Retired Air Marshal Constantine Chatzilakos, who is 99 years of age, is a living legend of the Hellenic Air Force. To commemorate ‘OXI Day’ 2019, he spoke with reporter Vassilis Pias for an interview with Athens-Macedonian News Agency about his service during World War II in North Africa, Italy, Yugoslavia, and the Aegean Sea.
One of the last of his generation, Chatzilakos happened to become part of history as one of the pilots who in November 1943 provided air protection to missions taking British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to meet with USSR leader Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference. Remembering his fallen colleagues, the experienced former fighter pilot spoke of his combat missions, which were over 200, and the reality of a war “in which four of us would take off and two, or one – or sometimes none – would return.”
Joining the war soon after he finished training and fighting for Greece was “a journey full of stress, pain and blood,” Chatzilakos says, but his message to today’s generation of pilots is “to keep a sense of duty and honour in their hearts and do what it dictates to them.”
Chatzilakos was born in Larissa in 1920 and entered the Hellenic Air Force Flight School as a cadet in 1940. During WWII (1940-1945) he flew over 200 combat missions and was awarded with ten military honours. Following the war, he was a flight instructor (1945-1967) in all three branches of the Hellenic Armed Forces and held top-level positions at airforce units and at NATO divisions. He also served as military attache at the Greek embassy in Washington (1964-1967), after which he was discharged for not supporting the military junta.
“For us new Hellenic Air Force Flight Academy graduates, everything began with the “Ochi” (No) that Greece said to Italy’s ultimatum in 1940, and we continued, to fulfil a vow and an obligation. It was a journey full of stress, pain, and blood: “Come back either with your shield or on it” (a Spartan exhortation). This is what happened,” Chatzilakos told AMNA.
Having returned to Athens on 14 November 1944, he said that of the 22 pilots in the 336th Squadron in February 1943, only 7 returned, “Of my 40 classmates, only half made it back alive.”
When asked what message he would like to convey to today’s Hellenic Air Force pilots, who defend the Aegean on a daily basis? He responded, “To keep a sense of duty and honour in their hearts and to do what it dictates.”
As for the rest of the people living in Greece, he said it is important for them “To not forget, to be respectful, and to be vigilant.”
The retired air marshal now lives in Athens, where he serves as president of the local RAF veterans branch.