B-17G TAIL GUNNER
332th Bomber Squadron /94th Bombardment Group
Stamatakos's official USAAF cadet photo, during his basic flying training as a pilot. The "Greek" was one of those unlucky young men who were rejected from the flying training not because of their inabilities but because the system couldn't bear the huge number of cadets. That's why many of them were sent for other flying duties as navigators, bombardiers, and gunners. Those who had at least two years of college studies were preferred for the pilot training and if failed for navigators and bombardiers. All the others were preferred for the engineer and gunner duty. However, that didn't forbid them to take heroic actions which in many cases led to the bomber safely returning to its base, like the one the Greek American pilot did. (Louis Stamatakos)
Louis Stamatakos was a member of James, Donald R. Crew of the 332nd Bomb Squadron. The crew consisted of the following men. Front row left to right - Richard A. Rainoldi , Donald R. James (P), Albert T. Kopert (CP). Back row, left to right - Joseph (NMI) Williams Jr. (E), Billy M. Patrick (TOG), Saul (NMI) Minkoff (R), Louis C. Stamatakos (TG), William O. Basch (BT), John J. Martin (MN).
Born to Greek immigrants from Sparta, Lou was the second of four children. Lou was raised in Dayton, Ohio during the Great Depression. Much of his boyhood was spent getting into mischief and having fun with his older brother, Straty, and his many cousins who affectionately called him "Big Louie." Big Louie's strong arm and athleticism made him the obvious choice for quarterback and pitcher in both sandlot and organized games, and his humor, optimism, and relaxed and engaging ways made him a natural leader. When he was not playing sports, he was participating in Boy Scouts or making airplanes from balsa wood. In the 1930's, Dayton was a national aviation center and Lou daydreamed about flying the planes that roared over his neighborhood. In 1943, at 17, Lou volunteered for the Army Air Force. Lou survived 31 missions over Nazi Germany as a tail gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress and recorded one "kill." During 2009 George Chalkiadopoulos, founding member of the Greeks in Foreign Cockpits team, exchanged emails with Louis Stamatakos who wrote about his story in a few words.
"I was raised in Dayton, Ohio during the Great Depression years by parents who both had immigrated from Krokea, south of Sparta. I had two brothers and a sister. During the war, all males aged 18 and over were eligible to be drafted into the military service. I was crazy about flying and, not surprisingly, enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a cadet (I wanted to be a pilot. I entered the Air Corps as soon as I turned 18 and had basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi. Having all too many young men in the cadet program, the military sent me to Gunnery School in Las Vegas, Nevada where I learned gunnery with 50 caliber machine guns and aircraft turrets (found on bombers). Later I was sent to overseas training where I joined nine other men as members of a flying crew in B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. Subsequently, we shipped over to England on the Queen Mary and became members of the 94th Bomb Group, 332nd Bomb Squadron, of the 8th Air Force. We were located in East Anglia near the North Sea. From this base, we bombed Germany, and parts of Belgium, attacking oil refineries, manufacturing plants, rail centers, bridges, and other targets deemed important by high command. If we completed 35 missions we were eligible to return to the United States. I finished 31 missions and was judged as having completed my tour of duty. Most missions were flown at 22,000 feet altitude and above 30,000 feet and usually lasted 6 to 8 hours in duration. Aside from German fighters and anti-aircraft being our major enemy, the bitter cold made life in the air miserable. We were fortunate in having North American P-51s as escorts and they did an outstanding job in protecting us from enemy fighters, mostly Messerschmitt 109s, Focke Wulf 190s, and Messerschmitt 262s jet fighters. I was credited with having shot down one ME 109 on our 15th mission.
