CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Dr. Angelos Paraskevas was born on a farm in 1922 in Monroe, New York. Although the son of Polish and Greek immigrants, he grew up completely “Americanized.” His parents valued education and kept him in school, despite the hardships of the Great Depression. They moved to Roselle, New Jersey, during his youth.
After graduating from high school in 1941, Paraskevas wanted to go to college, but was unable to do so because of financial constraints. He got a job working under a lab technician in Linden and attended night school to keep himself active academically. Paraskevas remembered that he had been watching a Giants football game when he heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Like many Americans, he did not even know where Pearl Harbor was at the time.
Paraskevas received an Army draft notice in November of 1942. In high school, he had served in the Citizens’ Military Training Camp at Fort Dix and Sandy Hook, and he knew that army life was not for him. Paraskevas decided to try to volunteer for a different service before he saw the draft board. He drove to the Federal building in Newark and asked for an Army Air Corps application; but, he was told that it would not be processed until after his draft date. The Navy room was just down the hall, so Paraskevas decided to take a chance there. He did not care to be a seaman, as he was prone to seasickness and was nervous about submarine attacks. The opportunity to become a naval pilot was, however, interesting to him. Paraskevas applied to the Navy just before the deadline.
Paraskevas went through a rigorous academic, athletic, and flight basic training period which began at Colgate College in New York and finished in Corpus Christi, Texas. During his training, he flew Piper Cubs, M2S Stearmans, and SNJ Texans. In one notable experience during training, Paraskevas was scheduled to go on a training flight in an open-cockpit two-seater with an instructor. It was so cold that day that he had to wear his winter gear. When Paraskevas got into his plane, the winter gear was so thick that he was unable to fasten his seatbelt. Unfortunately, radio communication was only one way from the instructor to trainee, so Paraskevas could not inform him of his problem. The instructor took off and flipped the plane upside down in airborne maneuvers, and Paraskevas was forced to brace himself against the side of the cockpit to prevent himself from falling out of the cockpit. At the end of training, everyone had to take an exam to determine what type of plane they would fly. He was the only cadet to earn a perfect 4.0 on his exam.
Paraskevas longed to fly multi-engine planes. He described it as “the ultimate in flying”, as it was a “bigger career” that offered better options, such as for future service in the commercial domain. In particular, Paraskevas wanted to fly seaplanes, as he felt that landing and taking off while dealing with the “suction” of the water was a very “different feeling” and tremendously enjoyable. He regarded the planes he flew in generally high regard. Paraskevas felt that the most exciting experience in an airplane was to be firing the nose turret while diving towards an enemy ship. Firing the turret towards the sea at low altitudes was not advised, as the bullets might ricochet off the surface and strike the plane. Once the plane got too close, the pilot shut off the nose turrets and quickly pulled the plane out of the dive.
After completing training, Paraskevas was first stationed at NAS Banana River in Florida. In PBY Catalinas and PBM Mariners, he was assigned to fly up the coast to and from Virginia searching for enemy submarines. It was “very hard” to catch submarines, Paraskevas remarked, as they would see the American planes from far away and would quickly start descending; and, often, depth charges would fail to find their mark.
When asked if the targeted submarines were German U-boats, Paraskevas replied that he did not know. While the approximate locations of friendly surface vessels were given to the anti-submarine patrols prior to missions, the same could not be said for those of friendly submarines. In addition, the enemy was known to disguise their submarines as Allied ones to confuse American bombers. As such, the rule was that even if a submarine was identified as friendly, it was to be bombed. The reason for this, Paraskevas explained, was that friendly submarines were not supposed to be surfaced in most areas. The exception was in certain “safety zones” which were set aside, in which the patrol bombers were not allowed to make any attacks whatsoever, even on submarines identified as those of the enemy.
Paraskevas recalled that he flew many of these missions through the Bermuda Triangle. On one mission, while flying through a storm in a PBM Mariner, a giant wall of water suddenly burst from the sea all the way up into the clouds just ahead of his plane. He made a sharp turn to the right and just managed to avoid the wall, with his wing just clipping the torrent. Paraskevas believed that it was caused by a “macroburst” – a buildup of negative pressure which launched the water skyward.
After his service at Banana River, Paraskevas was transferred to the Pacific. He first arrived at NAS North Island in San Diego. Flying PBM Mariners, Paraskevas was trained with the Norden bombsight, which he noted was not as useful as commonly thought when bombing ships and submarines in the Pacific; judgement by eye was more accurate.
Next, Paraskevas was to be sent to the war zone, via a PBM flight from San Diego to Hawaii. However, the mission was cancelled, as the plane was loaded so heavily with fuel that it could not take off. He explained that optimizing the plane’s fuel-to-air ratio (the amount of fuel in the plane and the altitude at which the plane flies), as well as the cargo weight, was crucial to ensuring that problems like these did not happen.
The plane was grounded, but pilots were still needed in the Pacific, and Paraskevas was sent on a destroyer escort to Hawaii. After weathering a hurricane, the ship arrived in Oahu. The crew remained completely silent as they pulled into Pearl Harbor, passing the hulks of the destroyed battleships that had been attacked on December 7. He was assigned to a HEDRON squadron in Kaneohe Bay and primarily flew on patrol bombing missions. In these missions, his task was to report on convoys, submarines, the weather conditions, and other related matters. Paraskevas had no fighter cover to protect him, and was told do no more than observe from a distance. In fact, engaging in direct contact might lead to his court martial, as this would jeopardize the safety of the plane’s crew. He also flew some logistical missions ferrying information across bases on Hawaii. Missions were flown almost every day, but due to the sheer vastness of the Pacific, night flying was rare.
