arizona to undergo primary pilot training. Basic pilot training followed at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas and in April 1956 he was awarded his wings. In September 1956, following advanced interceptor training, Jatras began his first operational assignment with the 2nd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Suffolk County Air Force Base, Long Island, New York. While there he served as a pilot and instructor pilot in F-86D, F-102A, F-101B/F, and T-33A aircraft. During 1959 he had a rare “engagement” with the Canadian cold war super fighter, the Avro Arrow. In 2017 he recalled that incident expressing his admiration for the canceled fighter.
"In 1959, I was stationed at Suffolk County AFB on Long Island with the 2nd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. We had an informal exchange program with a Canadian fighter squadron stationed near Montreal. From time to time, two or four aircraft from one of the squadrons would fly to the other’s base on a weekend cross country. On one such exchange, I was #3 in a four-ship formation led by [former Tuskegee airman] Ernie Craigwell (I don’t recall who the other pilots were). As we entered Canadian airspace, cruising at about 40,000 ft., we spotted a contrail well above our altitude (probably at 50,000ft.) and closing very fast. As the other aircraft appeared to be passing by, we could clearly see the delta-shaped wing and knew it was the Avro Arrow that the Canadian pilots had told us about. Then, instead of just passing by, he rolled in on us! Ernie called for a break and we split into elements. When we talked about the encounter afterward we all agreed that our first thought was, “This guy is in for a surprise; he doesn’t know that he’s taking on the F-102.” Well, we were the ones in for a surprise. Even with two elements covering each other, not one of us could get on his tail. His power and manoeuvrability were awesome. After he had played with us for a few minutes, like a cat with four mice, he zoomed back up to about 50K and went on his way. What an aircraft! What a shame that it never went into production."
Above: George Jatras smiles for the camera in Da Nang airbase having as background the kill markings achieved by his Wing. At Da Nang AB, after a brief assignment to Phan Rang AB, the 366th TFW under Col Allan Rankin ran three F-4C units, which focussed on in-country close support but also shared the escort missions over North Vietnam, where they destroyed 17 MiGs, four of them with the SUU-16/A gun-pod! In the second photo the Greek American pilot pose along with a typical Greek moustage! George Jatras flew 230 combat missions in the F-4 out of DaNang (65 missions over the North until Johnson stopped the bombing). His last mission was close air support, with 500lb hi-drags and 20mm, on Hamburger Hill. (George Yatras Archive)
389th TFS Pilots and WSOs pose in a group photo. Although difficult to be seen, Jatras pose in the middle of the top row, smilling with his Greek style moustage. He probably saved it later, judjing from the left top photo. In the early days at Da Nang, pilots were frustrated that they were missing opportunities to shoot down enemy MiGs because the F-4C lacked a cannon and its missiles were ineffective at short ranges. So wing maintainers and aircrews modified the mounting of an external 20-millimeter Gatling gun pod on the F-4Cs used for ground attack for use in air-to-air combat, and in less than a month, starting on May 14, 1967, the wing’s pilots had scored four MiG kills. The gun pod innovation and the MiG kills that followed earned the wing the nickname it carries today, the "Gunfighters". During this period, the wing earned a Presidential Unit Citation for shooting down 11 enemy aircraft in a six-week period and other combat actions. (George Yatras Archive, further info by Peter Davies)
The F-4C above is a typical example of those flown by George Jatras during his Vietnam tour, carrying a full load of Sidewinders and Sparrows along with the latest SUU-23/A gun pod. Although the gun-armed F-4E Phantom II variant had been suggested by TAC as early as October 1963, technical difficulties prevented the E-model from entering squadron service until October 1967. As an interim measure, some F-4Cs received the General Electric SUU-16/A gun pod from May 1967. The first examples went to the 366th TFW. Using the same basic M61 Gatling cannon as the F-104 and F-105, the SUU-16/A was powered by a pop-out ram-air turbine which officially limited its use to airspeeds below 350 knots. It held 1200 rounds in a link-less feed mechanism, and was replaced on the F-4D Phantom II by the SUU-23/A model, which was powered by gun gas. The pod weighed over 1700 lbs, and was normally attached to the centreline pylon, although F-4s could also carry two on their underwing pylons for strafing. Firing it from the short centreline pylon caused a certain amount of inaccuracy since the pod vibrated, spreading the stream of shells more widely than a fixed, internal gun. Pilots also had to allow for the slight downward angle of the pod when firing it. (Copyright Tom Cooper, further info by Peter Davies)
