Services for John Peter Chopelas, 95, of Killeen, will be 1:30 p.m. Monday at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Killeen with Pastor Veronica Smith officiating. Interment will follow at Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery.
Mr. Chopelas died Feb. 14, 2019, at his residence. He was born on Oct. 10, 1923, in Dallas to Pete and Olga (Vatsures) Chopelas.
Both of his parents were Greek immigrants, with his father coming from Megalopolis, Greece and his mother from Yeraki, Greece. John was one of six children. John was educated in Dallas and Lubbock before moving to Waco, where he graduated from high school in 1941.
John enlisted in the Air Force at age 18 on Jan. 1, 1942. He took basic training at Sheppard Field, Wichita Falls. He attended six months of radio-operator school in Scott Field, Illinois. His Preflight Pilot Cadet training was at Maxwell Field, Alabama, and Primary Flight training at Union City, Tennessee. He soloed in a PT-17 Stearman “Kaydet” before “washing out. “ He was then assigned to gunnery school in Las Vegas, and to a crew at Salt Lake City. He received combat phase training at Rattlesnake Field, Pyote, Texas.
John and his fellow crew members flew the northern route to England via Kearney, Nebraska; Grenier field, Manchester, New Hampshire; Presque Isle, Maine; Goose Bay, Labrador; Keflavik, Iceland; and Prestwick, Scotland.
Their plane became lost over northern Scotland during stormy weather, and they were rescued by a Spitfire piloted by a Polish refugee who guided their B-17 to a Royal Air Force Base at Peterhead. John’s duty station was the 452nd Bomb Group (H), 728th Squadron at Deopham Green near Norwich, Norfolk, England. John completed 33 missions with the 452nd.
John returned to the United States in September 1944, aboard the Queen Mary. The VIP passenger on the Queen Mary during this voyage was Winston Churchill. Prime Minister Churchill was on his way to meet with President Roosevelt.
John disembarked the Queen Mary in New Jersey and served at several bases including Scott Field; Langley Field, Virginia; Sioux Falls, South Dakota and back to Scott Field before going to Boca Raton, Florida, his final assignment.
He was discharged from the Army Air Force on Sept. 30, 1945, at Fort Sam Houston.
While in the service of his country, John was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars, a Russian Medal for participating in one of the shuttle missions to that country, a certificate of “thanks” from France for contributing to the liberation of that country, a silver French medal in commemoration of D-Day, the French gold Jubilee of Liberty medal and the French Legion of Honor Medal.
He entered Baylor University in the fall of 1946 and later worked briefly in Sequoia National Park in 1949. John graduated from Baylor in 1950, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism.
After working for five Texas newspapers, he grew tired of the night hours and spent some time traveling by bus and train in Mexico and Central America.
After he returned from his travels, he worked a year in a law office and then obtained a job with the Texas Employment Commission as an unemployment insurance claims examiner. John retired in 1982 and survived a bout with prostate cancer in 1990. His wife, Emily, of 37 years passed away in 1999. John spent the past 19 years collecting World War II Army Air Force memorabilia, baking Greek pastries, frequenting his favorite restaurants and spending time with his family and friends.
He is survived by his niece, Stephanie Holthaus and her husband Kurt Holthaus, his nephew, Byron Johnson and his wife Robbie Johnson, his great nephew, Tom Johnson and his wife Carey Johnson, and his great-niece Liz Papineau with her husband Scott Papineau, and great- niece Karen Johnson.
He is also survived by an abundance of friends, including Carol and Kate Berridge and Larry and Joy Wiess and all the wonderful waitresses, librarians and community members who enriched his life.
Family visitation will be 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Crawford Bowers Funeral Home, located at 1615 S. Fort Hood St.