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GreekReporter.comDiasporaVeteran's Day: Greek-Americans Who Served Nation With Devotion

Veteran’s Day: Greek-Americans Who Served Nation With Devotion

Greek-American veterans
Captain John Calamos pictured in front of his aircraft while serving in the United States Air Force. Calamos, the Chairman of Calamos Investments, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1968 for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight under heavy hostile attack in Vietnam. Courtesy John P. Calamos

Throughout American history, many thousands of Greek-American veterans have served the nation with pride and distinction. They are all honored every Veteran’s Day, along with all the others who have devoted years of service in the American military.

These are just a few of their stories.

“The Flying Greek,” Captain Steve Pisanos, was Greek-born veteran

Among them were several notable figures, including Steve Pisanos, a WWII, Korea and Vietnam War Veteran who posthumously received the inaugural “Calamos Service Award”  at the 10th annual OXI Courage and Service Awards ceremony in Washington D.C.

John P. Calamos, Sr., Chairman of Calamos Investments, who is also a decorated military veteran, presented the award during the ceremony.

Known as “The Flying Greek,” Pisanos, who was born in Athens in 1919, had a distinguished career, serving in all three wars. He served in both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force during the Second World War and became the first person naturalized as a US citizen while on foreign soil.

He continued his service in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War and retired from the military in 1974, after having earned a total of thirty-three decorations and distinctions. “Mettle Behind the Merit” is a film on the life and career of the flying ace, shown at the Calamos Service Award ceremony.

Korean War Veterans include famed “Greek Expeditionary Force”

Many Greek-Americans served in Korea, along with, notably, a force of 10,000 Greek men who were sent to the country to defend its freedom and democracy during the Korean War.

In an announcement released by the Korean Embassy marking the 69th anniversary of the outbreak of the War, it was noted that Greece sent its Expeditionary Force – which included a land battalion, a squadron of pilots and seven transport aircraft – to Korea as a member of the United Nations.

The announcement reiterated the country’s gratitude to the nation of Greece by noting “The prowess and the actions of the Greek soldiers in the battles that determined the course of the war, such as Hill 381, at Nori Hill, and Jangjin Lake, was known and duly noted: of the Greek soldiers, 186 died in the battlefields and 610 were injured.”

The “Monument of the Fallen” was erected in the Papagos district of Athens to commemorate the service of the members of the Greek Expeditionary Force.

Decorated Greek-American Vietnam veteran, Captain John P. Calamos, Sr.

Now the Chairman of Calamos Investments in Chicago, this former flying ace initially joined the United States Air Force through the Illinois Tech ROTC program, earning his commission in 1963. In 1965, he went on active duty and entered pilot training in Texas. He was assigned to fly B-52s while stationed at Beale AFB in California as part of the Airborne Alert.

By 1968, Calamos was ordered to Vietnam to serve as a Forward Air Controller, assigned to the 20th TASS at Da Nang. Forward Air Control provides guidance to Close Air Support aircraft, intended to ensure their attack hits intended targets and does not injure friendly troops.

Calamos’ FAC squadron was the first to fly the Cessna O-2, an aircraft in which he recorded over 1,000 hours of flight time – 833 of those hours in combat.

Captain Calamos was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Nixon for “extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight under heavy hostile attack near Thuong Duc Special Forces Camp in Southeast Asia on September 28, 1968.”

Calamos’ Air Force career encompassed five years of active duty and twelve years in the Reserves, flying A-37 jet fighters. He retired with the rank of Major and later went on to become a legend in the financial industry. Today he is the Chairman and Global CIO of Calamos Investments.

WWII greek soldier evangelos klonis
The photo of Greek soldier Evangelos Klonis in WWII became an iconic image of the war. Credit: W. Eugene Smith/Public Domain

Greek immigrant’s photo became iconic image of the American soldier in WWII

The unlikely story of the life of Evangelos Klonis reads like a novel of adventure and heroism. It is the story of a Greek man whose photograph became the ultimate symbol of the American soldier in WWII.

One of the most famous images taken during World War II, the candid shot was captured by the great photographer W. Eugene Smith on the island of Saipan. It was simply captioned “Alert Soldier, Saipan.”

The stark black and white image shows the strength and resolution of an anonymous soldier scanning the horizon with a cigarette on his lips, epitomizing the toughness of America’s fighting troops.

Yet the figure who became an indelible symbol of the American military was actually Greek, and his name was Evangelos Klonis. The man who would later serve as the very embodiment of the brave American GI was born on the island of Kefalonia on October 28, 1916. He was the second child in a poor family, and six more siblings would soon follow.

At the age of 14 he moved to Athens with his elder brother, where he worked as a bus conductor. One day while at Piraeus, he saw sailors carrying supplies onto a ship.

He was only sixteen years of age when he snuck onto a ship as a stowaway, with the help of the captain, who was also from Kefalonia. Klonis stepped off the ship in Los Angeles, and the rest is history.

