Here in the United States, we speak of the greatest generation, the World War II veterans. The generation that won the war against the evil Axis. The United States veterans included thousands of American born Greeks. In the previous war, there were Americanized Greek Doughboys too. WWI included tens of thousands of Greek-Americans, many them Balkan War veterans, most of them born in Greece. Those men took an active role in securing the future of their adopted country.
What about the successes of modern Greece? What role did the pioneer Greek-Americans play? The victorious legacy of Greece in the modern age is almost beyond the expectations of any nation. The tiny Hellenic Kingdom was victorious twice during 1912-1913 period. Of all the nations involved, the only one to keep all the rewards was Greece – legacy that was never duplicated again. Greece has had other heroic moments, but nothing like the triumphs of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, and the Greek-Americans played a critical role in those glorious victories.
Did Americanized Greeks set a standard before WWI? Is there a legacy that pre dates the heroes of WWI and WWII? Did the Hellenic nation have any successes in the early 20th century that were unrivaled in its modern history?
At the end of 1913, the Hellenic Kingdom had basically doubled in size geographically and doubled her population. Both wars had lasted less than a year and Greece had set major milestones in her modern history. Landmarks that live on, even when most have forgotten.
Those men, the Americanized Greeks that bravely fought in 1912-1913, left the Unied State en masse. They left lucrative jobs, businesses, families, wives, girlfriends, brothers, and friends. Those heroes numbered 45,000, according to King Constantine I. They rose to the occasion and delivered. However, glory and victory come at a cost.
There are tragic accounts involving families and wives left behind in the United States while a father or husband went to war. Sometimes close-knit Greek-American communities would band together and raise funds to help the families in need. A few unlucky wives and their children became widows and orphans. Those families relied even more on the support and kindness of the surrounding Greeks. Sometimes help came from an older brother that stayed behind, or the Pan-Hellenic Union, a society that raised money to assist the Greeks leaving and the families left behind.
Entire Greek-American military units, from the United States, the Sacred Regiments, fell either in combat or from a combination of infection or disease. For many that survived physical wounds, life was never the same. Stories exist of young men returning to the United States missing limbs or partially blinded, fearing their future would be worse if they stayed in Greece. Most of those maimed or wounded found their way to family in Greece, but most never recovered.
The number of Greek casualties totaled over 52, 000. That number included soldiers killed and missing in action, wounded, and those exposed to disease and exposure. Compared to the size of the Greek Army, 130,000, the casualty numbers are high. The breakdown of losses during both wars is over 8,000 killed in action, 33,142 wounded and those counted as casualties associated with disease or other non-combative situations serving in uniform is over 11,500, not including 200 missing in action. All total 52,842, more than a third of the Greek Army had suffered some type of bodily harm, including those that were killed on the battlefield.
The sacrifice of the forgotten heroes is a testament of their honor and dedication to their ancient motherland as well to their adopted homeland. The Balkan War veterans built the vast majority of the oldest Greek-American communities. They were the men that returned and helped organize churches and communities and societies and Hellenic fraternal organizations, most still existing to this day. It is by their legacy and sacrifice that we flourish today. May we never forget the greatest Greek generation of 20th century, the Hellenic Heroes of the Balkan Wars!
Next time we discover war diaries and memoirs of the 1912-1913 Greek-American Veterans.
Peter S. Giakoumis.
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.