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90-year-old retired fighter pilot to be awarded French Legion of Honor Medal today

SAN DIEGO - A 90-year-old retired fighter pilot from Rancho Bernardo will receive the French Legion of Honor Medal today for his service during World War II.

Col. Steven Pisanos is scheduled to receive the medal during a ceremony at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park, according to museum officials.

The medal, created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is the highest honor bestowed by the French government.

While returning from a bomber escort mission on May 5, 1944, during which he is credited with shooting down four enemy aircraft, Pisanos was forced to crash-land his P-51B Mustang aircraft near Le Havre, France, due to mechanical problems.

He was sheltered by the French resistance and aided in a number of sabotage missions in the months before Paris was liberated from the Germans in August 1944 and he was returned to his squadron in England.

In the early years of the war, Pisanos joined the famed Eagle Squadron, a group of volunteer American pilots fighting with the British Royal Air Force before the United States officially entered into the fray.

He was later commissioned as lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces attached to the 4th Fighter Group.

Pisanos was credited with shooting down 10 aircraft during the war, making him an ''ace.''

Pisanos was born in Athens, Greece, on Nov. 10, 1919. He came to the United States in 1938 as a crew member on a Greek merchant ship. He was granted U.S. citizenship while serving in England.

He is the recipient of a number of military decorations, including the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the French Croix de Guerre.

Pisanos, who wrote ''The Flying Greek,'' has also been inducted into the Hall of Fame San Diego Air & Space Museum, which houses a collection of items and displays on the Eagle Squadron.

 

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