By Nick Larigakis
In a few days, Greece will once again be celebrating one of its most important national holidays—“OXI DAY.” As is the case every year, many Greek American communities across our nation will also be marking this important date by hosting a variety of activities. This is important, because it serves to educate the next generation of Greek Americans and to remind the rest of us of the important contributions of Greece in World War II (WWII). However, all of us collectively need to do a better job of educating the rest of the world as to this significant event in modern world history.
General Andrew J. Goodpaster, former Supreme Commander of NATO, has characterized Greece’s actions as “pivotal” in WW II.
Most important, is the fact that Greece’s valiant and heroic efforts against the fascist Italian army, resulted in the first defeat of the Axis powers in WWII.
In 1940, with Europe under the heel of Nazi Germany and with Britain fighting the Axis powers alone, Greece’s reply on October 28, 1940 of “OXI” (No!) to Mussolini’s surrender ultimatum gave hope to the forces of freedom. Greece, vastly outnumbered, ultimately defeated the Italian army and pushed them into the mountains of Albania. This defeat of Mussolini resulted in the first defeat of the Axis in WW II.
It has always troubled me that here in the U.S. one never reads, sees, or hears of any reference ever being made to Greece’s contributions in WWII and specifically the victory against the Italians.
I recently had the opportunity to visit France with my daughter. As someone who has always been interested in the history of WW II, I had been looking forward to visiting the historic shores of Normandy for a long time and I am pleased that I finally did so. I was not disappointed. I congratulate all those who preserve with such dignity the hallowed grounds where so much suffering and loss of life occurred over half a century ago for the defense of freedom, liberty and democracy.
As we travelled the three hour bus ride to Normandy, along the way, our tour guide would recount important historic details related to WW II. It was during this time that I was disappointed to hear our tour guide proclaim that the “first allied victories of the war were the ‘Battle of Midway’ and ‘El Alamein.’ As important and significant as these battles were in turning the tide of the war in the Pacific and northern Africa, respectively, they took place in 1942.
At our first stop I proceeded to explain about Greece’s efforts in 1940 to our tour guide who acknowledged I was correct. However, she never took the time to correct this misinformation with the others once we got back on the bus and continued our journey.
A few weeks ago, I wrote to the Ambassador of France to the United States, Pierre Vimont, to bring this matter to his attention and requested that he raise the issue with the proper authorities who oversee and license the tour guides who conduct these tours to Normandy. To date I have not received a response to my letter.
The American Hellenic Institute makes every effort to raise awareness of Greece’s contributions to the west in contemporary times and specifically WW II. To this effect we have published the proceedings from the conference we hosted, titled “Greece’s Pivotal Role in World War II and its Importance to the U.S. Today” and also the short DVD documentary on “The Greek American Operational Groups: Secret U.S. Forces in World War II Greece.”
In my letter to the Ambassador, I acknowledged to him that many battles took place on French soil and France’s heroic efforts through the underground movement and other means were highly instrumental in the defeat of the Nazis. This, of course, exacted a tremendous toll on the French people.
It is incumbent on all of us in the Greek American community to continue to raise awareness regarding Greece’s contributions in WWII. They were significant and pivotal and they need to start being acknowledged by western scholars and policy makers. And especially those historians who write on WWII and the authors who write the history text books that are being used in schools and universities all of over the U.S. today.
Further, in addition to contributing to the ultimate victory against the Axis, Greece’s actions also helped to shine a positive light upon the early Greek American immigrant community in the U.S. On October 27, 1940 we were the “Greasy Greeks” and on October 29, 1940 we were hailed as heroes for what the people of Greece did on October 28th!
These are historical truths that must never be forgotten. Preserving historical realties are important so that future generations may never forget.
*** Nick Larigakis is the Executive Director of American Hellenic Institute