Obituary: Andrew T. Panchura / B-24 bomber pilot became 'Flying Dentist'

Aug. 10, 1923 - April 11, 2013

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Andrew Panchura realized he wanted to be a dentist while he was on a golf course.

"He used to be a caddy at Schenley golf course and he noticed who was playing golf," his daughter, Juliana Panchura, said, referring to all the dentists he saw there. "He thought, 'You know, that might not be a bad life.' "

An orthodontist, World War II veteran, father of six, avid golfer and member of the Flying Dentists, Mr. Panchura was characterized by a certain "generosity of spirit," family and friends said.

"One of his policies was that if the breadwinner of a family died, he would treat the children in the family for free," Ms. Panchura, of Bend, Ore., said.

Mr. Panchura died Thursday at the age of 89.

Decades after flying in World War II, he wound up getting a pilot's license -- with his wife.

"My mom decided she wanted to take flying lessons and my dad said, 'If you're going to be flying, I'm going to be up there with you,' " Ms. Panchura said.

"She was eager to get my dad flying again."

And fly he did.

He flew to Honduras to volunteer his time with the Flying Dentists, an organization that helps dentists volunteer for needy populations.

"They would fly these planes into remote villages," his daughter said. "He was struck at how there was just no running water and extreme poverty.

"It combined his humanitarian heart and spirit along with his love of flying and professional skill."

Mr. Panchura grew up during the Depression "down the run" in Greenfield on Saline Street in what his daughter described as a "ramshackle place," where he and his four brothers slept in the same bed and made shirts out of potato sacks.

He served in World War II as the pilot of a B-24 bomber and was the lead pilot in an air raid on Cologne, Germany, Ms. Panchura said.

"At the end of three days, he said nothing was standing but the cathedral."

"He knew he had a job to do and, as a 20 year-old, he was the lead [bomber] in his group," said Stephen Kondis, of West Homestead, a longtime friend who attended the Pitt Dental School with Mr. Panchura.

Her father was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and was inducted into the hall of valor at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Ms. Panchura said.

But even the corners of Mr. Panchura's life are full of interesting details.

He had a series of odd jobs that included working on the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. He assisted at a mortuary--in addition to utilizing the GI Bill--to get through college.

To promote the sale of war bonds after World War II, he was selected to play in a golf tournament with Sam Snead, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan.

He was an altar boy with Andy Warhol, said Ms. Panchura, and he was the first dentist in Pennsylvania to get a license as an acupuncturist.

Through all of these turns, his daughter said, he was a family man. "At five o'clock, he hung it up and was home for dinner."

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Panchura is survived by his wife, Marge, of Palm City, Fla.; five other children, Andrea and Andy Jr., both of Whitehall, Margaret of Bend, Ore., Peter of Palm City and Theresa, of Palm Beach, Fla.; his brother Francis, of Fox Chapel; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be held at 8:30 a.m. today followed by divine liturgy at 9 a.m. in St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church, 506 Saline St., Greenfield.

obituaries - neigh_city - health

Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.


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