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Preservation of American Hellenic History

Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2

Part 2
Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

The Foresight of Major Clainos

After the war my wife, Mary, and I visited Clainos numerous times in San Francisco where he made his home after his discharge from the army. He retired as a full colonel. We videotaped him over ten hours during different sessions in 1989-91.

He told us that he was responsible for not allowing the 122nd to build up to battalion strength. He said there were two reasons. First, he was not satisfied with the physical and mental condition of many of the Greek nationals who were older and not physically able to compete; many had been forced to join the battalion because they were Greek immigrants. The colonel turned to Mary and told her that he discharged the physically or mentally unfit and, he said, I kept excellent soldiers like your husband.

The second reason was even more significant. He was informed by the Pentagon no American unit of battalion strength would be permitted to go into Greece since the Balkans were in the British sphere of influence and he worried that the battalion would be sent to the Far East. He was apprehensive some of the Greek nationals who had been promised to return to their homeland to fight the Nazis might desert in protest. He was also concerned the Greek Battalion would set a bad example for all of Greek America if there were desertions. Mainstream America would neither understand nor excuse the desertions and would not bother to learn about the political ramifications of the Balkans agreed on at the Tehran Conference by the three Allied powers, the United States, Britain, and the USSR. (This was 1943 and Greeks, the latest immigrant group to arrive in America, were second-class citizens in most parts of the country.)

As he told us in his own words, transcribed here from the video-taped interviews:

When I was briefed by the Pentagon in Washington DC before going to Colorado Springs, I was told the Greek Battalion in American uniforms would never go to Greece. No American unit would be allowed in the Balkans because it was the British domain. By the time we completed our training and received assignment to a regiment, it would have been too late for the European Theater. We would have been sent to Japan. I couldn't visualize Greek nationals, who had suffered atrocities under the German occupation, putting on their belts and their bayonets to fight the Japanese on the other side of the world. It was not my job to decide where the Greek Battalion would go ~ it was up to the Pentagon.

Major Clainos continued the intense training, biding his time, eliminating soldiers who were not physically fit; keeping the battalion from reaching its maximum strength. This negative became a positive because the quality of Clainos' battalion improved with every dismissal. Clainos continued to remove the undesirables until fortunately a group from the OSS arrived on the scene and asked for volunteers.

The OSS recruits Volunteers;
The Greek Battalion is Disbanded

In August 1943, the earliest recruits into 122nd had completed seven months of infantry training at Camp Carson and my group had over five grueling months of training under the superb leadership of West Pointer Major Peter Clainos when three officers of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) arrived at Camp Carson and were introduced to the men of the Greek Battalion. This was the first we heard of the OSS.

Before introducing the OSS officers, Major Clainos made a shocking announcement. He informed the officers and men that the 122nd Infantry Battalion would be disbanded. We were demoralized. In prime physical and mental condition and in a top-notch unit, we were prepared to do battle in Greece.

This blow was somewhat softened when the OSS officers requested volunteers to join the OSS. Slated to operate behind enemy lines in Greece, it was required that the men spoke Greek and were in excellent physical condition for commando and parachute training. The OSS advised the volunteers that it would be hazardous duty and the casualty rate would be very high. The full battalion volunteered, according to Colonel Clainos (Ret.) reflecting during interviews later in his life. He also said that initially the OSS requested 15 volunteers, but after reviewing the troops they raised the total to over 160.[note]

Here are some of his own words from the video-taped interviews:

When I was approached by the proper authorities in Washington for a possible assignment of a few men to work under General Donovan [Director of the OSS], I called the Battalion together in formation and asked if anybody wanted to volunteer. The entire Battalion raised hands; everyone volunteered, including me. The next day I called Washington and told them we did volunteer; we can furnish as many men as they want providing they take me with them. I was the first to volunteer and then came the rest of you. Originally the intent was to take a handful, maybe a dozen. But they found such great talent in the Battalion they took [many more] people.

Unlike the other OSS ethnic Operational Groups that had been recruited from various army units, we had trained together for seven months. We were fine tuned and ready for battle prior to receiving additional OSS training in Maryland. No doubt the "Greeks" were the best trained ethnic operational group before departing for overseas.

Fifteen officers from the 122nd (Greek Battalion) who joined the OSS Greek-American Operational Group did eventually participate in combat missions in Greece and Yugoslavia. The Greek-American officers were Captains Frank Blanas, Milwaukee; George Markoutsas, Chicago, Illinois; and George Verghis, Los Angeles, California. Lieutenants George Chumas and John Giannaris, Chicago, Illinois; Michael Manusos and Nicholas P. Paledes, New York; Angelo Pappas, Cheyenne, Wyoming; Nicholas G. Pappas, Dover, Delaware; Theodore Russell, Dearborn, Michigan; and George Papazoglou. The four non-Greek officers were Captain Robert Houlihan, Lexington, Kentucky; Lieutenants Lon Peyton and Paul Pope, Amarillo, Texas, and Lieutenant Paul Mackey. Captain Robert E. Eichler, Waltham, Massachusetts, joined the Greek operational group in Washington DC In addition, Captain Ronald J. Darr and Lieutenants Gilbert O. Bachman and Donald E. Mort, officers of the Yugoslavian Operational Group, also entered Greece. (Where omitted, hometowns are unknown.)

