WASHINGTON - Congresswoman Niki Tsongas has introduced a bill that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, of which John Katsaros , 90, of Haverhill is president.
The U.S. Air Force Escape and Evasion Society Recognition Act of 2014 would recognize the heroic efforts of American aircrew members who escaped captivity and evaded capture by enemy forces in occupied countries during foreign wars.
The nomination also recognizes the brave resistance organizations and patriotic nationals of those foreign countries who put their lives on the line to assist them, according to a statement from Tsongas’ office.
Formed in 1964, the U.S. Air Force Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES) is an organization created by aircrew members who evaded capture by enemy forces during foreign wars with the assistance of resistance organizations and patriotic nationals of foreign countries.
This organization includes downed aircrew members and people who directly aided them in escape and evasion. AFEES has more than 600 members, including members from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Bestowing this honor dates back to the American Revolution.
There are six Massachusetts members of AFEES, including Katsaros. Born and educated in Haverhill, Katsaros joined the Navy Pilot Air Cadet Program after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A year later, he became a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was an aerial engineer, gunner and photographer on a B-17 Flying Fortress for the 8th Air Force, stationed in England.
Katsaros survived a B-17 bailout in 1944 over France, suffering a splintered right arm caused by the free fall. He was captured by the Gestapo and was rescued by the Free French Resistance, who cared for him for three months, helping him heal and escape to Spain. Another ordeal begins when he was imprisoned by the Spanish Constabulary.