There were five brothers in the Caraganis family of Dracut, Massachusetts when World War II broke out and four of them went off to war – and returned safely – three seeing combat and one, Costas, becoming the first Greek-American to attain the rank of Brigadier General.
The oldest, he saw Nicholas, George and Evan join him in the Army, a family with distinguished itself with service and dedication. They were mostly raised by a devoted mother, Christina, who worked at hard jobs after their father, Louis, died in 1930 at age 59.
The Caraganis family stuck together, as described by the Lowell, Mass. Sun in a feature based on the memories of Evan, the youngest and now, at 92, the last surviving member of one of the greatest generation.
He was a senior at Dracut High School when the war broken and couldn’t wait to sign up and follow his brothers into battle. Ironically, he would be the only one who didn’t see combat, spending his time in England with the Army Air Corps Eighth Air Force for almost two years.
Serving as a ground-crew armorer, Evan’s duties included cleaning and preparing the guns and hanging the bombs the pilots would use in air missions over Germany, France, Belgium and Poland.
“One day I think we had three squadrons go off and I think half of them didn’t come back,” Evan told Sun reporter Alana Melanson. “They were all shot down.”
He didn’t have to fight directly but said there were close calls. On his way over to Europe, a German U-boat tried to sink the troop ship. He recalls seeing the wake of the torpedoes, and the forced blackouts on the boat to try to evade the submarines.
The Germans would often capture and repair American fighter planes and join the formation during bombing campaigns, Evan said, following them back to England.
“They’d wait and after everybody landed, they’d strafe the airfield,” he said.
The family also had four sisters so Evan remembers how it was being the youngest. “I had seven bosses,” he joked.
His mother put two of her children through college, Costas and Nicholas and never once asked for help despite raising a big family under tough circumstances. “She said, ‘As long as I’ve got two hands, I don’t need nobody,’ “ Evan said.
It was difficult for her to see four of her children off to war, he said, but she was proud of them.
Costas, a 1929 graduate of Lowell High School, a city about 30 miles north of Boston that in the 1930’s had some two dozen Greek coffee houses, was the first to join the service. He was a member of the Army ROTC while attending the former Massachusetts State College, which is now UMass Amherst.
He was sent to to Fort Knox in Kentucky in December 1940, first as a lieutenant with the First Armored Division. In April 1941, he joined Gen. George S. Patton’s famed Fourth Armored Division, with which he would serve in the war. Together they swept through Europe.
“He was in the thick of it, because the Fourth Armored Division was one of Patton’s leading outfits, and the casualties were heavy,” Evan said.
By D-Day, June 6, 1944, Costas was a major. Asked to take on the leadership of Combat Command A after its commanding officer was killed, Costas accepted, delaying his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel to the end of the war.
Over the course of his service, Costas earned a Silver Star Medal, a Bronze Star Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the Legion of Merit. He also earned the French Croix de Guerre, or Cross of War, with a palm.
George, who was drafted in 1942, wasn’t as interested in going to war as the others but moved up to the rank of Sergeant and saw the most fighting, serving in North Africa, Sicily, mainland Italy and France, taking part in four invasions.
Nicholas, who also joined the Army ROTC at Massachusetts State College, entered the service after graduating at the top of his class in 1943. He was sent to Fort Riley in Kansas for officer candidate school. From there, he was immediately sent to the Philippines with the First Cavalry Division, into the invasion of Leyte.
Like many World War II veterans of combat, Costas, Nicholas and George spoke of their war experiences little, if at all.
“I think maybe it was too tragic,” Evan’s daughter, Leigh Ann Scaglione told The Sun. “They probably wanted to forget some of the things that happened. It was probably too emotional.”
When the war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, Evan was headed home.
Back in the U.S., Evan, Costas and Nicholas all joined the U.S. Army Reserve.
Costas stayed involved for several years, commanding different squadrons and divisions in Boston and continuing to move up the ranks in the military. In the early 1960s, he was promoted to Brigadier General.
In his retirement, Costas was active with the Boy Scouts and Lowell’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. He also donated his collection of more than 2,000 military books to Norwich University in Vermont, Evan said. Costas died in 1998 at age 88.
Nicholas became the Assistant Division Commander of the 76th Division Training Unit in Auburn, Maine, before retiring as a Colonel in 1974. He also served as the director of personnel for the state of Maine, and retired in 1979 as director of the state’s Emergency Preparedness Agency.
George became a fruit and vegetable inspector after the war and was the closest to Evan, acting as his best man at his brother’s wedding before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage at only 50 years old in 1967.
Evan’s first job out of the service was in the roads and grounds section at Fort Devens. At a civilian party there in 1952, he met his wife of 59 years, Anastasia. After six years they didn’t have any children, so they adopted Leigh Ann when she was 10 weeks old.
“The greatest day of our lives,” Evan said.
After leaving Fort Devens in the early 1950s, Evan worked as the foreman of the aircraft refueling section at Hanscom Air Force Base until he retired in 1974. Afterward, he spent time building refueling tanks in North Andover, he told the paper.
After Anastasia’s death in March 2014, Evan reconnected with Stephanie Schoeffel, a dear friend from his school days in Dracut. He said he and Schoeffel, who also lost her husband, see each other nearly every day.