The enlisted men were pleased and honored when four non-Greek cadre men, Technical Sergeants Bernard Brady, Richard Daigle, Walter Gates, and Victor Miller, volunteered to join the OSS (cadre are old-line soldiers who train recruits). Though they did not speak Greek, their army experience was invaluable. The sergeants were anointed as honorary Greeks and were excellent leaders in the Greek/USOG during the many missions in Yugoslavia and Greece. Sergeant Gates was one of the 15 Greek/USOG volunteers who joined the French Operational Group in China, when the Greek/USOG operations in the Balkans were completed. The non-Greeks had other options, but they chose to go to war with the Greeks.

The 122nd Infantry Battalion was disbanded in September 1943. The soldiers of the Greek Battalion who did not join the OSS were transferred to different units of the army. This was the first of many break-ups of the unit and individual removal of men. During our seven-month training at Camp Carson the men of the 122nd had bonded. It was a cruel blow to all, especially the men who did not join the OSS; a sad day indeed for the proud men of the Greek Battalion.

What was surprising was the large percentage of Greek Americans that joined the OSS. Our combat unit in the OSS, Group 4 of the Greek/USOG, had 19 Greek Americans and four Greek nationals; the group commander and second in command were not Greek American.

For obvious reasons Group 4 was called the jitterbugs.

Popular songs: Stardust, Artie Shaw ~ Two O'clock Jump, Harry James.

Office of Strategic Services Report
Authorization and Establishment of the Operational Groups

[Option: Skip the quotation.]

Operational Groups were authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 23 December 1942, which provided that the OSS should organize operational nuclei to be used in enemy and enemy-occupied territories. The OGs were highly trained foreign-language speaking soldiers skilled in methods of sabotage and small arms, and trained parachutists, designed to be used in small groups behind enemy lines to harass the enemy.

The first definite request for OGs developed out of the approval by AFGH of JCS 170, which set forth the objectives of the OSS in the Western Mediterranean. The request, as it applied to OGs, involved four to eight operational groups to be used as organizers, fomenters, and operational nuclei in areas adjacent to North Africa. When the War Department was requested to assign officers and men for OG operations in NATO, G-1 inquired whether tables of organization would also be submitted for other theaters. OSS replied in the affirmative, and the War Department granted the OGs approximately 540 slots.

The OG branch was established 13 May 1943. Following the initial allotment to OG, a recruiting program was immediately undertaken. It was thought that the best qualified men would be found in line outfits, and for this reason the first OGs were secured from infantry and engineer units. Radio operators were secured from the Signal Corps and trained medical technicians from the Medical Corps. Knowledge of foreign language was essential.

Prospective recruits were usually interviewed in groups made up of individuals who met the two basic requirements of physical qualifications and linguistic ability in order to judge whether they were otherwise suitable. They were given the opportunity to volunteer for hazardous duty behind enemy lines. Such groups were then advised that interested individuals would be granted personal interviews. In the interests of security, operational plans were not divulged, yet enough was said that each recruit understood what he might expect. Only men giving evidence of real desire for such duty were chosen. It was found that approximately 10 percent of those initially interviewed subsequently volunteered.

On 27 November 1943, the Operational Group Command was activated as a separate military unit within the OSS. This was the result of several factors which indicated the wisdom of separating the OGs as far as possible from the OSS administratively. One such consideration was experience in the field indicating that OGs were likely, despite the fact they operated exclusively in uniform, to be treated without regard to the Geneva Convention when captured. It was felt for their own protection, in the event of capture, every effort should be made to eliminate the possibility of connection with the OSS. Another consideration was the fact the OGs were exclusively military, and the quasi-military administration of OSS caused some confusion. OSS continued throughout, however, to maintain coordinated operational control.

The OGs recruited for Italian Operations were designated Company A, those for the France Operations were designated Company B, and those for the Balkans (Yugoslavian and Greek), were designated Company C. An additional unit, not designated by a company symbol, consisted of OGs to be used in Norway.

In August, 1944, the OGs became known as the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial). At that time the OGs numbered 1,100.

The OGs were not Rangers, an idea which General Donovan had sponsored in early 1942. However, they did participate as commandos and Rangers in some aspects of their operations. The distinction was simply that, while Donovan saw Rangers as operating in front of the enemy, the OGs fitted into the pattern of OSS activities behind enemy lines.

All of the Operational Groups saw action.

Operational Group Command: The communication system used was the British net-work. This was agreed by the OSS in Cairo, due to the fact that the British wished to keep a single focal point for information and control and did not wish to risk confusion that might result from having the Operations Groups reporting by radio to other headquarters than their own. Thus, in order to centralize tactical command, the Operational Groups entered Greece without their own radios.

