Profiles of Valor: WWII Vet Louis Stamatakos

On Feb. 28, 1945, Louis Stamatakos saved a B17 Flying Fortress crew from sure disaster in the skies over Germany. The 19-year-old from Dayton, Ohio, was trained as a tail gunner and survived 31 missions over Europe with the 8th Air Force, which flew out of England. While bombing railroad yards in Kassel, Germany, on his 23rd mission, two 250-pound bombs failed to drop. One was stuck by a single shackle and the other by both shackles. “Everyone went crazy when they heard that,” Stamatakos said, “and then somebody said, ‘Hey, get the Greek, he’s been going to armament school.’ I took a look and said, ‘Well, maybe I can break them loose.'”

Break them loose he did — with a short-handled fire ax. The wind had spun a small propeller on the nose of one bomb, which armed it and meant one false move would detonate it. At 20,000 feet and 20 below zero, Stamatakos kept swinging until the shackles released both bombs. “That’s back when I was young and dumb,” said Stamatakos. Crewmate Richard Rainoldi, a retired Air Force colonel, said, “If he hadn’t done it, it was either bailing out or blowing up.”

Stamatakos’s three sons were so impressed with their dad’s story that they tracked down Rainoldi, who had been the plane’s navigator, and he gave a sworn statement that was delivered to the Army. On Christmas Eve, 2009, Stamatakos, now a retired Michigan State University professor, received a letter from the Department of the Army saying he would be awarded the Silver Star in a ceremony on Feb. 17 at Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing.

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3 Responses to “Profiles of Valor: WWII Vet Louis Stamatakos”

  1. Tim Says:

    Thanks for posting this article. My family is very excited about my fathers ceremony at the Capitol this coming week. Tim

  2. Dave Williams, LtCol, USAF Retired Says:

    It’s this kind of kind of disregard for his own safety, and the determination
    to save his crew that establishes Louis Stamatakos as a true hero.

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