In memory: John Lolos passed away on March 1, 2016.
Lolos' parents were Greek immigrants. He grew up in Springfield, MA where he attended Technical High School. Interested in flying, he took private flying lessons in a Piper Cub before the war. Drafted to the U. S. Army, he enlisted in Springfield, MA on January 30, 1942. Lolos completed flight training and was sent overseas to Brisbane, Australia.
341st Fighter Squadron "Black Jack"
Assigned to the 348th Fighter Group, 341st Fighter Squadron, which was nicknamed "Black Jack" for the squadron's love of gambling and the game black jack. Lolos fondly remembers other pilots in the squadron, including Neel Kearby, Samuel Blair.
P-47D "Hi Topper"
His first aircraft was P-47D "Hi Topper" 42-8081 was nicknamed "Hi Topper" with nose art depicting a top hat, and named for "Hi Top" cloud formations. After doing several flights at Archerfield Airfield during early July 1943, he ferried his P-47 to New Guinea via Rockhampton, Townsville and Horn Island before arriving on July 23 at 17-Mile Drome (Durand) outside Port Moresby.
After several local orientation flights in the Port Moresby area, he began flying patrols over the Dobodura area in early August, and escort missions over Tsili-Tsili and Marilinan escorting C-47 Dakotas. He was flying every day or every other day for the entire month. During September, he flew escorts over Nadzab and Lae, in support of the upcoming Allied assault.
Ditching Off Redscar Bay
On October 10, 1943 took off piloting P-47D "Hi Topper" 42-8081 on a mission to escort C-47s to Nadzab, Lolos asked for permission to test fire his guns over Redscar. While firing, a tracer ricocheted into belly tank and the P-47 caught fire. Lolos wrote in his report: "I was about fifty feet over the water when I noticed that my whole underside was on fire with flames sweeping back to the tail. The next thing I remember I was nosed straight down into the water and the cockpit was filling up with water. My nose, left eye and upper lip were paining and my nose was bleeding."
After ditching roughly three miles from shore, Lolos found a raft, and observed friendly aircraft in the area, but none saw him. That night, a storm created rough seas leaving him drifting all night. The next day he swam for shore, fighting off sharks and finally reached the beach.
The next morning, Lolos attempted to walk long the shore and found a native who assisted him, bringing a vehicle with four Australians that took him to Hisu Plantation, where he rested at the plantation house in bed. The following day, he was picked up by PBY Catalina and taken to Port Moresby and admitted to a hospital in Australia. Afterwards, he returned to flying combat missions. In his logbook he wrote simply "Crashed - Scarface Bay", as he had sustained some scars to his face from the crash landing.
P-47D "Naughty Nadine"
Afterwards, Lolos was assigned another aircraft and continued to fly combat missions. Another aircraft he was assigned was P-47D "Naughty Nadine" the U. S. Army serial number of this Thunderbolt is unknown.
Dogfight over Arawe: December 27, 1943
On December 27, 1943, he was flying a patrol over Arawe where the US Army had landed twelve days earlier, and was being attacked by Japanese aircraft. Flying as wingman for Lt. Arthur Weeks. Seeing a friendly P-40 under attack, Lolos dove into combat, chasing two A6M Zero fighters. One made a head-on pass into him. Lolos fired, and observed it pass close and disappear to his right. While he turned, he looked back and saw the fighter crash into the sea. Another Zero also attacked from the front and Lolos returned fire. He observed the pilot bail out, and remarked "Thank God" when recounting the experience in 2009, happy that the Japanese pilot had survived. Lolos reflected, "The Japanese were also young men flying for their countries."
Immediately after these head on passes, a Zero got onto Lolos' tail and began to fire. Despite evasive maneuvers, he was not able to shake the enemy fighter. "It was no fun to be shot at while flying". Lt. Weeks arrived and drove away the Zero, and claimed it as a victory. After landing, he found his P-47 had been hit by gunfire during the combat. Lolos was credited with his first two victories during this combat, and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross oak leaf cluster for this action.
Dogfight over Hansa Bay: March 2, 1944
On March 2, 1944 Lolos was part of a P-47 patrol that encountered Japanese Army fighters over Hansa Bay. It is unclear which Japanese aircraft were involved, but they included Ki-61 Tony fighters of the 68th Sentai and 78th Sentai. During this combat, Lolos was credited with two victories.
Lolos continued to fly combat in New Guinea, logging over 143 combat missions and 390 combat hours over 18 months and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster. Also, he was awarded the Air Medal for flying 25 combat missions. He is credited with four victories on the USAF Victory List, but wartime records list him with a total of five or six credits.
He was then rotated back to the United States where he helped to train new fighter pilots in Texas. He recalled being hard on them, "to hopefully save their lives in the future." At the end of the war he was discharged, but continued to serve in the USAF Reserves, with 30% disability for hearing loss from the war.
Lolos worked for Westinghouse and later as an ordinance industry inspector based at Springfield Armory. He married a widow from his hometown, and they had one daughter, Joanne. Ironically, his first grandson was born on the day of his ditching off Redscar, and his second grandson shares the birthday of Neel Kearby.
In 1998, Lolos was a casket bearer during the funeral of MIA pilot Wilfrid J. Desilets, MIA piloting P-47D 42-8059. Although he did not know him, both were from the same 348th Fighter Group and both were from Western Massachusetts. Today, Lolos lives with his wife in retirement in a nursing home in Springfield, MA.