[End quote]

Personal Insight: The Greek/OG communication officer, Theodore Russell, who was proud of his small group of technicians, was frustrated at the time, and to this day is very disappointed that the British did not allow his group to operate as an independent section in Greece and Yugoslavia.

The Best Kept Secret in the Armed Services: the "Unknown Greeks"

Many people, including my family, have asked why the Greek and other Operational Groups have only recently been recognized. A few cynics have gone as far as accusing us of fabricating the history of the Greek/USOG and questioning if any Americans were in combat in Greece in WW2.

There are numerous reasons that our group is unknown; following are four examples:

  1. The Greek/OG operated autonomously in Greece and was disbanded immediately after the Greek missions were completed. We barely had time to embrace our buddies much less to compare our battle records.
  2. We operated under British command and the American Army did not recognize our war record in Yugoslavia and Greece. Many of the Greek/OG veterans' separation papers do not include ground combat in Greece and Yugoslavia.
  3. Our records were sealed top-secret by the CIA, and they were not transfered to the National Archives until circa 1987. We did not see them until the 1990s.
  4. We were never certain of the official name of our unit. Originally known as OSS, subsequently we were swamped with numerous unofficial titles, such as Greek OG; Unit B; Greek/American Operational Group; Unit B, 3rd Contingent; and the ever popular Greek Battalion. Years after WW2 ended we discovered our unit's official name was Co. C 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion. The name was established in August 1944, almost one year from the day we volunteered for the OSS. At that time our six groups were in Greece and we were not advised of the official title.

Unfortunately, not only are we unknown in America but with rare exceptions the citizens and government of Greece, even today, do not realize Americans fought in Greece in WW2.

Why Did I Join the Greek Units?

Prejudice in America!

Many people have asked why I volunteered three times for hazardous duty with Greek-American units and why I have so much empathy for Greece and Greek Americans. For those of you who are too young to remember, or have not researched early 20 century Greek-American history, it wasn't chic to be Greek in America prior to WW2.

This was the era when we were called dirty Greeks. If we attended high school in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods, we were not welcomed into fraternities; we could not date the popular girls, and often we were the outcasts.

Second generation Greek Americans, the children of immigrants, grew up during the era of xenophobia in this country fueled by the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The Klan had targeted minorities and ethnic groups, and Greeks were singled out because they were the most recent immigrants.

Following are four examples of the deep prejudice:

The Greek-American communities during the 1930s and early 1940s, unlike many of the ethnic groups, provided Greek youth an excellent alternative. The second-generation youngsters were deeply immersed in Greek-American culture. In Oakland as in most American cities, we attended church every Sunday, three times a week we had Greek language school after our regular school hours, organized sport teams, scheduled basketball games against other Greek communities, organized dances, picnics, and plays, formed our own youth groups, and we dated our beautiful Greek girls.

So when I was drafted into the army it was an easy choice for me to volunteer in a Greek-American combat unit, and not once but three times.

The prejudice faced by second-generation Greek Americans eased up some after the successful and valiant stand of the Greek Army against the Italians in Albania in 1940, the first Allied victory in WW2. While the Greek Army fought valiantly, Greek America rejoiced in the news of those victories and reveled in its newfound status in America.

My generation related to the terrible events of pre-WW2 much more than to the events that took place over a quarter of century later. The "Chic to Be Greek" chapter was ushered in by Melina Mercouri and Jacqueline Onassis. Greece became a tourist attraction with the Oscar-winning movie Never on Sunday, and glamorized when Jackie Kennedy married the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

In the Greek Battalion I discovered that the vast majority of Greek Americans, who were from every part of America, had an upbringing similar to mine; it was the logical choice for the young Greek-American men who volunteered and joined the Greek Battalion. We had the best of two worlds: we were members of the United States Army and we would help liberate Greece, our parents' homeland.

My Father's Influence

My father's influence was also very important in my joining the Greek Battalion, albeit if he knew that I would be joining a frontline unit he would never have mentioned the Balkan War. He would reminisce and relate stories of his family in Greece and often mention how he left America in 1912 and joined the Greek Army to fight against the Turks in the Balkan War. My father was an excellent storyteller and blessed with a beautiful singing voice. During our family dinners he sang Greek songs that he had learned as a young boy before coming to America. He repeated the stories often and they were imbedded in my mind. Though I had never met my uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmother, and especially my grandfather, Andreas, who lived in Greece, I loved them as if I knew them personally because of my dad's stories. Unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to meet my relatives in Greece during WW2. My paternal grandfather died in 1944 while I was in the mountains of Macedonia.

