F8U CRUSADER PILOT
FIGHTING SQUADRON 53 (VF-53)
YANKEE STATION (VIETNAM)
Paul Skarlatos, Navy Captain, United States Naval Academy, Class of 1954, was born in Rochester, NY, USA, in 1930 to Nicholas Skarlatos and Ioanna (maiden name - Triandafilakos) Skarlatos. His father was born in the village of Grammousa, Greece and his mother was born in Filisi, Greece, both from Laconia district. Nicholas was a business partner of Ioanna’s first husband, George Andrew Lembaris. They all emigrated to the United States between 1917 and 1924, became naturalized American citizens, and Nicholas and George established a restaurant in Rochester, NY (the South Ave. Candy Kitchen – known for its homemade chocolates and ice cream). Ioanna married George in 1925, and they had two sons together, Andrew and George. When, George Lembaris Sr. died in 1927, Ioanna (known as Joan) married Nicholas Skarlatos. They produced four children: Paul, Spero, Mary, and Rose. When Paul was a child, he spent about a year at home, recovering from surgeries related to his leg. As a result, he became very studious, reading anything he could get his hands on, but especially loving military history , science, and literature. Once he recovered, he was especially passionate about sports, making up for lost time. Paul and his brothers also worked in their father’s restaurant business through their formative teenage years, which instilled in all of them a huge passion for ice cream (which has been passed down genetically to all of their children and grandchildren)! When Paul graduated from high school in 1948 he was accepted into the University of Michigan, and attended that school for two years, playing junior varsity football, and enrolling in the pre-medicine program. Because his family could not afford college tuition for his sister, Mary, Paul applied for and was accepted into the United States Naval Academy in 1950, so his sister could go to Ohio State University. He excelled at the Naval Academy, and became Company Commander of his regiment, an honor reserved for those with unique leadership qualities. While attending the Naval Academy he met Marguerite Ryan on a blind date, and they fell in love at first sight. He married her a year after graduating in 1954. They had three children together: Michael, Elizabeth, and Matthew. Paul Skarlatos was commissioned an Ensign upon his graduation from the Naval Academy in 1954. He received his designation as a Naval Aviator in November, 1955. He reported to Training Squadron ONE at Saufley Field Florida, in January 1956, where he served as an instructor. In April 1957, he reported to Fleet Air Weapons Training Unite Detachment BRAVO at Oceana Virginia, where he served as Flight Instructor. Afterwards he served with Attack Sqiadron 43 and later Fighter Squadron 74 aboard USS INTERPID as Administrative Officer from 1959 to 1961. He was then posted to U.S. Naval Academy as an Instructor in Naval Science until 1964 and during that year he returned to the Fleet, serving aboard USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) as Gunnery Officer. In 1964, Paul Skarlatos received a Masters Degree in Foreign Affairs from American University. His next assignment was as Operations Officer in Fighter Squadron 13. While with VF-13, he made two Mediterranean cruises on board USS SHANGRI-LA (CVA-38). He leveraged his fluency in Greek on one occasion while on a deployment in the Mediterranean, to the benefit of his squadron:
Submitted by a shipmate from the USS SHANGRI-LA: “One night while I was Assistant Air Operations Officer on the USS Shangri-LA (CVA 38), we were operating in the Ionian Sea. Araxos Airport in Greece was the divert field. Weather was not good when we launched the last cycle for the night, which included several F-8 Crusaders, but it quickly turned very bad. It was obvious that getting the airplanes back on board was going to be a problem. We did bring them down for a pass, but conditions were such that a decision to divert was quickly made. Unfortunately, by this time Araxos Airport concluded we had finished for the night, and turned off the lights at the airfield. The ship was unable to establish contact with them to have the lights turned back on. With no viable divert field available, things were becoming very tense very quickly. Paul Skarlatos, the leader of the flight, spoke fluent Greek and made contact with officials at Araxos, who turned the lights back on, but they could not bring their radar and navigation aids up quickly enough to help. Paul was able to find the field, where he landed and kept his airplane turning to provide automatic direction finder homing for the rest of the flight. All landed safely."
In August 1968, he reported to the Naval War College and was subsequently selected as a Distinguished Graduate of the School of Naval Command and Staff for the Academic Year 1968-1969. He received refresher training in the F-8 Crusader at Fighter Squadron 124 after which he reported to Fighter Squadron 53 as Executive Officer. He assumed command of Fighter Squadron 53 in July 1970, after the CO was killed in action, during a Vietnam deployment on the USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31). His next assignment was as Commander Naval Air Pacific Staff. Upon relocating to the East Coast in 1972, Paul Skarlatos was assigned to U.S. Navy Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS), where he was responsible for detailing assignments for Naval Officers. For his duties and actions during war he was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat ' V', the Navy Commendation Medal, the Air Medal and several campaign medals. Paul retired as a Navy Captain in 1978 and became a successful businessman in private industry working for companies such as TRW. He received a Masters Degree in Information Technology from American University after retiring from the Navy. He was a devoted and loving father and husband. He was predeceased by his wife, Marguerite, who died in 1992. Paul died in 2018 at 87, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, rejoining his beloved wife.
