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Guest Viewpoints

The Forgotten Heroes: The Greatest Philhellene of the Balkan Wars!

April 24, 2021

What is a philhellene? On a simple level, it refers to a friend of Greece, Greek culture, or the Greek people. Philo=friend; Hellene=Greek.

On a more complex level, it relates to someone that not only admires Hellenism, but is a proponent and defender, a spokesperson firmly in the corner of Hellenic culture and its people.

Thomas Setzer Hutchison was born in Nashville, Tennessee in the latter part of the 1800s, he attained a high military rank, Brigadier-General, in the Army National Guard and became the military advisor to the Governor of Tennessee. His military career was followed with an illustrious civil service career. As a police commissioner for the city of Nashville, Hutchison pushed through reforms to protect juveniles from abuse, and created a separate commission to oversee the proper treatment of working animals. A friend of Theodore Roosevelt, he campaigned for him as a representative of the Progressive Party in 1912. Hutchison also ran his own successful contracting business. He was an inventor holding various patents, and wrote a variety of books and manuals, including a book titled: An American Soldier under the Greek Flag at Bezanie: A Thrilling Story of the Siege of Bezanie by the Greek Army, in Epirus, During the War in the Balkans, published in 1913 by the Greek-American community of Nashville. It is the only eyewitness account written by an American participating in uniform for the Hellenic Kingdom. The book is written exclusively in English for the American audience, presenting the heroics of the small Hellenic Kingdom with unbiased observations of the trials and tribulations of a modern war that he predicted would eventually unfold on a scale never before seen by the modern world.

Hutchison not only took an interest in Hellenic affairs abroad, he befriended the Greek Consul to Nashville Tennessee, Panteles Panagiotopoulos, and with the help of the Consul, Hutchison began studying the Greek language. By November 13, 1912, Hutchison had decided to board the steamship Laura in New York City and sail for the Hellenic Kingdom and join the Greek Army. On the trip over, he drilled the young men, and upon his arrival in Athens he personally met with Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos. Hutchison accepted the rank of Major in the volunteer regiment of the Garibaldi Legion, serving under the Greek Army. He made his way north and became attached to the 15th Hellenic Infantry Regiment commanded by Greek Army General Sapountzakis.  

Hutchison was eventually wounded by a Turkish artillery barrage, and was sent to a military field hospital based on the severity of his wounds. He was later given an honorable discharge and subsequently sailed back to the States to fully recover. Upon his return he was greeted by a special welcome committee of Nashville Greeks, who presented him with a special trophy. Sharing his experiences with them, they encouraged him to write a book based on his experiences, which he eventually did.

Hutchison continued to engage with the Greek-American community, and at their request he would give presentations detailing his personal experiences. He was invited by a variety of Greek-American communities, and would travel to many cities throughout the United States. His presentations would thrill audiences since he had met with many of the most famous individuals of the Hellenic Kingdom, including the famous Greek poet Matsoukas, the daring pilot Lieutenant Kamberos, and many others during his service in Greece.

He also returned to the Hellenic Kingdom a second time, during WWI, and was an outspoken defender of Greece when the Carnegie Report erroneously accused the Greek Military of slaughtering Bulgarian civilians and prisoners of war during the Balkan Wars. He helped organize a Greek-American political club for the Chicago community, contributing articles and stories to the Chicago based Greek language newspaper, Saloniki, for several years after the Balkan Wars.

To the very end Hutchison not only considered himself an outspoken supporter of the Greek people, but he was recognized as such in his obituary by his fellow Americans as being a champion of the Greek cause.

Colonel (his preferred title) Thomas S. Hutchison, you are worthy of the title Philhellene, may your memory be eternal!

Next time we discover the fate of the volunteer Greek-American heroes.

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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