Two Weeks Furlough

I was sworn into the OSS in September 1943. We were given a two-week furlough (leave) and ordered to report back to Camp Carson the last week of September. We were advised that we would be stationed at the OSS main camp, Area F, which was formerly the Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC

Of course Perry, Alex, and I were very excited to return home, and not unlike at our departure, our parents, relatives, and friends met us at the Santa Fe station on 40th Street and San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville. I looked emaciated from my arduous training. I was 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 132 pounds, and had not yet reached my 19th birthday. After the war my family told me that they were in tears when I arrived home; they could not believe how terrible I looked. But I was in excellent shape and by the time I left for overseas two months later I weighed a solid 175 pounds with the same 29 inch waist.

Perry, Alex, and I were treated like royalty during our two-week stay in Oakland. We attended dinner parties every night, hosted not only by our parents and relatives but by many Oakland Greek families who invited us to their homes. Most of the invitations we accepted were at the family homes of contemporary daughters. We also accepted an invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Steve Georgiou who had three younger sons. The Georgious were very proud of us; many years later my youngest son, Jamie, married the Georgiou's granddaughter, Diane. Unfortunately neither the Mousalimas nor the Georgiou grandparents lived long enough to witness this beautiful union.

During our leave Perry, Alex, and I visited my relatives in Salinas. Tom Georgalos' home was Salinas. Nick H. Cominos was not able to make the trip home, having to finalize his transfer to the OSS at Camp Carson. Tom mentioned that his first sergeant, Theophanes Strimenos of Mobile, Alabama. (C Company of the Greek Battalion), had joined the OSS. I had seen this imposing 6 foot 4 inch top sergeant at Camp Carson but as a member of Company B, I was not under his command and had not met him. He would play a very important role in our unit.

The two weeks leave went by in a New York minute. I had a wonderful time visiting parents, relatives, and friends. I don't recall having misgivings about returning to Camp Carson, joining my buddies, and continuing my training with the OSS. Over a year later, in another departure from Oakland, this time a veteran of the European war, my attitude in returning to war was much different.

Riding the Rails to Washington DC

Perry, Alex, Tom Georgalos, and I boarded the Santa Fe train in Emeryville, an Oakland suburb, and returned to Camp Carson. We were prepared for our new adventure.

The more than 160 volunteers of the OSS bid goodbye to our Greek Battalion buddies who remained in Camp Carson and with few exceptions we never met again. Two members of the battalion were from distinguished Greek families. One, the son of the shipping magnate Goulandris, was transferred to the American merchant marine, and the other was John Tsouderos, the son of the prime minister of Greece, who joined the OSS.

We left Camp Carson October 4, 1943, were bussed to Denver and boarded a troop train for Washington DC. The volunteers' morale was extraordinary and it remained at a peak until we disbanded in Italy, November 1944. We were anxious to leave for Washington DC and join the mysterious Office of Strategic Services.

We had been told that we would receive first class treatment: excellent facilities, training, food, and travel accommodations, the latest and most sophisticated equipment and clothes. We were not disappointed. We boarded the troop train in Denver and were assigned to the elegant Pullman cars. It was like a 1930s movie. Porters made our beds each night, dining cars had white tablecloths with flowers on the tables, and we were served by Black waiters in white jackets. The food was superb.

To save space two men shared the lower berth in the Pullman and the fortunate ones had an upper berth by themselves. Perry got an upper berth and I shared a lower berth with Alex Phillips. En route the train stopped in North Platte, Nebraska. Servicemen had told us that this would be a highlight. The hospitality of North Platte was legendary. The citizens welcomed every troop train that passed through their town and showered the servicemen with coffee, food, cakes, and even kisses.

We arrived in Chicago mid-morning and were ushered to an excellent restaurant for breakfast/lunch. During my army travels we ate in many restaurants, and I have often wondered who booked the restaurants and hotels for the armed services, and if the people involved were given a kickback. It had to be a great benefit for the owners of the restaurants who had contracts with the armed services. Following our meal we marched (we never walked in the army) to another Chicago train station and left for Washington DC.

In the middle of the night, I vividly remember the train stopping on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, adjacent to the steel mills that were in full bloom. I looked out of my window and could see the fires from the mills and bright lights; the mills worked 24 hours a day for the duration. It was an awesome sight.

On the train to Washington DC the volunteers became acquainted with each other. We were from different companies in the Greek Battalion and this was our first chance to meet and fraternize with the men with whom we would eventually go behind the lines. This group that came from so many different areas of Greece and America bonded into a top-notch fighting machine, and our espirit de corps was unrivaled.

We arrived at Union Station in Washington DC in the evening of October 8, 1943, and were immediately bussed to Area F (Congressional Country Club) near Bethesda. October is a beautiful month in Maryland, and the Californians were impressed with the beauty of the fall season. So far we had not experienced severe weather in either Colorado or Maryland.