Captain Paul Skarlatos was one of the lucky US Navy pilots who flew the famous Crusader, The Last Gunfighter. He was of Greek heritage from Laconia district and he spoke Greek fluently. A highly experienced USN officer, he deployed many times aboard US Fleet Carriers and visited during his deployments Greece few times, participating in excerises with the Hellenic Air Force. (Elizabeth Skarlatos)
Paul Skarlatos flew F-8J Bu.No.150672 from USS Bon Homme Richard as the Commander of the Fighting 53 'Iron Angles' during his tour in Vietnam in 1970. The F-8 Crusader adopted by the U.S. Navy in 1957, this single-engine, 1,000-mph dogfighter downed 19 MiGs during the Vietnam War and was an accurate, deadly strafer. In his book MiG Master: The Story of the F-8 Crusader, historian Barrett Tillman elaborates: “Of the American aircraft which flew regularly over the north from 1965 on, only the F-8 could be called a true air-superiority fighter…. Interceptors and fighter-bombers can each successfully perform the [dogfighting] role, but not as well as an aircraft dedicated solely to that mission. This was the difference between the F-8 and every other American aircraft that operated over North Vietnam.” Tillman concludes, “Crusader pilots were fighter jocks, by God, with no ifs, ands or hyphens.” (Artwork Copyright by Gaetan Marie)
Paul Skarlatos during his Vietnam tour as XO and later CO of the Fighting Squadrom 53 /VF-53 (USN)
Paul Skarlatos during his graduation from the Naval Academy standing first from left (Elizabeth Skarlatos)
Captain Paul Skarlatos, Executive Officer and host extraordiary enjoys a chat and a light snack with guests from the NATO Defense College in Rome. (USN)
VF-53 group photo. The Greek American USN aviator can be seen standing second from the left (Elizabeth Skarlatos)
Paul Skarlatos briefs Italian Air Force Officer aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVA-42) during the Mediterranean Cruise in 1975. (USN)
Paul Skarlatos final resting place is at Arlington National Cemetery where he is buried along with his beloved wife Marguerite Ryan Skarlatos (Elizabeth Skarlatos)
William Day Commentary
(USN Plane Captain in VF-53)
"The thing I remember most about CDR Skarlatos was a friendly personality. I have had many COs in my 23 years in the Navy and he stands out as one of the best. He never acted above you and was always there with a smile. I do remember at a squadron party in one of the ports we stopped at, he was presented with a necklace. On the necklace was a metal cutout of a nuclear mushroom cloud. He had a big laugh out of it."
Paul Skarlatos in a striking unofficial pose, maybe while passing the Equator? (via William Day)
Paul Skarlatos in the USS Bon Homme Richard briefing room along with the fellow VF-53 pilot Lt.jg Cannon (via William Day)
According to William Day: "For a little background, this is a picture of one of the aircraft the skipper would have flown. That is me in the cockpit. I was a plane captain. CDR DEAN KAISER on the side of the aircraft was the commanding officer at the time. CDR Skaralatos was the executive officer. CDR Kaiser was lost on a flight from the Bon Home Richard to Cuba Point in the Philippines. CDR Skaralatos then took over as the CO." (via William Day)
Special thanking to General (HAF ret.) and former F-84F & F-4E fighter pilot, George Scarlatos for the heads up regarding Greek American USN pilot with the same surname as his. It must be noted that the Scarlatos family, worldwide came from Konstantinople. It was a noble Byzantine family originaly named Scarlati. After the fall of the Byzantine empire, the members of the family spread all over the world. Some moved to Laconia Greece, from which both Paul and George share the same heritage. Seems like the two Scarlatos aviators are relatives. Thanks you again General for broadening our orizons and for giving us a chance to learn more for anothe Greek in Foreign Cockpits.
1. Dimitris Vassilopoulos correspodence with Paul Scarlatos daughter, Elizabeth Scarlatos.
2. USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) Mediterranean Cruise Book 1975
3. USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) Cruise Book 1970
4. Have Gun, Will Dogfight - On its 60th anniversary, pilots remember the Vought F-8 Crusader. Eileen Bjorkman. Air & Space Magazine, October 2015