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Veteran’s Day: John Calamos Shares His Personal Story

John Calamos, Founder of Calamos Investments Honors Veterans Day
On Veterans Day, John P. Calamos, Sr shared a story of his Air Force duty and its influence on later establishing his investment business. Credit: Calamos Investments

In honoring Veterans Day, John P. Calamos, Sr., Founder of Calamos Investments, shared a personal story about his service in the US Air Force in Vietnam.

Inspired by JFK, the Greek-American Founder, Chairman, Global Chief Investment Officer and Vietnam veteran reflects on how the lessons he learned in the US Air Force helped him reach new heights in the investment world:

“JFK made a speech and he said, ‘Don’t ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

“And I had been studying history and about the Western Civilization and a lot of philosophy, and that (speech) really inspired me,” the Greek-American investor continues.

That was the reason Calamos joined the ROTC at Illinois Tech and became commissioned in the Air Force. Becoming a pilot made him focus because up to that day he had only been in the air only once, on a commercial flight.

Determination and persistence made Calamos fly supersonic jets in formation at night one year later and get his flying wings.


A Lesson on Veterans Day

When Calamos got out of the Air Force in 1970, he decided to become a commercial airline pilot. Then the recession hit and they cancelled his class.

Yet, when he was on airborne alert, he was studying the markets. So, when he found that he could not be an Air Force or commercial airline pilot, he got a job as a stockbroker doing convertible bonds.

“The 1970s were very volatile, so that really got me into the markets and how to utilize convertibles and manage in that period.”

John Calamos’ time in the Air Force taught him a valuable lesson: “Flying an airplane is all about risk and managing risk. So, investments was all about risk management. I’d tell people you’ve got to do your homework before you take off.”

“And so, the same thing with investing. Do your homework before you invest. How I learned about convertible bonds as a risk management tool really became the foundation for the company that I began in 1977.”

And he ends with a piece of valuable advice: “Take care of the mission. Take care of the people you’re working for. And that will be what it’s all about.”


John Calamos in the US Air Force

John Calamos joined the US Air Force through the Illinois Tech ROTC program, earning his commission in 1963. In 1965, he went on active duty and entered pilot training in Texas.

He was assigned to fly B-52s while stationed at Beale AFB in California as part of the Airborne Alert. By 1968, Calamos was ordered to Vietnam to serve as a Forward Air Controller, assigned to the 20th TASS at Da Nang.

Forward Air Control provides guidance to Close Air Support aircraft, intended to ensure their attack hits intended targets and does not injure friendly troops.

Captain John P. Calamos in front of his aircraft in 1968
Captain John P. Calamos in front of his aircraft in 1968. Calamos, now the CIO of Calamos Investments, was a decorated pilot in the Vietnam War. Courtesy John P. Calamos

Calamos’ FAC squadron was the first to fly the Cessna O-2, an aircraft in which he recorded over 1,000 hours of flight time – 833 of those hours in combat.

Captain Calamos was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Nixon for “extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight under heavy hostile attack near Thuong Duc Special Forces Camp in Southeast Asia on September 28, 1968.”

Calamos’ Air Force career encompassed five years of active duty and twelve years in the Reserves, flying A-37 jet fighters.

He retired with the rank of Major and later went on to become a legend in the financial industry. Today he is the Chairman and Global CIO of Calamos Investments.


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