Seventy-three years after his heroic action in the fall of 1943, Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. John G. Caraberis was recognized with the posthumous awarding of a Silver Star at MacDill Air Force Base.
He was piloting a B-17 Flying Fortress that came under intense fire on a bombing run in Italy. One round hit Caraberis, triggering intense pain from serious wounds to his face and a leg. Despite that, he continued flying the heavily damaged bomber and directing aerial gunners who downed two German fighter aircraft.
The crew bailed out over Italy, short of reaching a neutral country, so they wouldn’t be captured and imprisoned by the Nazis.
Caraberis, wounded and experiencing excruciating pain, was successful in persuading Italian authorities not to transfer them to the Germans. He subsequently devised and directed a successful escape, turning other Allied prisoners into an underground intelligence organization, concealing themselves in the snow-laden mountains and co-operating with the local underground resistance.
He also organized escape routes that his well-trained intelligence gatherers used to ferry information back to the Allied forces concerning arsenals, petroleum storage areas, locations of enemy gun sites, food stores, and road and rail traffic.
After his health had improved, he led a sizeable group of Allied personnel to Allied lines but was critically wounded after their discovery by enemy forces. His warning, though, allowed those following him to escape capture and they safely returned to Allied territory.
Caraberis’ family was presented with the Silver Star medal by the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, USAF Lt. Gen. Charles Brown. Also in attendance was Col. April Vogel, 6th Air Mobility Wing Commander.
The medal, awarded for gallantry in action, is the third-highest military combat decoration, Tampa Bay Times reported.
That isn’t the end of the story, however. Caraberis passed away in 1971 at age 51. His daughter said her father divulged very little about his wartime experiences. Ten years ago she got the full story when she met Sonny Fassoulis, the navigator on the B-17. She and her family resolved that he would receive the well-deserved recognition he was owed.
She tracked down and combed through records to find living witnesses. All their efforts paid off.