He was next assigned to the 525th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Bitburg Air Base, the Federal Republic of Germany. From May 1962 to June 1965 he served as a pilot, instructor pilot, and flight commander. Jatras return to the United States and the 87th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio with duty as Training Flight Commander. During this tour, he attended the Intercept Weapons Instructor School at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Jatras entered F-4 combat crew training in November 1968 at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. Upon completion of the combat training course, he was assigned to the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Da Nang Air Base, the Republic of Vietnam. During the period of July 1968 to June 1969, he served as Assistant Operations Officer and flew 235 combat missions and logged over 300 combat hours. Serving a consecutive overseas tour, Jatras was again assigned to Bitburg Air Base, initially as Assistant Operations Officer of the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, and later as Wing Scheduling Officer for the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. His next duty, from July 1971 to June 1973, was with the Air Force Section, Joint United States Military Advisory Group, Athens Greece as an Air Offense/Defense Operations Officer. He subsequently was named as the Air Force Section Deputy for Operations, serving with Colonel Steve Pisanos. While in Greece he was attached as an operational ready pilot with the 342nd All-Weather Squadron of the Royal Hellenic Air Force at Tanagra Air Base where he helped the 342nd develop an Air Combat Tactics Program. (During his time assigned in Greece, Jatras made no secret of his dislike for the military junta then in power. Jatras and his family maintained a close relationship with Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, the caretaker prime minister ousted by the April 21, 1967, coup, who was Jatras’s uncle by marriage, with Kanellopoulos wife Nitsa the sister of Jatras’s mother.) Jatras returned to the United States and was assigned as the Senior Air Force Advisor to the 147th Fighter-Interceptor Group, Texas Air National Guard, Ellington Air Force Base, Texas. In March 1976 he transferred to the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama where he served as Director of Student Operations and Director of Curriculum at the Squadron Officer School (SOS). He was promoted to the rank of colonel effective May 1, 1976, with a date of rank of May 20, 1975, He remained at SOS until April 1978 when he was assigned to Washington, DC to begin training for an attaché assignment to the Soviet Union. Following two years as the Senior USAF Defense Attaché assigned to the US Embassy in Moscow, Colonel Jatras returned to the United States where he served as Senior Air Force Advisor to the President of the Naval War College and Instructor in the War College Strategy Department in Newport, Rhode Island. Colonel Jatras retired from the United States Air Force effective 1 January 1984. His military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and the Air Medal with 15 oak leaf clusters. He is a command pilot with nearly 5,000 flying hours.
The photos above are from Jatras earlier service in 525th FS in Suffolk AFB while flying Air Defence Command missions over Continental US, flying with Convair F-102 Delta Daggers. Prior to their delivery Jatras flew with the McDonnel Douglas F-101B interceptors and a typical readiness and scramble described in the Newspaper Star Gazette, on November 5, 1961:
"Capt. Jatras, from Harrisburg, Pa., came on duty at Long Island's Suffolk AFB at 9 a.m. This day he was senior pilot of two two-man crews and two airplanes on five-minute alert. His radar observer was Lt. John Idone, 26, of Brooklyn. First, Jatras ran through a pre- flight inspection of his F101B. Then he strapped himself into the cockpit and set the switches until all that was needed to activate the jet engine was a touch of the starter. By radio to a control room, he reported himself and plane ready. Then he unstrapped himself and climbed down from the plane. With Jatras and Idone on five- minute alert were Lt. Norman B. Alter, 26. of Mamaroneck, N.Y., pilot, and Capt. John H. Wimberly, 29, of Marianna, Fla. Their status lasted 24 hours, during which time they were not allowed to leave the heavily guarded alert hangar area. They spent most of the time in the pine-paneled alert room, playing cards, watching television, listening to hi-fi records, talking shop with infrequent visitors or drinking coffee. Meals were prepared by a special cook. The word to ‘'scramble” comes to Suffolk AFB alert room from the "Hot Room.” the combat alert center about 100 yards away in 2nd Squadron headquarters. The Hot "Room" is in communication with the New York Air Defense Sector (NYAD) at McGuire AFB. A few nights before, Jatras and Capt. John E. Mason. 30. of Hay City. Mich., were scrambled for an unknown. They spotted the intruder on their radar. Mason hung his plane high to the side, ready for attack. Jatraa slid in behind to make the identification. It turned out to be a commercial airliner. BO miles off course. "The pilot probably didn’t even know he was being inspected.” said Jatras. "We do it quietly. We don’t want to shake up the passengers"."
