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

Camp Carson, Colorado: The Greek Battalion

Leonidas of Thermopylae

The day after Easter, 22 days after I joined the battalion (the 22 days have been etched in memory ever since the day I made the hike), Major Clainos led us on the first of many grueling hikes. We left the camp at 7:00 a.m., carrying a rifle and a backpack, a total of 70 pounds. We hiked to the foothills of the Cheyenne Mountains and then straight up through a wooded area to the top of one of the mountains. Perry and I were in good physical shape, having recently been active in sports, but the high altitude took its toll. Many of the older fellows had a difficult time and there were many stragglers, but with very few exceptions the full battalion reached the summit, where we discovered the beautiful Cheyenne lodge that was closed for the duration of the war. Looking east, it was breathtaking; we were able to see across the flat plains for miles. Our mess crew (kitchen) was set up next to the lodge; we had lunch, rested, and started our return to camp. On the way back we walked on a paved road which serpentines through the mountains. Although it was all downhill it was a difficult hike. We arrived at our barracks around 8:00 p.m. and Major Clainos gave us a few minutes of close order drill until he was satisfied we executed the drill like fresh troops and then dismissed us.

This was the first of the many 25- to 35-mile hikes that Major Clainos put us through during our training at Carson. Clainos was 36 years old and he always led the battalion. We nicknamed him "Leonidas" of Thermopylae [note]. We continually cussed him for driving us so hard, but we had tremendous respect for him. After the war I had the good fortune to meet many times with this great leader and wonderful gentleman.

Major Clainos' training was punishing. After our first hike to the summit of the Cheyenne Mountains, every week through the spring and summer months of 1943 we would hike 25 to 30 miles to a bivouac area. We would depart from camp on Monday mornings, maneuver all week, and unlike most units we would return Saturday evening instead of Friday and have only Sunday off. During the hikes the Greeks sang the many Greek songs we enthusiastically learned; in turn we would sing American songs and they joined in with their Greek accents.

I was 144 pounds when I entered the army and by September 1943, when I went home on leave, I had dropped to 132 pounds. I was exhausted. My feet were warm, no, hot, all the time, even in the morning when I would first put on my boots.


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I recall on one of the grueling hikes during a 10-minute break I was exhausted. Resting against a tree with Perry next to me; I put my arms against my body and turned my hands 180 degrees and called him an SOB, reminding him about the Maritime Service test.

During the bivouacs, the first order of "business" was to dig a latrine and a garbage pit at least six feet deep and 500 feet from the main camp. Every army unit was responsible for cleaning up their respective area after maneuvers, because the areas were frequently in use by different army units. On our first bivouac, after an exhausting week of training, we began our hike back to our barracks. A few miles from our bivouac area, Major Clainos halted the battalion, about faced us, and we returned to the bivouac area. This was the angriest that I had seen Clainos at any time under his command. The soldiers in our battalion were primarily Greek immigrants and their hygiene was different; they did not use the latrine, especially at night, and unloaded their bodily waste near their pup tents. Clainos lined the battalion in a straight line and had us clean up the feces; we then hiked back 25 miles to Camp Carson. When we arrived at our barracks, he did not dismiss us, but gave us close order drill for at least another hour. This was a great lesson for all of us. The bivouac areas were never abused again.

Each pup tent held two soldiers and Perry and I shared a tent. The first time that the "city boys" were on the field we scared the hell out of each other, talking about snakes, lizards, and large animals. We went sleepless most of that week.

Infantry training is very strenuous: hiking, obstacle courses, rifle range, hiking, map reading, compass reading, hiking, live grenade throwing, antipersonnel mine detecting, hiking, live machine gun fire with limited crawling space, hiking, digging fox holes, learning infantry tactics, hiking, and boring guard duty.

Perry and I were chosen for G 2 and given an intelligence course. This sounded impressive (the innocence of youth) until we learned that we were slated to be the point scouts of the company. The instructor was Staff Sergeant Dimoposam, a Greek-American Cajun from New Orleans with a great sense of humor. We enjoyed his wit and later became great friends in the OSS.

The battalion had five companies: Companies A, B, C, D, and Headquarters. A, B, and C were rifle companies; D was the heavy weapons company. Headquarters Company housed the battalion commander, executive officer, clerks, cooks, doctors, medics, and one platoon of 37 millimeter and other weapons. We never reached a full complement in the battalion.


Note

  • Leonidas became king of the Greek state of Sparta in 491 B.C. His leadership and heroism in battling the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. aroused all Greece to fight the invaders. In later years a monument to the bravery of Greeks who died at Thermopylae was set up near where Leonidas and his 300 fell. One tablet read: Four times a thousand men from Pelop's land; Three thousand times a thousand did withstand.


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