Fortunately, none of our crew was killed although some did suffer injuries. One waist gunner was pulled off duty because of "combat fatigue" and replaced by a fine gunner from California. I attended Armory Classes when we were not flying and was promoted to Staff Sergeant. I returned to the United States in a 36-ship convoy and midway across the Atlantic the war in Europe came to an end. After 1 31 day furlough at home, I was sent to West Texas to Goodfellow Field where I served as a Sergeant of the Guard Squadron until November 1945, when I was discharged from the service and returned to Dayton, Ohio. I was decorated a number of times, receiving the Air Medal and five Oak Leaf Clusters, the World War Victory Medal, the American Theater of Operations Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Victory Medal, and a Presidential Citation with one cluster. Subsequent to discharge, I went to college on the GI Bill of Rights and received a BS degree from Indiana University in English, Speech, and Drama in 1950, and a Masters Degree in Counseling the following year. Three years later I returned to Indiana University and earned a doctoral degree in Counseling, Higher Education Administration, Management, and Psychology. I spent my entire professional life in American Higher Education, serving as a Dean of Men, Dean of Students, and Professor of Higher Education at five colleges and universities. In 1992 I retired from Michigan State University as a Professor Emeritus. In 1952 I married Bess Makris of South Bend, Indiana. We have three sons, all married, and have six grandchildren."
What Lou didn’t know at the time George Chalkiadopoulos interviewed him was that his colleagues along with his sons applied to the United States Air Force in order for the Greek American veteran, to be awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action when, after a bombing run, he straddled an open bomb bay door at 23,000 feet over Germany and repeatedly swung a fire axe to dislodge two bombs that had become hung up in the plane. His actions saved the bomber's crew. In fact, his fellow soldiers recommended him for the Silver Star back in 1945, but the recommendation got lost in the shuffle of the military’s bureaucracy. He remembered:
The B-17G-90-BO 43-38662 was the bomber in which Louis Stamatakos managed to free the two hanging bombs on the Flying Fortress bomb bay and won the Silver Star medal for his actions many years after WW2 ended. The bomber delivered in Cheyenne on 30/8/44 passed to Lincoln on 4/9/44 and later to Grenier on 18/9/44 for its transatlantic flight to England. It was assigned to the 332nd BS / 94th BG based at Rougham on 19/9/44. It was lost in Oranienburg on 15/3/45 with Bill Thorndyke's crew (MACR 13028). What is interesting though are its colors. In December 1944, a red chevron was painted on the right wing's upper surface and the left's under surface. The apex of the chevron was at the wing leading edge, with the two arms 36 or 48in wide. Positioned opposite the aileron, the Square A marking was removed from the upper right surface prior to painting the chevron. In January 1945 the 94th Bomb Group experimented with a new 4th Combat Wing marking, and when this was approved all the Group’s aircraft were painted during the first weeks of February. Wing tips and all the tail surfaces were painted yellow. The Square A was retained on the tail and the tail number was either reinstated on the tail and the tail number was either reinstated or painted round [the latter was done for “F” of the 331st]. The call letter was also reinstated on the yellow fin in black. Around the rear fuselage, encompassing the access door, a 36-inch wide red stripe was painted to identify the Group within the 4th CBW. When these markings were introduced so were squadron colors. The front of each cowling, approximately 24in back, was painted dark blue for the 331st, red for the 332nd, bright green for the 333rd, and yellow for the 410th. SD110 squadron codes were gradually removed from fuselages and not painted on replacements, but fuselage call letters were retained. (Copyright Gaetan Marie, further info by Roger Freeman)
A color photo of Louis Stamatakos during his WW2 years.
Louis Stamatakos graduated from Fairview High School in 1943. He entered the U.S. Army Corps Cadet program in that year and served as a Tail Gunner and Armorer in B -17 Flying Fortresses, Eighth Air Corps, Great Britain, flying 30 missions over Europe. He was awarded the following medals: Silver Star (Awarded Silver Star for Feb 28, 1945 gallantry in successfully dislodging bombs at his own peril on a raid to Kassel), Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, European Theatre of Operations with three battle Stars, American Theatre of Operations, and the Victory, and Good Conduct medals. (unknown, further info from https://www.americanairmuseum.com/)
44-83494 was a Douglas-built B-17G-85-DL assigned to the 94th Bomb Group, 332nd Bomb Squadron. She is seen here at Chalgrove with P-51 Mustangs in the background but without her chin and belly turrets. She survived the war and was not written off the books until April 1949 after a forced landing. (Robert Astrella of the 7th PRG via https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/)
"On Feb. 28, 1945, there was a breakdown of equipment on the homeward leg. Two of the 250-pound bombs failed to drop. One was hanging by a single shackle. The second by two shackles. Everyone on the plane was in panic mode. Someone called out, "Get the Greek! Get the Greek! He went to armament school!" they shouted. I didn’t know anything about bombs, I crawled forward and saw the guy in the bomb bay, wind screaming throughout the plane. One bomb was hanging on a shackle, the nose swung down but the tail stayed in place. My God, it was a sickening sight."