The squadron was unique for flying a multitude of different types of planes. During the war, Paraskevas flew fifteen different aircraft, including the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, PBY Catalina, PBM Mariner, PB2Y Coronado, PB4Y-2 Privateer, C-46 Commando, and C-47 Skytrain. He believed that he held the record for the most planes flown by any active duty naval pilot during the war. Paraskevas spoke at length about several of these planes.
Paraskevas did not seem particularly fond of the Ventura. The plane was difficult to fly and encountered mechanical troubles multiple times. In one incident, he was suddenly forced to dive to a lower altitude. The quick change in pressure which resulted caused the Ventura’s windshield to blow out. Luckily Paraskevas was not injured. In another instance, the lack of a hose clamp caused a gas line to break loose, cutting one of the engines and bleaching his plane pink.
Paraskevas also had much experience flying the Privateer, though as with the Ventura, it was not always so kind to him. His Privateer once lost two of its engines while they were on the way to Midway. In another instance, one of the landing wheels refused to lower. Paraskevas and the plane’s chief engineer were forced to crawl into the wing and manually lower the wheel to allow for a safe landing.
Of all the aircraft he flew, Paraskevas remarked that the Catalina was his favorite plane. He noted that it was the only navy aircraft to remain in service before, during, and after the war. Paraskevas appreciated its historical significance, referring to it as a “transition plane” between the early days of flight and the jet age. He felt proud to be a pilot in the “era of the seaplane”, from the introduction of the PBY in 1937 to its final withdrawal from service twenty years later. Paraskevas lamented the fact that jets had replaced seaplanes in military service after the war.
With the Wildcat, Paraskevas remembered that the engine was so powerful that he would have to lock the tailwheel straight on takeoff, to prevent the plane from shifting to the left. Once in the air, he would have to manually crank the plane’s landing gear up and down – thirty-two cranks one way or the other.
Paraskevas lauded the Hellcat’s power (recalling how loud the engine was) and resilience, regarding it as the best single-engine plane he flew. He flew Hellcats on intelligence delivery missions from Kaneohe Bay to Hilo, flying over Father Damien’s leper colony and past picturesque waterfalls. On April 1, 1946, while flying one such mission, Paraskevas witnessed the impact of the tsunami which had been caused by the Aleutian Islands earthquake earlier that day. The tsunami inundated the city of Hilo and the nearby airbase, forcing him to land back at Kaneohe Bay. On another run, as he was returning to the airfield, his plane’s engine stopped; and, he was forced to glide. Paraskevas worried that he would be forced to ditch his plane in the ocean, but fortunately, he was able to make the runway by one foot.
Paraskevas flew Commandos on missions to Midway island. He noted that the “biggest problem” on Midway was the presence of the native gooney birds (albatrosses). The birds would nest on the runway, posing a hazard to landing aircraft. Prior to a landing, a Jeep would have to drive down the runway to chase the birds off. Despite these measures, a few birds would invariably be struck by the landing plane.
Paraskevas visited many small islands during his service. He recollected how flying over the picturesque beaches and coral reefs was truly an amazing experience. The biggest inconveniences on these minor islands were food and water, which were scarce and had to be carefully rationed, in case supply ships were delayed. On some islands, such as Funafuti, the natives would cut them coconuts and go on cooperative fishing adventures.
Paraskevas thoroughly enjoyed his time in the navy. There was a strong sense of camaraderie among his crew; everyone knew each other’s capabilities and trusted in their actions. He also felt that he had much freedom when not assigned to missions. If Paraskevas was not scheduled for a flight, he would sometimes take a Hellcat and fly across Hawaii for fun.
One day, while leading a patrol flight off Oahu, Paraskevas was caught in a sudden tropical storm. The intense rain caused both of his plane’s engines to quit, and he ordered his crew to brace for impact with the water. Miraculously, the engines turned back on just before they hit the sea. With the aid of radar, Paraskevas managed to navigate through the torrential rains back to the shoreline, and then to the base. He noted that it was one of the most thrilling experiences he ever had during the war. Paraskevas said that he was never nervous in times of stress such as these. Rather, as a youth, he looked at such things as exciting.
Paraskevas was on his way to Midway on a Coronado when he heard of the Hiroshima bombing. He recalled that the utter devastation resounded with him, as he realized that with the power of atomic weapons, the world would “be over” if another war broke out. However, Paraskevas felt that Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was the right one, and was glad that he “stuck to his guns”.
After the war, Paraskevas remained in the service for a year, flying P-2 Neptunes on patrol missions. It soon became apparent to him that peacetime service was less exciting, and he was not motivated the same way he had been during wartime. Paraskevas left the navy in October of 1946 and attended college at Rutgers. He intended to become a commercial seaplane pilot at United Airlines, but the lack of demand for new pilots and a lengthy workers’ strike hindered his ability to apply for the job. Paraskevas had also been approached by KLM, who had offered to interview him for a position flying seaplanes in China, but one of his friends from the navy got the job before him.
Instead, using his GI benefits, Paraskevas went to medical school at Georgetown University, where he became president of his junior and senior class. He practiced as a gynecologist from 1960 to 2001. Paraskevas married and had four children. He resided in Monroe, New Jersey at the time of the interview, which he found to be an interesting coincidence considering that he was born in Monroe, New York.
Angelos Paraskevas also has a Rutgers Oral History interview.