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Preservation of American Hellenic History
A few days after our six groups of the Greek/USOG were reunited at Camp Kallitsis outside of Bari, Italy, our unit was disbanded. The final split of our elite unit was the most devastating disappointment. We had expected to continue as one unit. We were a proud outfit, and as battle veterans we knew we were an excellent fighting machine and had the utmost confidence in each other.
Most disturbing, not only was Group 4 dismembered, but after two years together the "California Five" were separated.[note 1] We had trained together, battled the enemy together, shared fox holes and rat-infested basements, prayed together, worried about each other's well being, ate and slept together, socialized together. A remarkable relationship; only a war can generate this much love between men. Group 4 was truly a Band of Brothers.
The following passage from the novel Corelli's Mandolin (
L'Omosessuale) describes the comaraderie among soldiers who have been together for a long time.
The description fits our experience in the Greek/USOG.
With the Julia Division, I enjoyed every moment. No civilian can comprehend the joy of being a soldier. That is, quite simply, an irreducible fact. A further fact is, that regardless of the matter of sex, soldiers grow to love each other; and, regardless of the matter of sex, this is love without parallel in civilian life. You are all young and strong, overflowing with life, and you are all in the shit together. You come to know every nuance of each other's moods; you know exactly what the other is going to say; you know exactly who will laugh and for how long over which particular type of joke; you acquaint yourself intimately with the smell of each man's feet and perspiration; you can put your hand on someone's face in the dark, and know who it is; you recognize someone's equipment hanging on the back of the chair, even though his is the same as everyone else's; you can tell whose stubble it is in the washing bowl; you know precisely who will swap you a carrot for your potato, a packet of cigarettes for your spare pair of socks, a postcard of Sienna for a pencil. You become accustomed to seeing each other frankly, and nothing is hidden.
The French American Operational Group was selected to go to China to train Chinese commandos and lead them into combat. The French/USOG command requested 15 Greek/USOG and 15 Yugoslavian/USOG enlisted men to join the French Group. We were informed that we would return to the States and have one month's leave to visit our families. We would then return to Area "F" (Bethesda, Maryland) for further training, including a crash course in Chinese. The month's leave was a great incentive to volunteer. Many Greek/USOG volunteered. It was the last week of November 1944, and at this stage of the war we believed that as soon as Germany was defeated we would eventually be sent to the Pacific to fight the Japanese, without the possibility of coming home.
Two of the three Greek/USOG officers selected to go to China were from the Group 4: Captain Robert Eichler, and Lieutenant Paul Pope; the third officer was from Headquarters Company, Captain Nicholas Paledes. The enlisted men did not have a clue, nor did we find out, who selected the volunteers. I surmised it was Captain Eichler because among the 15 volunteers chosen from our unit, there were no Greek nationals while five of the chosen were Americans of Greek descent from Group 4, including Tom Georgalos, Alex Phillips, George Kalliavas, David Christ, and me.[note 2]
Other volunteers from the Greek/USOG joining the French/USOG included, from Group 2, Stephanos Phillipides (Buffalo, New York); from Group 3, George Basiardanes (Galveston, Texas), Nicholas Caragianny (Chicago, Illinois); from Group 5, Walter Gates (Mt. Vernon, New York), Alex Psomas (Aliquippa, Pennsylvania), and Peter Stamates (Chicago, Illinois); and from Group 6, Alex Haritakis (Brooklyn, New York); from the Yugoslavian/USOG, Konstantine Solaris (Peabody, Massachusetts), James J. Zevitas (Roxbury, Massachusetts), and Gust Kitakis (Detroit, Michigan). This group of volunteers bonded in China.
Later we learned the remaining Greek/USOGs who were physically and mentally qualified ~ those who had not joined the French/USOG ~ were reassigned to various combat units.
Most of these men were assigned to the 17th, 82nd, or 101st Airborne Divisions in Germany. The 17th Airborne Division made the last American combat parachute jump in Europe across the Rhine River. A few of the Greek OGs, including Captain Robert Houlihan and First Sergeant Theophanes Strimenos, joined the Italian Operational Group in northern Italy.
