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

Pearl Harbor

Presidio of Monterey

There were rumors that a Greek Battalion was being formed in Colorado recruiting Greek-American volunteers. Rumor (rumors are part and parcel of the Armed Forces) was heard the battalion was scheduled to go into combat in occupied Greece. Perry and I inquired about the battalion and discovered it was being formed at Camp Carson, Colorado. When Perry and I received our draft notices we had numerous discussions about joining the Greek Battalion and other options. We also contacted some of our childhood friends who were of draft age to discuss the Greek Battalion. Perry Phillips and I, and later Alex Phillips, were the only volunteers from Oakland. The bottom line that influenced our decision to join the Greek Battalion we would be together in the armed service.

Perry and I were in different draft boards in West Oakland. Perry's draft board #73 was recruited on the 29th of March 1943, and my draft board, #66, the next day. My group of draftees left on a bus from Oakland to a recruiting area in San Francisco then was bussed to the Presidio of Monterey. We arrived at the Presidio around 5:00 p.m. and were marched immediately into the mess hall. As I was standing in line, a soldier I did not initially recognize because of his GI haircut told me to get in line and called me "rookie." I realized it was Perry. His West Oakland group got in trouble the first night at the Presidio and they were put on KP (kitchen police) duty their first day of service.

We were issued our dog tags at the Monterey Presidio with our name, serial number, blood type and religion. When I requested Greek or Eastern Orthodox to be placed on my dog tags, I was advised that I had only three choices: Protestant, Roman Catholic or Jewish. I insisted on GO for Greek Orthodox, though our religion was not recognized at that time by the US government. My original dog tags that I saved are stamped GO. Most of the Eastern Orthodox servicemen did not press the issue, and many of my brethren who entered the Armed Forces during WW2 had their dog tags stamped with a "P" signifying Protestant, a "C" for Catholic or in many cases nothing. Hell, it made no difference because there were no Greek Orthodox chaplains in the American Armed Forces to administer last rites. Ten years later as a member of the board of Directors of Oakland's Assumption Church, I was delighted that an edict from our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese informed the Greek Orthodox Parishes of America, GO (Greek Orthodox) would be stamped on all the dog tags of Greek Orthodox servicemen.

At the Presidio of Monterey we received our GI haircuts, inoculations, IQ tests, uniforms, indoctrination, and numerous other tests. Perry and I both volunteered for the 122nd Infantry Battalion (Greek Battalion) stationed at Camp Carson, Colorado. We were issued two duffle bags, A and B, for our clothes, equipment, etc; the two duffle bags and my rifle would be my constant companions during my army career. While waiting to transfer to the Greek Battalion in Camp Carson, Colorado, my aunt Helen and uncle George Cominos' family visited me from nearby Salinas.

A few weeks before I was drafted my Salinas Junior College basketball team played against the strong Presidio of Monterey team. A couple of my basketball teammates visited me in Monterey, and brought my block letter I had earned for varsity play at Salinas Junior College. I had always coveted the letter but I never had the opportunity to wear it on my sweater.

An interesting sidelight at the Presidio taught me a lesson about human nature. A nerd type from my Oakland High School days whom I had befriended, was assigned as an acting Corporal. He had taken ROTC training in high school and became our group leader. His personality change was drastic and from this nice and composed person, the corporal stripes brought out the "nouveau powerful" syndrome in this nerd.

On the Rails to Camp Carson


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Four days after arriving at the Monterey Presidio, I was bussed to the Salinas, California railroad station, where my mother; my maternal grandmother, Bessie "Toula" Caredis; aunt and uncle, Helen and George Cominos; and other family members wished me a tearful farewell. I boarded the train and was on my way to Camp Carson. I was 18 years and four months old, very naive, but anxious to proceed with this new and exciting adventure. The train stopped in Oakland where we boarded a troop train. My dad and a few relatives visited me for a very short time and wished me goodbye. Although I'd been sheltered in a very close and loving family, I can honestly say that I never became homesick.

That train trip was one of the first of many new adventures I would encounter in my army career. The Santa Fe Railroad train took the southern route and I was the only one aboard assigned to Camp Carson. Most of the recruits on the train were children of the Okies and the devastating dust bowl of the Southwest, who had come to California with their families in the 1930s and found work as migrant workers and later in the defense plants. I was not comfortable or compatible with this group (another of the many cultural shocks I experienced in the service). I befriended an older Black man (probably in his thirties) who had a fabulous wit, but was very depressed. I told him I was going to Camp Carson, Colorado, and he told me how fortunate I was, because he was going to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the other side of the sun as he described it. My naiveté came into play and I did not understand where he was coming from. Months later when I was stationed in Maryland and South Carolina, I was shocked by the conditions the Blacks lived in those areas. I was born and raised in West Oakland and attended Prescott School from grades K-8. My schoolmates were Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Southern Europeans, Irish and Gypsies, as we called them. With the exception of the Blacks, we were children of immigrants and of the great depression. There was healthy competition but I honestly recall very little prejudice in West Oakland.

Continuing on to Colorado on the troop train, we crossed into Arizona the first time that I had been out of California. At this point, I had traveled only as far south as Fresno and north as Redding.

After an uneventful trip, we stopped in Denver, Colorado. I was the only soldier to disembark. I said goodbye to the black soldier and wished him well, never to cross paths again. I recall the recruits on the train, who were predominately white, were very quiet and in most instances unfriendly. I hoped I would find a more congenial group at Camp Carson.

At this point it's important that I add an experience that I had a month or so before I entered the army. My mother's brother, Bill Caredis, was a partner in a cafe at San Miguel, California, near Camp Roberts. The Salinas Junior College basketball team was scheduled to play the Camp Roberts basketball team. My uncle knew our schedule, so he called me and suggested, if it was feasible, that I try and leave early enough the day of the game that I could visit him. He also wanted me to observe the clientele, and their music in his café, army recruits primarily from the South and Southwest. I received permission from my coach, and two of my teammates and I drove ahead of the bus. My uncle's cafe was a cultural shock to say the least. The southern and Okie twang of the soldiers and their country music was foreign to my teammates and me. It was the first time I heard country music like the Wabash Cannonball. In the San Francisco Bay Area the radio music stations played pop music (big band). One station featured cowboy music one hour in late afternoon. The United States, before air travel and television, had many different cultures and no doubt our country was much richer because of the diversity.



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