Stamatakos took off his parachute, for better leverage, and lowered himself cautiously into the bomb bay. He straddled the bay, which was open, the two bombs at his feet. He had a hatchet handle in one hand and was clinging to a leather grip with the other. He said some of the crew members were praying.
"I had to walk on a catwalk, one foot in front of the other, grab hold of a strap hanging from the ceiling, swing my right leg out the side of the plane, so I could pin my foot in one of the rims of the plane to give me stability so I wouldn’t slide off. I looked down and knew that if the bombs were accidentally struck or detonated in any way it would most likely take out our plane right there. I was so cold and the blast was coming in on us. As I looked down all I could see were two big old bombs and 20,000 feet of German sky. It was intimidating, but at times like that, you don’t think about what to do. You just do it."
He used the hatchet handle and nudged the first live bomb from its shackle. He swung at the shackle trying to free the swinging bomb, which had been defused by rushing air spinning a propeller on the bomb’s nose that armed the device. The first bomb fell and he worked about 10 minutes before freeing the second, saving the plane and the men on it.
"I walked around with a bottle filled with oxygen. At that altitude, you’d be dead within two minutes without it. I took a leap, a prayer in my mind, and beat the hell out of the shackle with the axe. Guys were staring at me, paralyzed in fear. I climbed back up and into the tail section of the plane, and I was, well, I was shaking all over. I couldn’t stop, the adrenaline was pumping. I was facing death all that time and it all comes to reality once you survive. I can’t explain the feeling. But it was like being at death’s door, and turning around and walking away. Oh, what a time that was. When we got back to their base everyone got out of the plane and kissed the ground. I removed the guns and took them to the gun room."
The Silver Star citation reads
"The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Staff Sergeant Louis C. Stamatakos, United States Army Air Forces, for gallantry in action on 28 February 1945, while serving as a crew member of a B-17 Heavy Bomber, 332d Bombardment Squadron, 94th Bombardment Group (Heavy), EIGHTH Air Force, in support of combat operations in Kassel, Germany. While participating in an aerial mission, Staff Sergeant Stamatakos risked his life by attempting to free an armed bomb caught in the bomb bay doors. Unable to land without detonating the bomb, he struck the unexploded munitions repeatedly with a fire axe to dislodge it. After several attempts, Staff Sergeant Stamatakos was able to free the bomb, allowing his crewmembers to return safely to England. Staff Sergeant Stamatakos' bravery in action is in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."
In 1992, radio operator Saul Minkoff, of Port Orange, Fla., asked Stamatakos at a reunion if he ever got the Silver Star. "Say, Greek, ever get the Silver Star?" he asked. "For what?" Minkoff told him. Stamatakos replied, "Forget it. It’s 50 years later, we’re home, we’re alive, and that’s all that counts." After Stamatakos wrote his memoirs about World War II, his sons Philip, Timothy, and Ted campaigned to get him the Silver Star — once again, unbeknown to him. On Christmas Eve 2009, Stamatakos received a letter from the U.S. Army. "I looked at it. The Army? What the hell do they want? I’m 84", he said. "It was an official notification that I was awarded the Silver Star. You can’t imagine how I felt. I was in a state of shock, a state of awe, I couldn’t cope with it. How could this happen? I called Tim, (who) burst out laughing. The secret was out. We talked for a while. I was beside myself.” When asked why he pulled such a brave yet foolhardy stunt, Stamatakos has no easy answer. "The only answer one can give is: because you had to. I think that characterizes that generation; they had what they had to do, they sacrificed during the Great Depression, (during World War II) ... but they did it without crying and whining and looking to the government for a handout."
