Though it may seem like we know all there is to know about World War II, the truth is that there is still a great deal of classified information that has only recently come to light from that devastating global conflict. Heroes from the Greatest Generation like veteran Andrew Mousalimas are only now, 75 years after the end of WWII, receiving recognition for the dangerous missions they carried out and their service to their country.
Mousalimas now 90 something years old has written his memoirs of his WWII service. The fascinating book offers insights into the top secret missions in Greece and elsewhere in Europe that helped defeat the Nazis.
The book, entitled Memoirs, offers a unique look into the day to day experience of these extraordinary young men who served in the Greek U.S. Operational Group (USOG) created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) the precursor of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The opening is powerful with Mousalimas and his childhood friends in the choir at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Oakland, CA when they heard rumors that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, one day after Mousalimas’ 17th birthday. Most of the community’s young men, ages 14 and older, who were in church that day, Mousalimas noted, either volunteered or were drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces.
“In my wildest dreams I never imagined from induction day in the army, March 31, 1943, until I was discharged from the OSS, October 29, 1945, I would travel around the world twice,” he writes, adding some of the places he visited, “Washington, DC, Cairo, Rome, the Vatican, Athens, Melbourne, Calcutta, and Chunking.”
Mousalimas volunteered three times for hazardous duty with Greek-American units during the war and writes that many people have questioned him about why he would do such a thing and why he empathizes so strongly with Greece and Greek-Americans. He points out the rampant prejudice Greeks faced before World War II, noting that “this was the era when we were called dirty Greeks” and the children of immigrants faced xenophobia and violence from the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s which prompted the founding of AHEPA in 1924. Mousalimas gives examples of the prejudice the Greek community faced, including the burning of the Greek neighborhood of South Omaha in Nebraska in 1909, and the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in which Greek union organizer Louis Tikas was among those killed. He noted how the attitude towards Greeks began to change with the news of the Greek Army’s valiant effort, the first Allied victory of WWII, against the Italians in 1940.
The choice to join the Greek-American battalion was logical, Mousalimas said, “We had the best of both worlds: we were members of the United States Army and we would help liberate Greece, our parents’ homeland.”
A point of pride for Mousalimas is the fact that not one member of an American or British Operational Group was ever betrayed by a Greek citizen, in spite of the fact that the Nazis promised informants the weight of the American or British commando in gold. Mousalimas said of his and his fellow veterans of the Greek/USOG that “our lives really are testimonies to the Greek people bravery and resistance.”
The book is highlighted by maps and many photos from the war and more recent ones from the unveiling of a monument in Athens honoring the elite unit of commandos, and from Washington, DC in March 2018 when Mousalimas received the Congressional Gold Medal. He continues to speak out for the recognition of the ethnic USOGs which “comprised mainly of Americans of ethnic backgrounds who volunteered for hazardous duty behind enemy lines in the countries whose languages they spoke: Greek/USOG, Yugoslav/USOG, Norwegian/USOG, French/USOG, German/USOG, and Italian/USOG.”