CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio (WJW) In December of 1941, Felix Pasteris was already an airplane mechanic in the US Army Air Corps based at a small field just north of Detroit.
One Sunday, he was looking forward to catching up with his sleep when he heard something about an attack.
“Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was but we sure learned in a hurry,” Felix said.
Within seven days, Felix and the First Fighter Group, with its brand-new P-38 lightings, were flying patrols over California, waiting for a suspected Japanese attack.
He said they worked hard to keep planes in the air for nonstop patrols. Felix said those early days of the war were hectic.
“There was nobody at that time protecting the west coast. We were the only ones.” Felix said.
That wouldn’t be his only stop. For the next five years, Felix and his squadron would move to Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, Gibraltar, North Africa and Italy. At times, they had to duck for cover as the airfields were bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe.
“The Germans could come in there at dusk and we’d always be in fox holes. ‘Here comes one now’ and we’d stick our heads up and just start shooting our rifles.”
After the war, Felix looked for work and convinced a pretty nurse named Helen to take a chance on him. They were married for 70 years and raised five children together.
However, one of the toughest things he had to deal with was a battle with COVID-19 at 100 years old.
“I was feeling pretty bad and I called the ambulance and was in the hospital.” Felix said.
Felix spent several weeks in the Cleveland Clinic on oxygen and receiving treatment for pneumonia, which developed in his lungs.
He managed to recover, and his spirit and love of life prompted the clinic’s volunteer services to honor him with a special veteran’s salute when he got out of the hospital.
“Having the honor and privilege to hear his stories and to sit across from what I consider a true American hero, although he would never use those words because he’s so humble and genuine.” Cleveland Clinic Volunteer Services Director Christine Hinman said.
Felix is still recovering from COVID. He doesn’t walk as well as he did but is working to get his strength back.
He thought he was a goner when he first got sick and couldn’t breathe, but in the back of his mind he remembered something he learned when he had a badly damaged plane to repair on a dusty airfield..
“You’ve got to make it fly. You’ve got to make it fly.” Felix said.
Up until a couple of years ago, Felix lived on his own and cared for his wife Helen as she battled Alzheimer’s.
When Helen died, his daughter brought him to Chagrin Falls where he’s always surrounded by loving family.