08 March, 2013

Profile 76: FINAL - "XR K" as flown by Steve Pisanos, 4th FG

Finished—the Spitfire Steve Pisanos flew after the Eagle Squadron transferred into the USAAF's 4th Fighter Group.  It's hard to believe that was over seventy years ago.

Read again.  Seventy years ago.

Of course, the world was different back then.  But when you talk to someone who was there, the decades between shuffle back and forth at lightning speed and suddenly, the distance in time seems insignificant.

Steve Pisanos is 93.  But you'd never know it.  At least, Steve will challenge preconceptions one might have of what a 93 year old is supposed to be like.

By any stretch, the man's life is amazing.  No, make that AMAZING.  Immigrant, fighter pilot, ace, fighter with the French resistance, test pilot... Steve Pisanos wrings 'life' out of time like I wring water out of a dishtowel!

Suffice it to state, when you ask Steve the question, "How did you accomplish so much?" you need to listen to the answer.   But his answer, at first, disappointed me.

"Determination," he said in his Greek-tinged accent.  "Determination, my friend."

Of course, I'd heard THAT before.  It was so pat, so hackneyed, it was white noise.  You can buy the word "determination" in any one of a hundred self-help books at Barnes and Noble.

"So what does that mean?  Tell me how it came about," I asked.

"I'll tell you how I came to America.  By freighter.  And I was on that ship working.  Shoveling coal into wheelbarrows (for the coal-fired engines).  And I knew nothing of English but I wanted to be a pilot.  And in Greece?  I was not going to be a pilot.  So I came to America."

Sensing there was more to the story, I asked him to flesh it out a bit more.

"Ok.  I found out we were going to Baltimore.  Baltimore?!  Where is that!?  I knew New York City, I knew Chicago was full of gangsters and everything west was Cowboys!  That's it!  So I wondered how I was going to get to New York City from Baltimore.  And you know what?"


"I learned the English to say, "Ticket. To. New York."


"See, I knew I had to take a train from Baltimore to New York.  So I learned the words:  Ticket. To. New York.  I must have practiced it a thousand times while shoveling coal.  Ticket. To. New York."

"That's all you knew?  Of English?"

"Yeah.  Basically.  That's it."

And I realized that he gave me a dynamic definition of what determination is.  If you want something, you need to be willing to shovel coal, land in the wrong town and learn a new language to take a train to where you wanted to go in the first place...in order to achieve it.

Determination, indeed.

Click here.

Though there's more to share here, it'll have to wait.  I don't want to keep Sweet Marlene waiting any longer.