Klonis, who then shortened his name to “Angelo,” signed up for the Army in 1942 and entered boot camp at Fort Bliss, Texas.

He then went on to fight bravely for his new country, the United States, on many fronts throughout Europe, including Germany, France, Austria and Poland.

Klonis turned out to be a standout marine, receiving many medals for his service, and even a congratulatory letter from President Harry S. Truman himself. But it was on the cover of a book published by Time-Life called “LIFE – 50th Anniversary of World War II” that he truly went down in history, with his image still seen as the very embodiment of the foot soldier in that conflict.

In 2002, the U.S. was reminded again of this great American immigrant as W. Eugene Smith’s iconic photograph became a stamp in the series called “Masters of American Photography.”

The story of Greek-American veteran Jack Jacobs in Vietnam

Jack Jacobs entered the U.S. Army in 1966 as a Second Lieutenant through the ROTC program. He served as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division, executive officer of an infantry battalion in the 7th Infantry Division, and commanded the 4th Battalion 10th Infantry in Panama.

Greek American veterans
Jack Jacobs (on the left) is presented with the Calamos Service Award by John P. Calamos, Sr at the Washington Oxi Day Foundation ceremony in October 2022. Credit: Video screenshot/Washington Oxi Day Foundation

A member of the faculty of the US Military Academy, Jacobs taught international relations and comparative politics, and he was a member of the faculty of the National War College in Washington, DC.

He was in Vietnam twice, both times as an advisor to Vietnamese infantry battalions, earning three Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat decoration.

Jacobs retired as a Colonel in 1987. He was a founder and Chief Operating Officer of AutoFinance Group Inc, one of the firms to pioneer the securitization of debt instruments. He was a Managing Director of Bankers Trust, where he ran foreign exchange options worldwide and was a partner in the institutional hedge fund business.

Jacobs subsequently founded a similar business for Lehman Brothers and retired again in 1995 to pursue investments.

Jacobs was presented with the Calamos Service Award by John P. Calamos, Sr at the Washington Oxi Day Foundation ceremony in October 2022.

Calamos said that all those who fought in Vietnam were not welcomed home with warmth and parades. “Instead of being thanked for their service to our country, they were often criticized often by their community, friends, and family. Nothing can take back the pain of these difficult homecomings.”

In saluting the contribution of Jacobs, the Chairman of the Hellenic National Museum added that “In the case of the Vietnam veterans [the Award] means acknowledging the great sacrifice and bravery of those who served.”

This year, 2023, John Calamos Sr. presented the Calamos Service Award to Vietnam veteran Harris Pappas at the Washington Oxi Day Foundation’s 13th Annual Oxi Service Awards held at the National World War II Memorial in Washington

The honoree, Harris J. Pappas was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served one year in Thailand and one year in Vietnam and was awarded two Bronze Stars and three Army Commendation medals for his service.

George Poppas the Greek-American veteran of Korea

George Poppas was born in 1931 and raised in Patras, Greece, where his life’s dedication to honorably serving those around him began at a young age.

As a boy in Nazi-occupied Greece, he supported the nation’s resistance to Axis rule by printing and distributing resistance flyers, painting anti-Nazi slogans, and running supplies and intelligence into the hills to partisan fighters. He was wounded in one operation, and relied on a local butcher for care when no doctors were available.

In 1946, after the German withdrawal from Greece and at the age of 15, Poppas traveled alone to New York City, where he found work at a local Greek diner. He ultimately connected with family in Upper Darby, Pa., where he finished high school and looked to attend the Merchant Marine Academy.

As a naturalized American citizen, Poppas was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Because of his European background, being a native Greek speaker with multiple other language skills, he was selected to conduct counter-intelligence operations against the Soviet Union blending among the displaced people in post-WWII Germany.

Upon completing his tour of service, Poppas returned to the U.S. and used his G.I. Bill to earn an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin.

“Here I am; send me” — the story of Nick Xiarchos

Massachusetts State Assembly representative Steven Xiarchos, whose family’s roots are in the town of Mani in Peloponnese, spoke to Greek Reporter several years ago about the untimely death of his son Nicholas, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.

Nick, described by his family as a gentle giant with a pure heart, died on July 23rd, 2009, together with two other soldiers.

A bomb hit the tank that was carrying Nick and his fellow US Marines near the town of Gasmir, Afghanistan.

As his proud father put it, “Nick is my hero; we have to remember them and tell their story.”

“The Afghanistan forces have fought bravely for many years and suffered thousands and thousands of casualties.

“My son Nicholas would be proud that Americans volunteered to fight back after the Attack on America on 9/11/2001 and gave the people of Afghanistan — especially the women and children — a taste of freedom for 20 years,” Xiarchos stated.

“My son and many others worked hard for freedom in Afghanistan. They sacrificed, they fought, and in the case of many, they died — all in the name of extending the God-given gift of freedom to others.

“They did their job proudly and bravely, for love of country and their mission, and for each other. They are heroes, every single one. They answered their nation’s call, stood tall and said: “HERE I AM, SEND ME.”

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