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Overlooked Greek-American Heroes

By on October 21, 2020

by Peter S. Giakoumis

Modern Greece has had a certain number of key points within her narrative that stand out. When a Greek mentions the year 1821 the average Greek-American typically equates that with the Greek declaration of independence, that Greece had to fight to establish a modern nation, and they can name at least one hero, Kolokotronis.The next most famous Greek event is probably OXI Day in 1940, when Greece stood up to the Axis and fought off an invasion. Crammed in between 1821 and 1940 is a mountain of trials and tribulations for the small nation. Nothing came easy for Greece.

Moving into the20th century, the small kingdom had a meager industry and little to offer its ambitious young men. They found prosperity in a far-off land, where jobs were bountiful and hard work could yield a good return. By the early 1900s Greeks started leaving their homeland in large numbers seeking a better future in America. It was the land of opportunity. They landed on the east coast of the United States, but quickly spread out to all parts of the country. Some of those pioneers made their way out west, as far as the state of Washington. They worked all types of jobs, in all industries, from lumber camps to restaurants. They were not afraid of traveling great distances to find jobs, always mindful of the family they left behind in the patrida.

Life may have been looking up for those hard-working Greek men, but events in the Balkans were unstable. The Ottoman Empire was crumbling, and former vassal states Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece wanted to unite their ethnic minorities. The pioneer Greek-Americans kept a close eye on the home front, ever vigilant of hostilities. As fate would have it, war was enveloping the region. Greece and her neighbors united against the Ottoman Empire and toward the end of 1912, war was declared. Those Americanized Greeks took action, they dropped everything and left for the war.

Who were those men, and how many took part? What transpired? What was the outcome? Either by choice or oversight, the participation of the Greek-Americans and their role in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 is regularly overlooked. The outcome of the Balkan Wars helped forge the modern Greek state, and following the conclusion of the wars, veteran Greek-Americans helped establish the oldest Greek communities throughout the United States from coast to coast. Those men and the events that transpired between 1912 and 1913 deserve our attention.

Now, over 100 years later, their story is finally being told in all its glory. Military historian Peter S. Giakoumis has researched the history of the forgotten heroes for over seven years and is happy to share his results in his book Forgotten Heroes of The Balkan Wars: Greek Americans and Philhellenes 1912-1913. Presented for the first time is the true story of a forgotten Greek-American regiment of soldiers, volunteers from all over the U.S., who traveled to the front lines of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Most stayed in their regiment, some served under General Ricciotti Garibaldi, and his famous Red-Shirt Legion, while others served in the Greek infantry, witnessing a modern warfare the likes of which no one had ever seen. These men encountered for the first time in combat the use of aeroplanes, motor vehicles, heavy artillery, machine guns and trench warfare. Some Greek-Americans served alongside a retired American National Guard General, who also volunteered and served in the Greek Army. This is their story, from beginning to end, using newspaper reports of that time, letters from the front lines, official military narratives, and private archives that have been presented before. A comprehensive account, with background information on the way of life the pioneer Greeks had faced, brought together in one place. From the early pre-war fund raising, to the fighting on the front lines, and then their triumphant return to the United States. May their memory be eternal!

Author’s page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/1912GreekHistory

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