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Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2

Pearl Harbor

Sunday December 7, 1941

Sunday morning December 7, 1941, one day after my 17th birthday, I was in the choir loft of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Oakland, California. My childhood friends Perry and Alex Phillips were members of the choir; in fact we were charter members of the Assumption church choir.

During the liturgy rumors were flying in the choir loft that the Japanese had bombed a place in the Pacific Ocean called Pearl Harbor. After church services, the congregation always gathered outside for an unofficial social hour. Automobiles were double and triple parked on the street in front of the church. One of my contemporaries had his car radio turned on and we all circled his car to hear the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. We were all somber realizing the United States would enter WW2.

Most of the young men 14 years and older who were in church that December morning either volunteered or were drafted into the US Armed Forces; many of them saw duty overseas. A good friend and classmate at Oakland High School, one of the best and brightest, Frank Franjeskos, would be killed in action three years later in the Battle of the Bulge. Of course as in all societies there were a few of our young men who knew how to play the "game" and finagled to spend their service time either in the States or in a cushy job overseas.

In my wildest dreams I never imagined from induction day in the army, March 31, 1943, until I was discharged from the OSS, October 29, 1945, I would travel around the world twice. I was on troop ships for four months; passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, was stationed near the Pyramids, and visited many Capital cities including Washington DC, Cairo, Rome, the Vatican, Athens, Melbourne, Calcutta and Chunking.

The next day, December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war against the Japanese Empire. December 9, 1941 Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

Draftees

When the war broke out I was a senior at Oakland High School. The next day, Monday, the school administration, as confused as the students, dismissed classes at noon because of an air raid alert and we were sent home.

My parents and relatives were understandably concerned, especially my dad, who left tranquil America and joined the Greek Army in the 1912-13 Balkan War. As an infantry veteran of the Greek Army who had seen combat at its worst, he was hopeful that hostilities would terminate and his only child would be spared from the conflict. In the meantime, cities and towns along the Pacific Coast were preparing for possible bombing raids by the Japanese. A brownout was ordered; all neon signs and most of the street lights were turned off for the duration of the war to protect our shores from probable air and submarine raids by the Japanese. Later, while stationed at Camp Carson Colorado, it was not unlike Christmas to see street lights and bright neon signs in Denver and Colorado Springs. There was no need for these inland cities to douse their lights because they were far removed from either coast.

Before Pearl Harbor, most of America's teenagers and young adolescents were expecting the United States to go to war against Hitler and the Axis, and hoped that the war would not end before they had a chance to participate.

June 12, 1942, I graduated from Oakland High school and in the fall I attended Salinas Junior College, majoring in "basketball" knowing that I would be drafted soon. From a youngster Salinas was my home away from home every summer where I was welcomed by my mother's sister, Aunt Helen, Uncle George Cominos and my cousins as one of their own. Salinas is the County seat of Monterey County, 20 miles from Carmel.

The original military draft age was 21-to 44-years old. The older the wiser, it was believed, a huge mistake. The age limit was subsequently lowered to 36 and then to 28. The 18-year-old draft age was passed by Congress December 1942, the month I turned 18. I had dreams of joining the Naval Air Corp but the navy accepted only students who had attended college at least two years; another mistake by the military that I recall was rectified later in the war. My childhood friend Perry Phillips and I decided to join the Maritime Service. Three of our Oakland Greek-American friends had joined the Maritime Service: George Paris, Chris Boutos and George Stratos. We had succeeded them as Altar boys, and we were anxious to join them in the merchant marine. More importantly, Perry and I decided that at least on a ship, unlike in the army, we would get three square meals and a warm cot.

During the winter break from Salinas Junior College in January 1942, Perry Phillips and I went to the Maritime Service recruiting station in San Francisco. We completed the examination and as I was ready to sign up, Perry, who was in a line in front of me, told me that he did not pass the physical. Perry was in excellent physical shape and was prone to pranks, so initially I didn't believe him. During the physical examination Perry could not place his upper arms against his body, extend his lower arms and turn his hands 180 degrees; the merchant marine rejected him. The recruiter asked me if I would sign. I said no, and we decided to wait for our draft notices. Perry's hand problem changed the course of our lives, and that of Perry's brother, Alex.

Having received my draft notice to report to the army on March 30, 1943, I played my last basketball game for Salinas Junior College at Menlo College in the middle of March 1943, said goodbye to my teammates, and boarded a bus to Oakland to spend a few days with my parents and family before I was drafted.

The Oakland Greek Community was committed 100 percent behind the war effort, long before Pearl Harbor, because of the Italian invasion of their homeland in 1940. Whenever one of the Greek-American sons from our parish would leave for the service, parents, relatives, koumbari and friends would join the draftees at the bus or railroad station to wish them bon voyage. The Sunday before I left for the army, the annual Greek Independence Day dance was held at Oakland's Scottish Rite Temple. It was a very emotional time for parents and relatives. Five of the Oakland Greek community's favorite sons who had grown up together were drafted into the army that week: Milton Alfier, Nick Kourafas, Gus Petris, Perry Phillips and I. We were 18 or 19 years old.

Popular Songs: Moonlight Serenade, by Glenn Miller ~ I think I heard that song before, by Harry James.



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