Karnezis, Demetrios “Jim”


Demetrios “Jim” Karnezis

On February 5, 2020, Jim Karnezis, another WWII hero and a 30-year career USAF officer, passed away at 98 years old. But more than that we lost a quiet, humble, loving man adored by all who met him. Born in Norfolk, Virginia on Sep. 25, 1921 to Greek immigrants, he graduated from Maury High School in 1939 and went on to volunteer for pilot training. While flight training in Chico, California he met his future wife and soul mate, Versamee Voudouris from Magalia, California. Upon graduation in Jan. 1943, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. As a B-17 aircraft commander on his 10th combat mission, he was shot down over France by German fighters while returning from a raid on Stuttgart, Germany on Sep. 6, 1943. The story of the harrowing raid, his miraculous survival, escape, and evasion from the Nazis with the French Underground is documented in Robert Mrazek’s book, To Kingdom Come. Later, as a B-17 instructor in 1944, he set a record of 45 landings in one day and 33 in one night. He married Versamee in 1946 in Sacramento, then they drove to Mexico City for their honeymoon. Fluent in Greek, he later trained Greek pilots and served as the US Air Attache to the Greek Air Force and its Air Academy. With his wife and four sons, he went on to be stationed at Moody AFB, Georgia; Reading RAFB, England; Lackland AFB, Texas; and the Pentagon. In 1963, Jim graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. In 1968, after 5000 hours in over 30 US and British aircraft, he trained in the F-4 Phantom, setting a dive bomb record, deployed to Vietnam and Korea, managed the development of the F-4 laser guided bomb system, and served with the Alaskan Air Command. He was bestowed as a Count in the Order of St. Constantine and decorated with the Legion of Merit, Air Medal with 2 OLC, the Purple Heart and the Air Force Commendation Medal. After retirement at Mather AFB, he instructed A&P at Sacramento City College and returned to Greece as a Lockheed Aircraft training specialist from 1980-83. Jim Karnezis resided 49 years in Sacramento, serving with the Order of Daedalians, the Arden Lions, and the St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church. It is amazing that he packed this many accomplishments into one lifetime! Through the years Jim and Versamee kept in touch with Marcelle Andre, the woman who hid him from the Nazis, her family, and the townspeople of Champigny sur Yonne, France. The town of Champigny holds a memorial yearly for the B-17 crash and memorializes the five American airmen and one French citizen that died that day. They also honor the five crew members, including Jim, that survived. Jim’s final visit to Champigny was for the 75th Memorial in Sept. 2018. The whole town along with 42 Americans turned out to pay tribute to Jim (the last surviving member of the B17s crew) and his crew. The outpouring of love between Jim, the French townspeople, and the relatives of the deceased crew members was extraordinarily beautiful. Jim Karnezis is predeceased by his wife Versamee, married 69 years, and his oldest son Ted. He is survived by sons Arthur, Ivan, Ivan’s wife Terry, and Alec and Alec’s wife Georgia; daughter-in-law Angie; grandchildren Bryan, Nicholas, Anthony, Eric, Angel, Jimmy, and Athena; and great-granddaughter Quinn. On April 1, he will be buried at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Dixon at 10:30 am. Afterwards, friends and family are invited to his memorial event at the California Air Museum. If interested in attending please contact Alec at 443-527-8327. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Daedalians, St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Elk Grove, or the Museum.

Published in The Sacramento Bee on Mar. 8, 2020.