After the war, Lou attended the University of Dayton (where he played football) and transferred to Indiana University (where he threw javelin, discus, and shot put). He thrived in the classroom and earned bachelor's, master's, and EdD degrees from IU. At IU, Lou met his wife of 58 years, Bess Makris, a bright, vivacious, and attractive "coed" from South Bend. They married in 1952. She was the love of his life and his indefatigable partner. Together, they raised three sons in a joyful and loving household marked by unity, music, deep intellectual curiosity, and often dynamic, lively, and loud discourse on any topic worthy of discussion or argument. Lou served as Dean of Students and Dean of Men at four universities. In 1967, Lou accepted a position as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Michigan State University. He became Professor in 1970 and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1992. During his 42 years in the profession, Lou received more than 20 awards for leadership, scholarship, and service in higher education, but his students will remember him most for his friendship and lifelong guidance as a mentor. He passed away on January 25, 2011. His legacy passed to his sons Philip, Theodore, and Timothy, and their families. His actions and bravery will never fade, a true Spartan after all.
LOUIS STAMATAKOS COMBAT MISSIONS
|BOMBER TYPE||BOMBER |
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||26/11/1944||725||#42-102523 / QE-H||Hamm, Germany|
|2||30/11/1944||B-17G-45-DL||#44-6150 / XM-L|
|3||06/12/1944||B-17G-55-BO||#42-102694 / XM-K|
'Athenian Avenger II'
|4||15/12/1944||B-17G-75-BO||#43-37960 / QE-Z|
'Going My Way!'
|5||18/12/1944||B-17G-45-DL||#44-6150 / XM-L|
|6||23/12/1944||B-17G-30-DL||#42-38125 / XM-P||Kaiserslautern, Germany|
|7||24/12/1944||B-17G-95-BO||#43-38714 / TS-G||Babenhausen, Germany|
|8||30/12/1944||B-17G-20-VE||#42-97593 / XM-J|
|9||02/01/1945||B-17G-55-BO||"#42-102583 / XM-C|
|10||05/01/1945||B-17G-45-BO||#42-97358 / XM-D|
|11||06/01/1945||B-17G-95-BO||#43-38830 / XM-F||Kaiserslautern, Germany|
|12||07/01/1945||B-17G-65-BO||#43-37637 / XM-U||Hamm, Germany|
|13||16/01/1945||B-17G-95-BO||#43-38785 / TS-J||Plauen, Germany|
|14||18/01/1945||B-17G-55-DL||#44-6617 / XM-S|
'Agony Wagon' aka 'Southern Comfort' aka 'Whiskey Wagon'
|15||01/02/1945||B-17G-65-BO||#43-37637 / XM-U||Krefeld, Germany|
|16||09/02/1945||B-17G-65-BO||#43-37637 / XM-U||Weimar, Germany|
|17||14/02/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Bamberg, Germany|
|18||15/02/1945||B-17G-95-BO||#43-38798 / XM-M||Cottbus, Germany|
|19||17/02/1945||B-17G-55-BO||#42-102583 / XM-C|
|20||19/02/1945||B-17G-55-BO||#42-102694 / XM-K|
'Athenian Avenger II'
|21||27/02/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Leipzig, Germany|
|22||28/02/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Kassel, Germany|
|23||01/03/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Ulm, Germany|
|24||02/03/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Dresden, Germany|
|25||07/03/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Castrop-Rauxel, Germany|
|26||10/03/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Dortmund, Germany|
|27||12/03/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Marburg, Germany|
|28||14/03/1945||B-17G-90-BO||#43-38662 / XM-B||Nienhagen, Germany|
|29||17/03/1945||B-17G-95-BO||#43-38834 / XM-N|
'Frenesi II' aka 'Tutorwolf'
|30||21/03/1945||B-17G-55-DL||#44-6617 / XM-S|
'Agony Wagon' aka 'Southern Comfort' aka 'Whiskey Wagon'
Personal Correspondence of George Chalkiadopoulos with Louis Stamatakos
94th Bomb Group Archives from AFHRA (Air Force History Research Agency)
94th Mission Load Lists (Air Force History Research Agency)
Special Thanks to:
Tammy T. Horton, Civ. USAF AFHRA/RSR
Donald Mounts researcher and owner of Global Military Research, LLC.
Roger Watts, 94th Bomb Group researcher