NEW YORK – EMBCA with AHEPA’s Hellenic Cultural Commission (HCC) and Delphi Chapter #25 hosted the 3rd AHEPA Seraphim Canoutas Lecture, entitled “The International Contribution and Sacrifice of the Hellenic Merchant Shipping Fleet During World War II and the “Blessed” Liberty Ships,” on January 24 at the 3 West Club in Midtown Manhattan.
EMBCA President and HCC Vice-Chair Lou Katsos gave the welcoming remarks and a history of the modern Hellenic Shipping Fleet. AHEPA Supreme Vice President James Kokotas offered his remarks, noting the importance of learning the lessons of history. Chairman of AHEPA’s HCC Joseph C. Keane in his remarks spoke about the HCC’s efforts to raise awareness of the contributions and history of Hellenism. He said that he became interested in the history through his wife Demetra’s writing about Hellenism.
Author/historian Alexander Billinis, who teaches at Clemson University and is also studying for his master’s degree in history, presented the Hellenic Merchant Mariners, Unsung Heroes of a Heroic Nation. Highlighted by slides, photographs, charts and graphs, the presentation brought to life the vital contribution to the Allied war effort by the remarkable Hellenic Merchant Marine and the Greek nation, from the very beginning of WWII, even before the renowned “Oxi” on October 28, 1940.
Billinis shared his own family’s connection, his roots in Hydra, and the story of his namesake grandfather, Alexandros Billinis, who was in the Hellenic Merchant Marine and was one of the over 2,000 Merchant Mariners who perished during the war. His uncle and father, too, were in the Hellenic Merchant Marine and settled in the United States.
Billinis referred to his website, alexanderbillinis.com, and his latest project to record the stories of the individuals who served during the war and put a human face to the statistics and numbers and finally tell the story of those unsung heroes. The stories will eventually be published as a book including Billinis’ research into the subject.
Rhode Island State Sen. Leonidas Raptakis spoke about the Liberty Project, his own roots in Andros and his father’s remarkable story of serving in the Hellenic Navy just before the war, the Merchant Marine on the Nea Hellas just as Greece entered the war, and in the U.S. Army for the duration of the war. He pointed out the historic friendship between the U.S. and Greece and the recently signed agreement between SUNY Maritime and the National Merchant Maritime Academy of Hydra, Greece, signed in Hydra, to develop further partnerships and find additional areas of cooperation. Sen. Raptakis also spoke about the effort to bring one of the last three remaining Liberty Ships, the SS Arthur M. Huddell (renamed the Hellas Liberty), from the James River in Virginia to Greece and the establishment of the remarkable museum in Piraeus.
Marine Spares International Owner James Tampakis spoke in greater detail about the effort, the refurbishing and prepping of the ship with an impressive slideshow featuring the transformation of the SS Arthur M. Huddell into the Hellas Liberty museum. Tampakis encouraged everyone on their next trip to Greece to visit the museum which also hosts events as well as offering a unique experience to learn about the history of the Liberty Ships.
As Katsos noted, the presentation further expanded “on the topic EMBCA has introduced in the past, and now with AHEPA’s Hellenic Cultural Commission, on the important international significance of the history of the Hellenic Merchant Marine, its extraordinary sacrifices during WWII, and the story of the Liberty ships, a key component of restarting world trade after the war. It was the basis of the reestablishment of the modern Hellenic owned fleet, one of the greatest entrepreneurship successes globally.”
The presentations tied into what EMBCA has previously discussed in other Hellenic Shipping panel discussions relating to the importance of erecting a monument in downtown Manhattan (working with the appropriate government agencies in identifying the space) that will have two purposes: 1. To commemorate the Hellenic Merchant Marine sailors and Hellenic shipping fleet targeted (over 2,000 killed and 70% of the fleet decimated) by the fascists during WWII (Hellenic ships carried most of the supplies for the Allied forces), and 2. To express gratitude to the United States for supporting the creation of the modern Hellenic Merchant Marine fleet through the “Blessed” Liberty ships after the war and the historical friendship between the two nations.
Katsos pointed out that “this help with Hellenic entrepreneurship in shipping has created what is now the largest merchant fleet in the world.”
The next event for EMBCA is the 3rd Annual Hellenic Shipping Industry Panel Discussion which will be held at the Hellas Liberty Maritime Museum in Piraeus, Greece for the 10th anniversary of the ship leaving Norwalk, Virginia and entering the Port of Piraeus.
More information about the invitation-only event is available online: embca.com.
For more information on Billinis’ presentation and an interactive map on the Hellenic Merchant Marine in WWII: http://clemson.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=48837445f2a24e57b8986a0b4398d086.