Frantisek Perina, a Czech fighter pilot who was celebrated for shooting down 14 Nazi planes while flying for Britain's Royal Air Force during World War II, died May 6. He was 95.
Perina died of an unspecified illness at Prague's military hospital, a hospital spokesman told Czech news media.
Called "a brilliant fighter and a true hero" by Defense Minister Karel Kuhnl, Perina had been granted the highest Czech honor, the Order of the White Lion, as well as the French Legion of Honor.
Perina spent his life hopscotching from one country to another, from Czechoslovakia to France to England to Canada to the United States and then finally back to his homeland. A member of the Czech air force when the Germans invaded in 1939, Perina fled to France, leaving his new bride, Anna, behind.
After the Germans took Paris in 1940, Perina escaped to England.
He flew Hurricanes and Spitfires during the Battle for France and the Battle of Britain.
Czech news reports credit Perina with at least 14 Nazi kills from 1940 to 1942, making him one of the most successful of the 2,357 Czech airmen who had joined the Royal Air Force.
Perina and other Czechs who fought with the Allies were welcomed home after the war, but their hero status didn't last long. After the Communist coup of 1948, the war veterans were branded "enemies of the people."
Dismissed from the military in 1949, Perina flew a stolen light plane with his wife and a friend over the border into the American-occupied zone of Germany.
"When we crash-landed, we found we were just eight kilometers over the West German-Czechoslovak border," Perina recalled in a 2000 interview with the Prague Post.
He and his wife immigrated to Britain, where he rejoined the RAF. Then they made their way to Canada and finally to the United States. He worked in the aerospace industry for many years and retired to Las Vegas.
But after the fall of Communism in 1989 and the establishment of the Czech Republic in 1993, Perina returned home.
"The difference between America and Czechoslovakia?" Perina said at his 91st birthday party. "It is like chalk and cheese. But I awfully like the chalk."
Born April 8, 1911, near Breclav in the south Moravian region, Perina settled with his wife in Prague. Annually the Czechs relived the exploits of the man known as "the general of the sky."
"I loved the war," Perina told the Independent newspaper of London in 2002. "There was never a dull moment."
Anna Perina, who had spent the war years confined to a Nazi prison, was hospitalized last month and died a few days before her husband, according to Czech News Agency CTK. They had no children and no known survivors.