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Forgotten Heroes: War Diaries and Memoirs of the 1912-13 Greek-American Veterans

August 28, 2021
By Peter S. Giakoumis

War diaries and memoirs can be traced back to soldiers and commanders during all historic wars. Any well stocked bookstore will have plenty to choose from and; just about every conflict is represented. Diaries and memoirs are important records of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. If searching online or in Greece one will find a few accounts written by combatants recounting their experiences, some of them from personal notes, diaries, and some from their memoirs. Almost all of these accounts are from officers and their experiences are published exclusively in the Greek language.

One well-known Balkan War account was written in English from the personal diary of American Brigadier General Thomas S. Hutchison and published by the Greek-American community right after the wars.

But of the tens of thousands of Americanized Greeks who participated in the Balkan Wars, how many of them are known to have documented their experiences? And how many of those ended up in English?

Only a handful of experiences have been documented by Greek-Americans. A few oral interviews have been preserved on the west coast, and there is a short video from the 1980’s of a Balkan War veteran recollecting some of his actions. There are also several excellent contemporary interviews published in various American newspapers. Only a few diaries or memoirs have surfaced, and even fewer have ever been translated into English. Possibly the only account of the Second Balkan War of 1913 to be translated into English in the United States immediately following the hostilities was documented in the United States by a Greek-American named Aristoteles Machelas of New York City.

Machelas was too young to serve in the Greek Army and remained in the United States. His older brother Dimitrious fought in the Second Balkan War against the Bulgarians, and sent several letters to his younger brother in New York City describing his service. By 1914 Aristotle Machelas had attended high school in New York and could read and write exceptionally well in Greek and English. He closely followed the wars and fashioned a scrapbook from American newspaper articles and his older brother’s letters. Machelas felt it was his duty to publish a record in English of what had transpired during the Greco-Bulgarian war of 1913. It was a personal attempt by Machelas to counter balance the negative articles appearing in the American press. Although the scrapbook was moderately preserved, it was studied by this author, the scrapbook was never published and because it was compiled using poor materials, it is in a terrible state of decay.

Besides the Machelas account, there exists a diary that was translated into English of a Greek-American soldier, Peter Zaferios Dalapas who fought bravely in both wars of 1912-1913. The translation was completed in 2015, but never formally published. The translation was sponsored by Christine Dalapas, the daughter of Peter Z. Dalapas. After his service, Peter returned to the United States in 1916 and helped establish one of the original Maine Greek-American communities, typical of the Balkan War veterans throughout the United States.

The absence of published material is not due to the lack of source material; it is based on

a disconnect between those that have the documents and artifacts, and those that have the ability to preserve and share them with the public. Without the means to translate and publish these treasured and unique heirlooms, the Greek-American community will continue to lose and forget the honorable and heroic accounts of the pioneer Greek-American Balkan War Veterans.

A copy of the original diary of Peter Zaferios Dalapas is in the Hellenic Museum in Chicago, Illinois, and the translated letters in the scrapbook of Aristoteles Machelas can be found in this writer’s book.             

Next time we discover the forgotten poets and poetry of the Forgotten Heroes 1912-1913.

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/

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