Above Left: George Jatras Μedals and USAF Silver Wings. The Bronze Oak Leaf cluster indicates another medal awarded and a Silver Oak Leaf Cluster indicates five additional medals. Top Row Left to Right): Defense Superior Service Medal – Legion of Merit w/1 Oak Leaf Cluster – Distinguised Flying Cross – Meritorious Service Medal w/1 Oak Leaf Cluster - Air Medal w/15 Oak Leaf Clusters – Air Force Combat Readiness Medal w/3 Oak Leaf Clusters – Good Conduct Medal. Bottom Row (Left to Right): National Defense Service Medal w/1 Oak Leaf Cluster – Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal – Vietnam Service Medal w/4 Bronze Service Stars – United States Navy Expert Pistol Shot – Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/device – Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (George Jatras Archive)
Having a Greek heritage, being an ex Deuce experienced pilot and combat experienced in Vietnam flying gun pod F-4s, George Jatras was a natural choice for service in Greece. He was responsible for HAF modernization and acquisition of a new fighter (a task successfully completed with the aid of the great Greek American Ace, Steve Pisanos and the F-4E procurement by HAF). However, when he realized that Greece operated a handful number of F-102A and TF-102s he requested to fly with the 342 Squadron. He was given permission and he often flew with HAF Delta Daggers emphasizing on how to train the Greek pilots to use the delta wing interceptor as a fighter, teaching them BFM. Judging from the 342 Squadron record during the Cyprus crisis in 1974 and the engagements with THK fighters he succeeded in it. After his service in Greece ended, the 342 Squadron as recognition for his training services gave him the Squadron insignia with his name written above it. (Tom Cooper & George Jatras Archive)
Right: George Jatras along with his wife Stella Jatras, a truly remarkable woman. Stella Louis Jatras (nee Katsetos) from Camp Hill, PA, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, as the fourth and youngest daughter of Louis (Leonidas) and Marina Katsetos, originally of Sparta, Greece, and later of Harrisburg and Carlisle. Stella was quite literally a daughter of Sparta - and her father's name was Leonidas, no less. As Julia Gorin noted, she was Sparta, truly worthy of that heroic heritage. Axia! In addition to the U.S. Department of State, her professional work included service with the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and the Veterans Administration. In 1953, she married George Jatras, also the offspring of Greek immigrant parents, and began a long and varied life as the wife of a career U.S. Air Force Officer. As a career military officer's wife, Stella traveled widely and lived in several foreign countries where she not only learned about other cultures but became very knowledgeable regarding world affairs and world politics. She lived in Moscow for two years, where she worked in the Political Section of the U.S. Embassy. She also lived in Germany, Greece, and Saudi Arabia. Her travels took her to over twenty countries. Stella Jatras was a woman of intelligence, knowledge, class, and dignity. She was also a kind and thoughtful human being and a tireless advocate for the truth. To say that she was a great friend of the Serbs is an understatement. I can only hope that she knew how much she was appreciated. Prior to the civil war in Bosnia (1992-95), Stella’s primary interest in foreign affairs centered on the Soviet Union and the issues of the Cold War. She and her husband lectured on their experiences in the Soviet Union at the Naval War College, the Air Force Command and Staff College, and to many military and civic groups. With the breakout of the war in Bosnia, Stella was appalled by the bias of the Western media, especially in the United States, and began her efforts to present to the American people a more accurate view of that tragic situation. She later expanded her commentaries to numerous foreign and domestic issues, with her letters and articles published in the Patriot-News, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, the Arizona Republic, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as a number of magazines and periodicals. In addition, her writings have had worldwide distribution via the Internet. For the past two decades, even as many Serbs stayed silent in the face of a bigoted campaign of lies and libel, Stella and her family took a courageous stand for truth and justice, never wavering, never losing faith. Stella’s efforts to set out the real story of the Balkans wars (Bosnia and Kosovo) were warmly appreciated by the Serbian community, where she is particularly well known. In September 1998, a luncheon was given in her honor in Washington, D.C., by the Serbian community of the National Capital Area. In June 1999, Mrs. Jatras was the main speaker at the 54th Annual Serbian Day Celebration of Canadian Serbs in Niagara Falls, Canada. In February 2004 she was presented with a "Gramata" (formal certificate) by the Serbian Orthodox Church. She passed away on 15 June 2013 at her 81st year.
Special Thanks to Kirk Paloulian.
1. Dimitris Vassilopoulos correspondence with Col. George Jatras USAF ret. and his son Jim Jatras.
2. Combat Aircraft 45, USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965-68, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, ISBN: 978 178 2006 961
3. F-102A Delta Dagger in Greek service, Kirk Paloulian, HAF Yearbook 2007/A, Special Projects, ISSN 977 1790 4100 41