It was an unforgettable experience. One of those that mark a life forever.
An experience that excites me and lifts my spirits every time I think about it. And I think about it often.
And that, in fact, is why I hesitated to record it, for fear I could not do justice to it.
I am referring to the experience I had last year, on October 28, as a representative of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on the Greek land of Northern Epirus.
Where the “NO!” of Ioannis Metaxas ignited and took on flesh and bones in the souls of the generation of those Greeks who defied Mussolini’s numerically superior army, repulsed their attacks, and covered the region’s slopes and mountains with their dead bodies, writing one of the most glorious chapters in our modern history.
First, we went to Kleisoura. In those mountains, those towering masses dense with trees which now look so calm, so delightful that under other conditions make one want to go hiking, climbing to the top, enjoying their grandeur and the beauty of the surrounding area.
We lit a candle in the church at the foot of the mountain. Next to it is a cemetery. Neat, well maintained, endowed with every honor. History was weighing on our shoulders.
Looking from that spot, from the church and the cemetery at the mountain, I could see, in my mind’s eye, the Greek soldiers charging uphill, shouting ‘aera!’ I heard, I thought, the thunderous sound of guns, and then I had a vision of young men falling, some rose again, others did not – and the Italian soldiers running for their lives.
Many fell. Thousands. More than eight thousand throughout the region. The cream of the youth of Greece.
Many were buried in mass graves. The corpses of others remained where they fell, on the slopes of the mountains.
They did their duty. They paid with the highest price – with their life – the honor and the glory they owed their homeland.
There, I learned this shocking thing: The bones of many of these heroes have not yet been found.
They are buried in areas where Albanians create obstacles to searches. One is cooperative, the other is not. Depending on what kind of game they are playing.
There, I met some of the most amazing, proud, Greeks I have ever met: Greek officers – and others – who have dedicated their lives to locating and exhuming the bones, burying them properly, and informing their relatives.
The technology they use to locate the bones is relatively good, but better tools are available. They need them.
I met with them in Athens as well. I remember them and it warms my heart.
They deserve every assistance in their work…
From there, we went to Vouliarates, another sacred place. (See the column of our colleague Marianna Stefanou, in the Greek edition of the weekend of October 24-25 titled “Northern Epirus Street! Greeks will always walk on this street!”)
I stopped at the village cemetery and reverenced the grave of Konstantinos Katsifas, the patriot killed recently by the Albanians.
It was one year since his death and his parents, relatives, and friends performed a memorial service.
I put some flowers on his grave. I wanted to say a “thank you” to him, as a representative of Greece.
But I thought better of it. Heroes are not sacrificed for a mere thank you…
What a relief I feel when it crossed my mind that I did not listen to some who advised me not to go to his grave, because I would provoke the Albanians who were watching us…
May their memory be eternal!