What happened to the "California Five"? Three of us were fortunate enough to stay together through the selection of volunteers for the French/USOG operations in China: Tom Georgalos, Alex Phillips, and I ~ while Nick Cominos was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in Germany; and Perry Phillips, because of a physical difficulty, was placed on limited service and assigned to a PX in Caserta, Italy. Perry was distraught that his brother Alex would be assigned to a combat unit, while he would be assigned in a rear echelon area. The separation was very traumatic for all five of us, especially for the Phillips brothers.
After the war, three of the OGs who were Greek nationals settled in northern California: Angelo Lygizos and Anargyros Antonopoulos (Group 5) in San Jose, and Marcus Valvis (Group 6) in Castro Valley. Antonopoulos and Valvis joined Cominos in the 82nd Airborne, and Lygizos the 17th Airborne. Bill and George Portolas, who were Greek nationals as well, had settled in Richmond, California, before WW2.
Because the Greek/USOG was disbanded so quickly, the men had barely time to embrace each other and did not have an opportunity to compare the exploits of their respective units. (As previously mentioned, our groups operated autonomously in Greece and also in Yugoslavia.)
The CIA, the successor to the OSS, did not open the records of the OSS to the public until 1989. And only then did we discover our awards and receive our medals. Company C 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion aka Greek American Operational Group had been awarded the coveted Presidential Unit Citation in August 1944, signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Today, the excellent record of the Greek/USOG is available to the public in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The National Archives documents attest by stating for example:[note 3]
During a period of 219 days from 23 April until 20 November 1944, troops of Co. C., 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion were continuously in occupied Greece. The type of warfare they engaged in was unique in the history of the American Army. The record they made is of some interest and bears close examination.
Yet, the story still remains one of America's best kept secrets.
On October 18, 1942, Hitler issued an edict to his officers, ordering them to kill any American or British commando who had been captured, even if he happened to be an unarmed prisoner of war.
We were the commandos to whom the edict referred.
When our Operational Groups entered Greece for hazardous duty behind the enemy lines, the edict was in place.
The edict was explicit, it was emphatic.
As quoted here below, it ordered that we should be
slaughtered to the last man.
We should be
exterminated, without exception.
At that time, the people of Greece were suffering constant terror and extreme deprivation inflicted on them by the Nazis in attempts to break them and to subjegate them. Many hundreds of thousands of people, men, women, and children, died as the Germans systematically starved the population during the occupation. Thousands others were murdered in retribution for their resistance. (We may recall, for instance from Part 6 of these memoirs, the poor village woman who pitifully asked us not to attack the Germans because they would take revenge on the people. We may recall, from Part 6 also, the seven year old boy, his parents, and his elder villagers who knew where we landed when we parachuted into Greece behind the lines.)
In addition to the constant terror and the dire hunger inflicted on the population, the Nazi command offered a huge monetary reward to anyone who would betray us. An informant was promised the American or British commando's weight in gold.
I am proud to state that not one member of an American or British Operational Group was ever betrayed by the Greek Antartes or by a Greek citizen.
From now on all enemies on so-called Commando Missions in Europe or Africa, challenged by German troops, even if they are to all appearances soldiers in uniform or demolition troops, whether armed or unarmed, in battle or in flight, are to be slaughtered to the last man.
It does not make any difference whether they are landed from ships and aeroplanes for their actions, or whether they are dropped by parachute. Even if these individuals, when found, should apparently be prepared to give themselves up, no pardon is to be granted them on principle [...] If individual members of such Commandos, such as agents, saboteurs, etc., fall into the hands of the military forces by some other means ~ through the police in occupied territories, for instance ~ they are to be handed over immediately to the S.D.
In a supplementary order the Führer added:
If the German conduct of war is not to suffer grievous damage through such methods, it must be made clear to the adversary that all sabotage troops will be exterminated, without exception, to the last man. This means that their chance of saving their lives is nil.
Every veteran of the Greek/USOG echoes this through his own life:
Not one of us Americans was betrayed by the Greeks.
Company C 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion also known as Greek / American United States Operational Group (Greek/USOG), an elite unit of commandos who fought in Greece during WWII, were honored 26 May 2005, in a ceremony held by the Greek Ministry of Defense at the Armed Forces Park in Athens, Greece.
Members of the Greek/USOG family who attended the festivities were veterans Nicholas H. Cominos and his wife Joan, Angelo Lygizos, Andrew S. Mousalimas and his wife Mary; widows and relatives of the veterans: Mrs. James Andros, Mrs. George Portolas, Mrs Vasili Portolas, Mrs James Thomas and son Sammi; Cris Georgalos (sister of Tom P. Georgalos), Katerina Tsouras (niece of James Frangias), and Kostas Katsilanis (nephew of Lambros Makris).