Area "F", Bethesda, Maryland

We were placed in six groups of two officers and 24 men each. Unlike an infantry platoon each group had two officers, two section leaders, and four squad leaders. A section was comprised of two squads; each squad had five men. The California Five (Nick Cominos, Tom Georgalos, Alex and Perry Phillips, and myself) were assigned to Group 4 under the command of Captain Robert Eichler and Lieutenant Nick Pappas; we would be together for the next 14 months. (In Yugoslavia Lt. Paul Pope replaced Lt. Pappas, who replaced the wounded Lt. John Giannaris as Group II commander.) Technical sergeant Gus Carconie (Carkonen), Seattle, Washington, was the group sergeant, and the section leader was Staff Sergeant Chris Christie, Fredricksburg, Maryland. Sergeant Nick Cominos was squad leader of the first squad which included Perry Phillips. Sergeant Tom Georgalos was the squad leader of the fourth squad and I was the assistant squad leader; our squad included Alex Phillips, Byron Economou, Boston, Massachusetts, Pete Lewis of Akron, Ohio. Our squad's average age was barely nineteen years old.

The training in the OSS was not as intense as in the Greek Battalion. Many men had lost weight due to the grueling training at Camp Carson, but in Maryland we gained weight with added muscle.

We were assigned to tents on the golf course, six men to each tent. In my tent there was the California Five plus Byron Economou. Byron was one of the late comers to the Greek Battalion; he succeeded me as the youngest member of the Greek/USOG.

The tents had potbellied stoves. The weather turned cold in November. Each morning a different person would take his turn to wake up early, gather coal from a bin, and light the fire before the rest of our group in the tent would arise. It did not take long for the stove to warm up the tent. Reveille was 6:30 a.m., exercises for one half hour, breakfast, and back to our training.

We were trained by American OSS officers, veteran British commandos, and a member of the French resistance. I don't recall the Frenchman's name, but he would tell us: If you don't like it here, you can go back to your mommy. The training at Area F was in field craft, map reading, tactics, formations, knife fighting, tactical exercises, some weapons training, compass reading, and night maneuvers. The course lasted two weeks. A great deal of material was covered, which only a seasoned officer or enlisted man could assimilate. This training was different from the infantry training we had received at Camp Carson.

We discarded the drab olive army uniforms and were issued the latest army equipment. We were the first unit to be issued the Eisenhower and fur-lined jackets. We were also issued parachute attire and jump boots. Only paratroopers and commando units wore the jump boots. No other unit dared wear them; the boots were a badge of honor for our units.

Unfortunately we were never issued a unit patch because of the secrecy of our unit. After the war, OSS command admitted their mistake of not having a patch for the Operational Groups. A unit patch is a badge of honor for combat troops; frustrated, we wore a mishmash of patches. Men who were in combat proudly wore their respective patches.

Most of our training at area "F" was at night. Maryland was conducive to this type of training because of the wooded terrain. It was pitch dark on moonless nights; we had to become proficient with the compass; on some maneuvers, without a compass, we studied the stars and moss on the trees for directions. I recall a maneuver one very cold night with ice and snow on the ground. We were in the exclusive Chevy Chase area, and as I was crawling toward a simulated target, I looked up and in front of me was one of those beautiful colonial homes that Chevy Chase is famous for. The home had a big bay window; the living room was lit up, and I could see its elegance vividly. There were adults and children in the room, appearing to be enjoying a family gathering. For a minute I thought what the hell am I doing here, and how fortunate the family was to be in so much warmth and splendor.

Whenever we had the opportunity we would visit Washington DC By this time we young recruits had grown physically and matured mentally. I was a month short of my 19th birthday, but I had grown to almost 6 foot and weighed 175 pounds. No doubt my ego was overblown as a member of one of the elite outfits in the Armed Forces. Oh!! The innocence of youth!

We attended St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral a couple of times. We did not meet many Greek-American families during our training in Maryland. We toured beautiful Washington DC and visited the different memorial buildings. A few of us attended a session of Congress and were shocked when a senator from Michigan and another from Mississippi (I believe it was Senator Rankin) got into a shouting match that ended in fisticuffs. We had no idea why they had the argument, but it blew our image of the Senate.

Because we couldn't know what the future held for us, we attended the many nightclubs and lounges in the DC area. We were told there were nine women for every man in Washington DC and we were not disappointed. One of the highlights was visiting the Stage Door Canteen located next to Lafayette Park, which was across the street from the White House. We were surprised to find Woody Herman's band, one of the most popular big bands of the era, playing live at the canteen. Entertainers would offer their services to the canteens and the USO. Dating of canteen hostesses was supposed to be taboo, but I got lucky and met one of the ladies in Lafayette Park after the canteen closed. No doubt she was older than I was (I always added a couple of years to my age). We took a trolley to her small apartment; she was a nice person; we had a great time. Our paths never crossed again.

Popular songs: Paper Doll, the Mills Brothers ~ Woodchoppers Ball, Woody Herman.

