By Catherine Tsounis
The Greek Fight for Independence in 1821 can be understood by Greek-Americans through their own historical experience in America. The value of freedom is treasured by all. March 25th 1821 Celebrations can be appreciated by connecting it to our own military experience in America. Fallen Greek-American heroes must be remembered at this time.
One such hero was the late Chris Christofis, the son of immigrant parents from the village of Panagia in Limnos. “Chris’s fatherʼs name was Nicholas Christofis Diamandis that was altered to Christofis when he immigrated to the USA,” said Aspasia Christopher, his widow. His grandparents had roots in Asia Minor. During the 1900ʼs there was a constant movement back and forth from the island of Limnos to Asia Minor for economic opportunity. His father, Nicholas Christopher worked in the steel mill town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania before relocating to New York City. His Mother, Catherine, was the daughter of a Lemnian school teacher.
Chris Christofis went to Stuyvesant H.S. during the late 1930ʼs to 1940ʼs before being drafted into the WWII military, upon graduation at the age of eighteen years old. He was trained and then shipped to the Asian front. He fought in the battle for the island of Mindanao, Philippines. The soldier contracted malaria in the jungles and survived to continue his military duty. He served as a forward observer for the artillery, flying over enemy lines in a small plane. When Japan surrendered, Christofis was part of the occupying force till his discharge. He was discharged as a Staff Sergeant. When Christofis returned to the U.S., he joined the National Guard, attending Hunter College. Upon graduation, Christofis was recalled to active service in 1950. He served an additional year in Army Intelligence during the Korean War.
The Greek-American was one of the first staff members of the United Nations in the early 1950ʼs. as a cartographer. He was instrumental in the Standardization of the International Map of the World and Geographical Names. He attended International Conferences as Representative of the Secretary General and was responsible for the work of experts in the field. When he died in 1980, he had served as Chief of the Cartography Department of the United Nations for ten years.
Chris Christofis (Christopher) was respected by members of the Indian diplomatic corps as well as other UN staff members. In the Astoria community that he was part of from the 1940ʼs, Chris Christopher was admired as a former WWII military officer who rose to a leading position in the American civil service of the United Nations. The March 25th 2009 festivities of Greek Independence must remember quiet, unsung heroes who played a rose in preserving freedom during a war and peace time American society.