Preservation of American Hellenic History
When the Pierre L'Enfant entered the Suez Canal, it passed the flagship of the Greek Navy, the Averoff, docked in Port Saïd. The Greek nationals were thrilled to see the fabled Greek ship and yelled out pleasantries to the Averoff's crew. In turn, the crew was surprised and delighted to hear Greek spoken from an American ship.
A few additional experiences on the Pierre L'Enfant: Some of the members of our group, primarily the Manghes from Pireaus, discovered that the no. 2 hold, adjacent to our quarters, was stashed with beer. Needless to say the trip was made more enjoyable for these young men who would appropriate a few bottles each evening.
One night Perry, Alex P., and I were on garbage detail. After we had thrown the garbage overboard, we noticed one of our sergeants, a member of the cadre from our Co. B days at Camp Carson, was on deck. It was pitch dark and we decided to terrorize the poor guy. We hollered and called out blasphemous names, then moved to a different location on the ship. The sergeant, who was an excellent cadre man but not too bright, went ballistic. After 10 or 15 minutes of harassing him we sneaked back into our hold. When he returned to the hold, he had his pistol drawn and was cussing, trying to locate the culprits. He was never the same after that experience. When we landed in Egypt he left our outfit and we never heard of him again. This incident was probably best for him and our group; the sergeant probably could not handle pressure and would have been a detriment in combat.
We exercised a few hours every day, there was ample room on deck, and we would end our day running around the ship many times. When we would complete our training for the day, our gay soldier, Cpl. A., would run additional laps on his own. The man was a terrific physical specimen.
The OGs rarely fraternized with the crew of the Pierre L'Enfant. We respected the crews' diligence and the arduous conditions they worked under in that small ship; we particularly admired their work during the storm on the Gulf of Sirte.
The Pierre L'Enfant went through the Suez Canal and anchored at Port Suez, the southern end of the canal. We disembarked at Port Suez January 22, 1944 one month to the day after leaving Newport News. In the following year and half I boarded numerous troop ships and landing crafts, but I can honestly say that the USS Pierre L'Enfant was the most memorable troop ship.
On the Pierre L'Enfant, the men had very little contact with their new commanding officer, Captain Robert F. Houlihan. When we landed at Port Suez, Captain Houlihan exhibited a sense of humor when in his Kentucky drawl he told the men to obey the rules of the host country and to be
cautious of the food and ladies in these foreign lands. In combat, Captain Houlihan was a brave and respected commanding officer.
In my wildest dreams I would have never imagined at the end of the war almost two years later, I once again would be on a troop ship crossing the Suez Canal on the way home .
Waiting to transport us to our camp in Egypt were the reliable and ever present 2½-ton trucks. GIs would often argue which truck was the best, the GMC or Ford. I am certain that whatever pre-WW2 automobile was popular in civilian life was the truck of their choice. How naïve to argue over a multimillion-dollar business.
Such trivial discussions helped to pass the time during the interminable periods of
hurry up and wait. The 2½-ton trucks were multipurpose: they hauled personnel, ammunition, food and water, fuel, clothing; they seated approximately 14 soldiers.
The OGs were transported to Camp Huckstep, an American army camp approximately 15 miles from Cairo. During the trip to Huckstep, the road skirted the pyramids and passed the town of Heliopolis. In a fortnight we had crossed the Strait of Gilbraltar and the Suez Canal and scanned the pyramids: a great experience for young Americans who had recently studied these historical monuments in school. Most of us had never left our home areas.
We settled in at Camp Huckstep for a couple of weeks. During a respite from training the OGs challenged Camp Huckstep's championship basketball team and defeated them. The members of the OG basketball team were all Californians. Unlike today when basketball is so popular, the Greek- nationals didn't know the game, and our group of Easterners were not into baseball and basketball (to the Californians anyone east of the Sierras was an Easterner).
Uncle Bill Caredis, who had owned the café in San Miguel, was stationed at Huckstep. I looked him up at camp headquarters but unfortunately he had been transferred to another base in Dakar one month before we arrived in Egypt.
The first weekend at Huckstep we were given a pass to visit Cairo. We were excited to have the opportunity to visit a bustling foreign city but not prepared for the cultural shock we would experience. As I have mentioned, when we checked into hotels in Denver, New York, and Washington, D.C., two of us would register for one room and the rest of the group would join us later and sleep on the floor. When we discovered the Grand Hotel in Cairo was owned by Greeks, our Greek philotimo took over and each man registered for an individual room. We soon realized we had made a big mistake. In our first exposure to Greek hospitality overseas, the hotel management treated us with blatant contempt as soon as they learned we were from the United States rather than Argentina. This was the harbinger of treatment the Greek-American OGs would receive from many Greeks overseas.
We were told by management there would be a horoesperida at the hotel's roof garden that evening. Excitedly, we donned our Class A uniforms and attended the party. We were not welcome. The same question was asked,
Are you from Argentina? The Greek girls refused to dance with us; there were no Greek line dances, only American-European dancing. Additional insults and disappointments for the young Greek Americans.
We learned that Greece's premier vocalist, the famous Sophia Bembo, who was very popular in Greek America, was performing at a local theater the following night. Searching for the theater, we met a Greek on a street corner and asked him for directions. He answered gruffly,
What's the matter, are you blind? It's at the end of this street. Disgusted and disappointed with the attitude of the Cairo Greeks, we decided to head back to the local bars.
While passing through Cairo and later in Calcutta, on our way to the front lines, we witnessed the good life the Greek citizens in these countries were living during the war. We were disappointed with them and could not understand why they were unfriendly. We appreciated even more the warm hospitality of the Greek-American communities. After the war many of these Greeks who spent the war years in exile became leaders of the new Greek government while the Antartes who fought bravely in the mountains against the Nazis were treated as traitors.
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