Colonel Peter Clainos Transferred

Major Clainos was elevated to lieutenant colonel. He met with our group a couple of days before we left Area "F", and announced that he was being replaced and reassigned to the regular army because his rank of colonel was too high for a group of 160 or more. He told us how disappointed he was that he was not able to go overseas and lead us into combat. The enlisted men were devastated to lose our outstanding leader. That was one of the darkest days of my army career. His brother, Lieutenant Nick Clainos, who was in our unit, was also transferred and reassigned to the 10th Mountain division (he was killed in action in Italy). There have been many questions and no answers as to why Colonel Clainos was relieved of duty. When Mary and I videotaped him at his home in San Francisco in 1990, the retired Colonel Clainos, a loyal West Pointer and army officer, repeatedly told us (as often as we asked) that he had been relieved of duty because of his new rank. Our men at area "F" accepted his explanation. Later new officers were assigned to our group, including Major Lovell (eventually elevated to Lieutenant Colonel), and another major and a captain whose names escape me. Major Lovell and the captain were executives (possibly owners) of the Cannon Towel Company. They had limited military training and were assigned to command our elite group. In a later chapter, I will relate an incident at the battle of Miljet when I was a runner for Major Lovell.

Why was another major assigned as commanding officer of the Greek and Yugoslavian groups in Yugoslavia and why did the newly promoted Clainos reassign? This question has haunted both me and our unit and has never been answered.

Colonel Clainos bid us farewell at Area "F". He was assigned to the 81st division as a regimental commander in the Pacific. He was one of the heroes of the battle of Pelilui Island and received the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also a regimental commander in the Korean War and was wounded numerous times in both wars. Colonel Clainos has been acknowledged for his heroism and leadership in a book about the Korean War, The Forgotten War.

He was a respected and much admired leader of our group, and to a man we gave him credit for our excellent combat record in Yugoslavia and Greece. During the taping in San Francisco I reminded him that though the Greek/USOG expected a high casualty rate, our causalities were light. He told me he wasn't surprised and said again the Greek OGs were his most outstanding unit.

As our major, Clainos was a tough disciplinarian, demanded loyalty, and expected his troops to follow orders. In turn, he abided by the edict that he had been given by his superiors. Although he was disappointed to lose command of his beloved Greek/USOG, he never complained; he gave us a tearful sendoff, and wished us success in battle. I personally believe his transfer was a political move.

In 1991, Colonel Clainos was unable to attend the first reunion of the Greek/USOG at Denver, Colorado, because of his failing health in his old age. A videotape of Colonel Clainos was shown specially during the reunion banquet. He was obviously emotional during his presentation as he told his men one of the saddest days of his life was when he was transferred from his beloved unit. He concluded his address by saying, with forefinger forcefully gesturing, I'm extremely proud of you, and I know you're extremely proud of yourselves. If my Battalion, the 122nd Infantry Separate, was a crack outfit, then you people were the greatest! When the video ended, there wasn't a dry eye in the room.

Area "H" near Shangrila

We completed our training at area "F" the latter part of October 1943 and we heard rumors (always rumors) we would be transferred to another area that was called Area "H", near Hagerstown, Maryland, a CCC camp during the great depression.

Two days after Colonel Clainos bid us goodbye, we were bussed to Area "H". We were still reeling with the shock of losing our commanding officer. This was not unlike losing a respected parent. We could not look back; we were a finely tuned fighting machine; and we had good officers and non commission officers, especially the aforementioned First Sergeant Theophanes Strimenos, who became the catalyst of our unit. At our reunions both officers and enlisted men unanimously agreed that without our imposing first sergeant, the transition, after losing Colonel Clainos, would not have been as successful. This is not being critical of Lieutenant Houlihan, who succeeded a legend. When describing the passing of the baton in our group, the analogy would be the same as replacing Babe Ruth. Captain Houlihan replaced a Greek-American West Pointer with a dynamic personality. Captain Houlihan, a quiet leader, and non-Greek, was assigned to lead our group which was almost 100% Greek and Greek Americans. He proved to be an excellent soldier and commanding officer.

Area "H" was in a beautiful part of Maryland, densely wooded and a great place to simulate missions and raids. The camp is in close proximity to where Camp David is now located. Camp David was originally called Shangrila by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We were taught to fire every small weapon in the army's arsenal from the .45 pistol to the 50-caliber machine gun, including the light mortar and bazooka. We were given a sound course in the use of explosives, demolitions, and defusing mines. We had to be proficient with these weapons for our survival. I am certain it would have been paradise for members of the NRA who would have orgasms firing all of those weapons.

During simulated raids we would be dropped off in an unknown area and ordered to reach the target with a compass. We would usually have two to four different compass readings and hopefully we would find the target. During these maneuvers we normally operated with a five- man squad. On one occasion we discovered another part of America that we thought only existed in the Li'l Abner comic strips. In the middle of a very wooded area, we were surprised to find a log cabin, and standing in front of the cabin was a gray-haired old white woman (she was probably in her forties) and a teen or sub teen girl wearing a flour or potato sack. I noticed they were frightened and the lady kept a firm hold on the little girl. We told them not to be afraid, that we are on army maneuvers and would leave the area shortly. I asked the lady if she would allow us to look in the cabin and she reluctantly said Okay. We took a quick peek and were shocked to see how those people lived. The tent had a wood stove, a few pots, utensils, and a couple of cots. We thanked them and left. Unfortunately we did not have the wherewithal to leave a little cash. What a contrast from the Chevy Chase homes that skirted Area "F". It was hard to believe that people lived in these deplorable conditions just a short distance from the nation's capital.

