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Guest Viewpoints

The Forgotten Heroes: Americanized Greeks on the Fields of Battle

May 22, 2021
By Peter S. Giakoumis

How involved were the Greek-Americans in the Balkan Wars? It turns out that one third of the Hellenic Army was made up of Greeks returning from America. That statistic alone means Americanized Greeks served in all branches of the military, including specialized units such as the Evzones, and the gendarmerie traveling with the army, and served as both military police and then as law enforcement for the newly liberated towns and cities. On many occasions they supported military actions and saw combat.

One exception to Greek-American involvement was the Army Air unit. The pilots were all Greek military personnel from within the Hellenic Kingdom, and although there are rumored stories of American and Greek-American pilots serving, there is no evidence of them having served during either of the Balkan Wars. 

Those Greeks that travelled from the United States came from far and wide. From the frozen countryside of Alaska and the west coast states of Washington, Oregon, and California, to the east coast states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – and all the other states in between – Americanized Greeks answered the call. They were amongst the front ranks in the battles of both the First and Second Balkan Wars.

The Greek-Americans were easily identified. They never hesitated to let those around them know they had lived and worked in the United States. They spoke Americanized English to each other, and anyone else that would understand. Most of them used the slang and dialects that came from the streets of Chicago, New York City, Massachusetts, and California. They sang American songs and whistled Rag Time on the battlefields as they fought, as reported by eyewitnesses. Some of them even brought American flags with them onto the fields of battle. 

Greek-Americans distinguished themselves by having the unique distinction of being amongst the first troops to enter Larissa in October of 1912, and Ioannina and Chios in November 1912. The Greek-American liberators of Chios served as sailors, both as officers and enlisted, as Marines, and as Army soldiers, all of which saw combat on the shores and inland. Greek-Americans were also the first to enter the newly captured city of Salonica in December of 1912. They served in all the battles to liberate the other half of the Greek nation that is taken for granted by everyone today. 

From the first official land battle in Ellassona, to Sarantaporon, Aikaterini, Sorovits, Gianitsa, Ostrovon, Korytsa, Pesta, Driskos, Aetorahi, to the last official land battle at Bizani in Ioannina, they served. We know this because they sent letters back to their friends and relatives throughout the United States, and many of those letters were published in local American newspapers. Some veterans of the wars also sent back photographs that were published, still others gave interviews to their hometown American newspapers.

The Second Balkan War was also rich with Greek-Americans. Those Greeks that left the United States after the commencement of the First Balkan War in 1912 and arrived in 1913 served in the subsequent war. They participated in the major battles of Kilkis- Lahanas, Beles, Nevrokopion, and Kresna-Tsoumagia against the Bulgarians. 

The men in the picture accompanying this article are two of those forgotten Greek-American soldiers. The one on the right wears the older 1908 style military hat, and is a sergeant based on the stripes on his sleeve – note the stripes start at the cuff and wrap diagonally up towards his elbow. Next to him is a regular army soldier. Note the Kepi or hat he is wearing. It is the new model Kepi M1910 that was issued in 1912 to the new soldiers. They also have on their back a standard military pack, and they are armed with new Mannlicher rifles purchased under special order by the Hellenic Army to replace the old Gras rifle.

Next time we will learn the meaning behind the Commemorative Medals of the Greek-Turkish and Greek-Bulgarian medals of 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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