The statue depicting an American soldier of a Greek/USOG was unveiled by the Greek Minister of Defense, Mr. Spilios Spiliotopoulos, in the presence of representatives of all the Armed Forces of Greece, six representatives of the American Embassy including four military attaches, and guests.
Mr. Spiliotopoulos, presented to the Greek/USOG veterans a Greek military medal and affirmed:
American volunteers had fought together with Greek resistance forces for the liberation of Greece. The actions of the Greek American Volunteers express in general their contribution in all our nation's struggles and exemplifies the attachment to modern Greece with the ancient values and ideals of our Hellenism. We consider our Hellenes abroad as one of the most important contributors to our nation's strength. In all difficult occasions, they continually contribute valuable services to our nation.
Constantine Korkas, Lieutenant General (ret) delivered a brief history of the Greek/USOG. Copies of a documented history edited by General Korkas and published in Greek by the Department of Military History, were given to everyone in the gathering. Titled The Greek-American Volunteers in the [Greek] National Resistance, the book is a collection of official documents, detailed accounts, translated into Greek from the files of the National Archives of the United States. The book also contains photographs and maps of the operations by the Greek/USOG as well as a preface by Lieutenant General Korkas (ret.) and an introduction by Major General Ioannis Kakoudakis. Twenty thousand copies have been printed for distribution. [note 5]
General Korkas then presented a bronze medallion, a replica of the soldier statue, to the widows and relatives of the deceased veterans. He emphasized the monument has been the catalyst for the recognition of the American soldiers who fought in Greece in WWII.
Following the unveiling of the monument and the ceremonies, the Greek Military hosted a buffet for all the attendees.
The evening of 26 May, 2005, veterans, wives, widows, family members, and invited guests were received by the curators of the Military Museum in Athens. The military museum contains artifacts and histories from the battle at Marathon and the many battles of Alexander the Great to modern events. Plans are in progress to add the history of the Greek/USOG into the museum. (Updates about developments will be posted in the OSS web site.) These plans are the work of General Korkas; he has also produced and narrated a film of the history of the Greek/USOG which is in the Greek Military museum.
27 May, 2005, the veterans, widows and families were guests at the Special Forces Training Center for their graduates' oath-taking ceremony. The Special Forces Camp is located at the Saronikos Gulf where, in 480 BC, Themistocles destroyed the Persian Fleet at the great naval battle of Salamis. It is compulsory for every Greek young man to serve two years in the Armed Forces. The Special Forces, an elite army unit, were impressive. After the ceremony the Commanding General of the Special Forces hosted his guests to lunch.
Six groups of the Greek/USOG and one group of the Yugoslavian/USOGinfiltrated Greece in 1944, landing either amphibiously or by parachute, joining forces with the Greek resistance. The groups operated in various regions of northern Greece from May to November, 1944, disrupting the withdrawal of Axis forces. Co. C was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their outstanding battle record in Greece.
The genesis of the Greek/USOG is the 122nd Infantry Battalion, also known as The Greek Battalion, at Camp Carson, Colorado. The battalion was founded in January 1943 by a special executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. June, 1943. President Roosevelt and Chief of Staff General George Marshall made a historic visit to Camp Carson to review the Greek Battalion.
A reunion of the Greek/USOG veterans convened in Athens in 1994. General Korkas in 1995 contacted Andrew Mousalimas and requested information, artifacts, photos, memorabilia and newsletters of the Greek/USOG and began diligently to gather evidence about the American volunteers who fought on Greek soil in WWII.
1998, a Soldier Committee was organized in Oakland, California and appointed Mrs. Sophia Johnston as the chairperson. The purpose of the committee was to promote the monument, assure its accuracy, to raise the necessary funding for the statue. Veterans Nick H. Cominos, Alex P. Phillips (since deceased), and Andrew S. Mousalimas were invited to join the committee as eyewitness historians.
The Soldier Memorial Monument is a 1-meter bronze statue sculpted by the California artist, Mr. Andrew G. Saffas. To be sure the soldier statue would be accurate in all respects, Mr. Saffas spent hundreds of hours researching, consulting with military experts and USOG veterans, and procuring authentic uniform, gear and weapons.