In addition to the weapons that we fired, we also spent many hours learning hand-to-hand combat and how to use a garrote, and the Frenchman spent hours teaching us the correct way to handle a stiletto. The stiletto was a slick thin knife about 6 inches long, very easy to handle and very devastating. When we arrived overseas the stiletto was replaced by a 6-inch hunting knife. We were told the stiletto was not acceptable under the Geneva Convention and prisoners would be executed if a stiletto was found on a soldier's person. Later we found out that it did not matter with the Operational Groups because of Hitler's devastating edict.

Our Greek-American and Greek-national cooks were terrific. Our food in the States and overseas was excellent. Of course in Yugoslavia and Greece it was a different story. The head chef was Angelo, a Greek American from New York. He was an arrogant little bastard, probably in his middle 30s, a short fat man who appeared to have a lot of mileage. He catered to the older guys and initially intimidated us younger men, but we got even with him in Italy. The "jitterbugs" called him Mr. Five by Five from a popular contemporary song. Later we realized his bark was much worse than his bite. In Italy the "jitterbugs" taught him and his kitchen crew a lesson they would never forgot.

First Lieutenant Robert F. Houlihan

First Lieutenant Robert F. Houlihan, an Irish American native of Lexington, Kentucky, was one of the four non-Greek-American officers who volunteered directly from the Greek Battalion to the Greek/USOG.

Lieutenant Houlihan succeeded Colonel Clainos as the commanding officer of the Greek/USOG and he was elevated to the rank of Captain.

He retired at the rank of Major. During the numerous reunions of the Greek/USOG, Major Houlihan (ret.) always mentioned that he was proud and honored to have commanded the Greek/USOG and would neither envision nor consider going into combat with any group of men other than the "Greeks".

New York, New York

After two weeks of training in Area "H" we returned to Area "F" and received a seven-day pass prior to embarking for overseas. We were excited to get away for a few days. Civilian planes were out of the question. Only the VIPs had priority to fly with these carriers. The Californians could have risked flying on a military plane, but there was no guarantee we would be able to make the round trip and be back in seven days. The worst scenario was to be stuck in some military air base, not get a ride back to our camp, be unable to join our unit in time, and be transferred to another combat unit. The West Coast Greek OGs decided to spend their leave in New York City. It was a five-hour train ride from DC to New York. Traveling by train we had an opportunity to see the different landscapes and small towns and villages that were enroute to New York. We noticed the East Coast, founded and developed well over a century before the West, had homes and buildings much older and in different styles from the West.

Many of the Greek nationals in our unit lived in the New York area. They recommended hotels and restaurants and suggested the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. It was an excellent choice. The St. George was one of the most prestigious hotels in the New York area. As in the Denver hotels, two of us registered and the rest of our group joined in. This must have been a Friday, because the next day we attended a Greek dance (horosperida) in Manhattan. In the afternoon while walking down Broadway, we discovered a matinee live show at one of the many theaters featuring the beautiful Lena Horne. There were only a handful of us in the audience and it was a special treat to have a close-up view of this outstanding and beautiful entertainer.

That evening we attended the horosperida that was jam packed. Would you believe one of the men who had been discharged at Camp Carson, of the aforementioned section eight fiascos, greeted me warmly; he was now a civilian. I was disgusted to see this guy who had bullshitted his way out of the army. I told him how appalled I was with his caper and to take a hike. I have often wondered if he made his millions in furs.

Unlike in Denver and Washington we did not find the New York Greeks as hospitable. We stayed at the dance for a short period and except for Perry, we left the dance and visited the exciting sights on Broadway. Next day was Sunday. We attended services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan. After the liturgy we had lunch at a restaurant in the Rockaway section of New York; the owners, I believe their names were Fatseas, were friends of Nick Cominos" family, Patriotes from Kytheira. They treated us royally, and, with the exception of Nick, we ate our first lobster dinner.

We decided to cut our visit short in New York and return to Washington DC. New York was too hectic and the people very aloof.

Interesting Experiences with the N.Y. Ladies

I would be remiss if I did not mention two interesting experiences that Perry and I encountered in New York. I should preface my stories and mention the respect the Greek-American youth had for their elders; secondly the differences of Greek Americans on the East Coast and in the Midwest compared to the West. Unlike in the East, Greeks in the western states were not clustered in neighborhoods as such, and they integrated into the so-called American mainstream much earlier than their Eastern contemporaries. Of course there were exceptions!

Back to my story. Perry had decided to stay at the horosperida where he met a Greek-American Army officer who invited him to his future in-laws home for a late supper. Perry accepted the invitation. Perry relating his experience told us that the family lived in one of the infamous railroad apartments on the second floor. The family also had a younger daughter and put tremendous pressure on Perry to stay in New York and get engaged to the young lady. Perry, not wanting to insult the family, was unable to say no, or use other choice words; he was in a predicament. He excused himself and went into the bathroom, opened the window and shimmied down two floors. He finally arrived at the St. George Hotel at dawn.

