GR US

OXI Day: What Does It Mean to Me

The National Herald

The Greek Afternoon School at St. Thomas in Cherry Hill with the Very Reverend Archimandrite Christoforos Oikonomidis celebrated OXI Day. Photo: Steve Lambrou

This is article is based on an interview conducted with my late father some thirty years ago just before his death. Please take the time to record your family history. Otherwise, it will be lost forever.

I remember as a young boy my father, George talking about ‘OXI Day’ with his friends. At the time, I didn't understand or have a clue as to what he was talking about. As I grew older, I started to think about what exactly is OXI Day anyway. I asked him and his response was "it's an important day (October 28, 1940) when the Greek dictator, Ioannis Metaxas told the Italian Ambassador in Athens, ‘NO, you cannot pass through our territory.’” The Italian ultimatum gave Greece twenty hours to respond in the affirmative. Metaxas told the Italian Ambassador: “Alors, c’est la guerre…We will be waiting for you on our western border."

Once was broke out between Greece and Italy, my father enlisted in Egypt to fight with the Greek army. However, he never fought on Greek soil but saw combat in El Alamein and the Middle East. My father was born in Egypt and was very proud of his Greek heritage. He considered it his patriotic duty to go to defend the land of his ancestors. It was through him that I got interested in Greek history and of course, OXI Day.

My father told me that a ramshackle Greek army fought against a vastly superior enemy on the Greek-Albanian border and almost drove them into the Ionian Sea. He mentioned that our forces lacked guns, artillery, and munitions against the Italians. Their courage, stamina, confidence, tenacity, and determination were the vital factors in the Greeks defeating and repelling a superior enemy. He recalled reading about it in the Greek press in Egypt.

He was no supporter of Metaxas but believed the latter's leadership proved crucial when Greece faced invasion from Italy. He heard Ioannis Metaxas’ radio broadcast in Cairo rallying the Greek nation to arms. The Greek-Egyptian press printed banner headlines encouraging local Greeks to do their patriotic duty. Many went from Egypt to fight in Greece whilst others like my father stayed behind. Dad never explained why he never went to Greece.

I remember him laughing at the idea of Mussolini riding his white horse down the main thoroughfare of Athens. Mussolini wanted to be a modern-day Julius Caesar. He thought the Italian dictator was a bombastic pompous individual with a big ego. Of course, his ego was deflated when the Metaxas told him "NO." Even the Italian setback on the Greek-Albanian border would have driven Mussolini to the point that "how dare these little Greeks to try to defy me." My father's description of the Greek success reminded me of the movie: The Mouse that Roared.

Dad told me that our victory over Italy gave Britain and its allies the encouragement to resist Hitler. Moreover, Hitler was angry with Mussolini that his army couldn't defeat a small Greek force. It showed that a small nation can resist a stronger one if it has the will to defend its territory even if odds are stacked against it. This is one main reason why Germany invaded Greece in April 1941.

I remember him saying that the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was emboldened by the heroism displayed by our Greeks against the Italians. He (Churchill) thought Greek courage and heroism were transferred to the British resistance of the Nazis. My father always believed that our soldiers were damn good fighters and would defend the homeland to the last man. George said "we Greeks are loud emotional people but don't like war. When provoked, the enemy better watch out."

What does OXI day mean to me? It makes me feel proud to be Greek and glad my dad instilled in me the love for the homeland of our ancestors. I must declare that I have never been to Greece, which will surprise many people.

I always mark October 28 as an important day on my calendar. It's a day of reflection remembering our heroes who resisted and defended the patrida from invasion. We showed when threatened that we can put our differences aside and defend what is rightfully ours.

We must never forget October 28, 1940, for those who fought and laid down their lives for us. Their sacrifice allows us to enjoy our present-day freedoms despite the current problems facing Greece. Let October 28 serve as an example for present Greek leaders to stand up and defend its territory from its neighbors. Long live! October 1940.