The statue is positioned on a 2-meter marble base. A plaque is attached to the front of the base, listing the names of the volunteers. Another plaque is attached to the back of the base, listing the names of the donors.
Over the next few years, Andrew Saffas sent photos of the statue's work-in-progress to General Korkas and communicated with him by telephone. Mr. Saffas furthermore traveled numerous times to Greece with his wife, Niki, and Mrs Johnston to meet with General Korkas and inspect the possible sites for the monument.
Meanwhile Nick H. Cominos and Andrew S. Mousalimas, who were based on the island of Vis in the Adriatic in WWII, and were familiar with the Yugoslavian/USOG discovered significant details about this unit in the National Archives. They uncovered the names of thirty-two men of this unit who had entered Greece in 1944, as Group VII of the Greek/USOG. Twenty-eight of these men were Greek / Americans. Cominos and Mousalimas agreed the veterans of the Yugoslavian/USOG must be included on the plaque.
Andrew Saffas had finalized the plans for the plaque and was initially concerned that the additional names would alter the aesthetics of the monument, but agreed with Cominos and Mousalimas that it would be morally wrong to omit the names of the Yugoslavian/USOG and made the necessary adjustments to the plaque.
28 May, 2005, General Korkas hosted a dinner for the three veterans and their wives. We thanked him and told him we are deeply indebted to him. Without his diligence and determination the unveiling of the monument in Greece might never have taken place. He was sorry more veterans were not able to attend. The attrition rate of our veterans has taken a major toll in the past decade; the few veterans who are still alive and were interested in attending the festivities were not physically able to travel.
Nick Cominos, Angelo Lygizos, Andrew Mousalimas and Andrew Saffas refered to General Constantine Korkas as the Godfather of the veterans of the Greek/USOG.
We are particularly grateful to the Greek Military, who were terrific hosts and more importantly endorsed the placement of the monument of the Greek/USOG in the Armed Forces Park.
Very special thanks to Andrew Saffas and his wife Niki Saffas, and to Sophia Johnston and her committee.
Without these dedicated people the Greek/USOG and Yugoslavian/USOG might not have been recognized in Greece.
The history and valor of the USOG of WWII is one of the best kept secrets in America. The records were classified in the National Archives until 1988. As a result, the Greek people, with rare exception, did not know American soldiers had fought on Greek soil for the liberation of Greece. Recognition of the unit in Greece was of the utmost importance to the Greek/USOG veterans.
Andrew S. Mousalimas
Veteran, Co. C. 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion.
o-pill, rather than surrender to the Japanese, who would first torture and then kill any Allied soldier captured behind enemy lines. The officers also warned us to not trust the Chinese and Burmese because they were fragmented and it would be difficult to discern the friendly natives from the unfriendly and we may be betrayed.
We were advised that we had only one loyal friend in Southeast Asia: Ho Chi Minh. The big bomb ended the war a couple of weeks later, so we did not have the opportunity to meet up with Minh's people. My unit was sent to Nanking to roundup Allied POWS.
During the terrible Vietnam War, especially at the beginning of hostilities when the huge majority of Americans supported the war and before thousands of body bags were being shipped home, I was very vocal in my disapproval of that immoral war.
In fact a few of my friends were so upset they branded me,
Lefty. More importantly I was disappointed a couple of my OSS buddies who supported the Vietnam war, had a sudden case of amnesia when I would remind them of our briefing in China.
(Interesting that 35 years after hostilities ended I cannot find anyone who admits supporting the Vietnam War.)
English translation of the book data:
Korkas, Constantine, Gen. ret., The Greek-American Volunteers in the National Resistance, History of the Operations in Greece of the 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion (23 April - 20 November 1944), Military General Staff, Department of Military History (Athens, 2005).
Published in Greek as:
Κόρκας, Κωνσταντίνος, Ανγος ε.α., Οι Ελληνοαμερικανοί Εθελοντές στην Εθνική Αντίσταση : Ιστορικό των Επιχειρήσεων στην Ελλάδα του 2671 Ανεξάρτητου Ειδικού Τάγματος Αναγνωρίσεων (23 Απριλίου - 20 Νοεμβρίου 1944), Γενικό Επιτέλειο Στρατού, Διεύθυνση Ιστορίας Στρατού (Αθήνα, 2005).
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