How did the Americanized Greeks get their story back to relatives and friends in the United States? How did we inherit intimate knowledge of the exploits of the forgotten heroes? The true answer runs contrary to a commonly held belief. Today we have first-hand accounts from the battlefields of the Balkans because Americanized Greeks wrote letters, thousands of them, to friends and family in the United States. Yes, they had the ability to read and write in Greek, and some could carry on conversations in English, with American accents of course. Others could actually read and write in English, perhaps not fluently, but well enough. The letters and post cards they sent often included information unknown to the general public such as, for example, who was deployed with whom and to what region, and on occasion who was wounded or killed in action. The letters were personal, sprinkled with experiences, good and bad, happy and sad, bringing glimpses of real sacrifices of the war.
A recurring issue mentioned in many letters was the poor quality of their military supply lines. The men were often hungry and always struggled during inclement weather, but they still found it in them to fight hard no matter what the situation.
Another fascinating occurrence of the times was the inclusion of photos along with the letters. The cabinet photo and post card photo found a new outlet and became very popular amongst the men, more so with those that could afford them. Obviously, those photos were popular with the Greek-Americans, they had taken American money with them. They seemed to enjoy posing in their uniforms, usually alone, sometimes in doubles, especially with a brother or relative, sometimes in a group, but always showing off their moxie.
The letter and picture fulfilled a double role. It informed family and friends of the status of their relative and friend, and the news was often shared with the local newspaper. The newspaper in turn, would publish names and parts of the letter, and surprisingly would often publish the accompanying picture too. Cities and towns in the United States, from east to west coast, and even Hawaii, published pictures of the Greek-Americans with their names and those of their relatives and friends informing the general reader on the condition and whereabouts of their hometown Greeks.
Some of those men even sent picture post cards to their love interests, American girls they met while working in America. Remarkably some of the men learned to read and write in English, and their love letters are heartwarming.
Some men wrote on a regular basis, others very rarely. Some would either disappear and re-emerge, and others would never be heard from again, their resting place on the battlefield or a field hospital. A few corresponded directly with local American newspapers and published regular accounts until they returned.
For people to correspond to each other is not surprising. The best accounts are always centered around personal experiences. What should capture our imaginations is how those men, all but forgotten, left a lasting imprint with the American public that captured a small part of their story. In the end, we should be equally grateful to both the writers and the publishers. Forgotten no more, may our Balkan War veterans be remembered eternally!
Next time we examine the sacrifices made to attain the greatest military victories of the Greek nation in the 20th Century.
Peter S. Giakoumis is the author of The Forgotten Heroes of the Balkan Wars: Greek-Americans and Philhellenes 1912-1913. Follow him on www.Facebook.com/1912GreekHistory.