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General News

Greek-American Stelio Triandafilou, Catastrophe Survivor and WWII Veteran, 100

February 13, 2021
By Matina Demelis

ASTORIA – Stelio M. Triandafilou passed away on February 4 at the age of 100 at his home in Astoria. A World War II veteran and beloved member of the community, he was buried with Military Honors on February 9.

He was born in 1920 in Asia Minor and lost his father at the age of two in the Asia Minor Catastrophe. His mother took her five children, Katina, Vasilis, Manolis, Stelios, and Popi, and settled in Serres.

Triandafilou’s son-in-law, Alekos Romeos, remembers what Triandafilou had told him of the family’s harrowing experience: “For a moment, everyone was lost. Vasilis, as he was holding his mother’s hand, got lost in the crowd, and they could not find him. Eventually, his godmother found him and took him with her. Stelios, the baby, Katina and Manolis went to Serres. They stayed there for two years. I remember my father-in-law describing what happened there- extremely cold winter, snow inside tents. He was shivering from the cold. After two years they left for Tilos. His mother was from there. When my father-in-law turned 10, they went to Kasos for a better life. There he went to school and in the afternoons he worked in a bakery. The baker was good to him and tried to find him a job on the ships.”

Manolis Cassotis knew Triandafilou for the last 20 years and spoke about what the expatriate from Asia Minor told him about his life. He describes him as a hospitable, sociable, and dignified man.

“I had met him through his son-in-law, Alekos Romeos, who was then president of the Tilos Association. At that time, I was writing the book 'The Dodecanese Presence in America' and he gave me information while we were meeting at the association events. Despite his 80 years he was in very good condition. He was always well-groomed, he cooked. When I went to visit him, he had everything ready, the coffee, the sweets.”

At the age of 16, Triandafilou found a job on ships. On his second trip, he disembarked in America. “He was 18 years old then. He met with some Kasiotes and they opened a cafe. Two stores opened, but they lost the lease. And so he decided to enlist as a soldier to get his papers. He told me that at first they did not take him because he was too young. So, he put down that he was older and got in. He served as a cook in the army because of his experience in the restaurants,” said Romeos.

Cassotis added, “He served in the Pacific Ocean. He took part in battles on the island of Kwajalein and then in New Guinea in the direction of the Philippines, on the islands of Finschhafen and Leyte, and finally on the landing in the Philippines at Luzon. Shortly before landing in Japan, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb. There, he told me that he also met a Greek from Tilos, Grigoris Giannakis, who later became his brother-in-law.”

In 1947, Triandafilou met his future wife Irene Koufomanolis through a photograph. He went to Greece and brought her with him to America. Together they had three children, Kalliopi, Stamatia, and Michalis.

In 1957, he went to Greece again to meet his brother Vasilis who got lost in the Asia Minor Catastrophe and grew up with his godmother. He had not seen him for 33 years. Then he went to Rhodes to visit his older sister, Katina, who worked as a housemaid. After meeting his family, he returned to America and opened another restaurant.

Romeos spoke about meeting his father-in-law. "I met him in America. He was a man who directly 'struck' my heart, friendly and always helping everyone. I remember when I went for a visit with my mother to his house – we were neighbors – I saw his daughter Stamatia. I then said to my mother, 'This is the woman I want to marry.’ I have never met another person like my father-in-law. He did everything for his wife and children. Even for me who had never met my father, he was like a father to me.”

Cassotis also said that "what impressed me with Stelios was that despite his age he was in good physical condition. You could see that he was walking well, his spirit was clear. He was sociable and very friendly. When we went to events with the Kasiotes, he spoke with the Kasos accent. He had learned to make certain foods, such as the dolmadakia from Kasos which are very small.”

In lieu of flowers please donate to: St. Michaels Home for the Aged, 3 Lehman Terrace Yonkers, NY 10705, www.stmichaelshome.org and/or Foundation Fighting Blindness, P.O. Box 45740 Baltimore, MD 21297-5740, phone: 800-683-5555, https://donate.fightingblindness.org.

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