Over a year later, in the same situation, Tom Georgalos could not say no, and found himself engaged to a New York Greek-American girl on their first meeting. Living in those railroad apartments was stifling, and parents would encourage their daughters to try and escape those gloomy conditions. Arranged marriages (proxenies) were still common in the East, whereas in the West, proxenies were rare with the 2nd generation Greek-Americans.

My experience, though different from Perry's, also involved respect for elders. After leaving the Greek dance, I went to the famous Roseland Ballroom where I met a pretty Italian-American girl. We had a few dances and drinks and got along famously. We had a late snack and I hired a taxicab; the young lady lived in the Bronx. On the way to her home I put on my best moves, but all I could get from her was a few hugs and kisses. We arrived at her home, a brownstone; I told the cabby to wait, and I walked her up the steps to her front door. She told me that her folks would not allow her to have any guests. Whether or not it was the truth, I did not insist to continue our rendezvous. I bade her goodbye, never to see her again.

The cab driver was probably in his fifties, a contemporary of my parents. I was surprised when he asked me how long I had known the girl. When I told him that I had met her for the first time that evening, he went ballistic. He told me I should be ashamed of myself for taking advantage of the young girl. He kept preaching all the way to Brooklyn. Though I was angry, I kept silent and could not understand why he was so upset. Years later I wondered if he had a daughter who might have had a bad affair with a serviceman. Not unlike Perry, I also respected the older person.

What was interesting about these two experiences was that while we were in terrific physical shape and mentally prepared to go into combat after completing hours of hand-to-hand combat and knife skills training, this did not give us a license to insult or hurt anyone in the civilian sector, even though in both instances the people were out of line. We had the same perspective when we came home after combat duty. I get very upset when I hear that veterans, primarily Vietnam vets, who claim the government made them killers, use this for their defense when they commit violent crimes after their separation from the service.

In the same vein I was surprised how the draftees adjusted to military life; many had come from sheltered lives. In the Greek Battalion we were trained by old army noncoms who were career soldiers. They were excellent cadre, but I was surprised that very few volunteered for the OSS. One of them, a tough Oklahoman who joined our unit, cracked up on our troop ship over a small incident. My conclusion: it was important for the draftees to get the war over with and return to their families and homes.

The next morning we left New York for Washington DC. Disappointed with the people in New York; we found DC a much friendlier place. One of the famous restaurants in DC was O'Donnell's Fish House near the White House. Tom Georgalos insisted that we try the raw oysters. Neither the Phillips brothers nor I had never eaten raw oysters. I reluctantly ordered the oysters and was hooked; to this day raw oysters are one of my favorite dishes. In my 31 months in the army and OSS, I had many new and different experiences not only in army camps and on the field but also in the civilian sector both in the States and overseas.

Washington DC was brimming with young single ladies. We visited nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. In some instances civilians would buy us drinks Most of us could not drink more than a couple drinks at a time. Seven-Up highball was the favorite drink of the young soldiers.

Charleston, South Carolina

We received our orders to go overseas. Our port of embarkation (POE) was Charleston, South Carolina. We left Washington DC by train on November 17, 1943 and arrived in Charleston on the 18th. We had heard of Charleston's famous King Street that had great Black jazz and we looked forward to visiting the city. Traveling south and looking out from the train we witnessed the poverty and terrible conditions in which poor whites and Blacks lived, the shantytowns and tar paper cabins and scantily dressed children. The experience brought to mind the Black soldier I met on the troop train who was going to Mississippi. Now I understood when he said he was going behind the sun. When we trained in Colorado and Maryland we had seen very little of these deplorable conditions, except for the log cabin incident in Area "H".

When we arrived at the Charleston POE (I do not recall the camp's name) we were not allowed to leave camp for security reasons. When GIs would question us about our unit, we were ordered to tell them that we were truck drivers. Hell, it was impossible to hide that we were a special unit; our uniforms were high tech and our morale was superb. We oozed confidence. A couple of days after arriving in Charleston rumor had it that we would not leave for overseas from the Charleston POE. (Enlisted men were never privy to any orders.) Captain Houlihan, promoted from lieutenant, decided we should stay in shape until we received further orders. He contacted a navy amphibious group and they took us through the submarine nets of the Port of Charleston to an uninhabited island a few miles off the South Carolina coast in the Atlantic Ocean. We were outfitted with the new army black rubber boots that some dumb ass shoe specialist had designed and the Pentagon had validated. These boots were to replace the WW1 boots and leggings. As soon as we hit the island, we realized that the boots would be cumbersome. After completion of our maneuvers on the island, we never wore the black boots again. The island was sandy, and the trees were indigenous to that area. We walked and maneuvered under difficult conditions during the day; in the evening we practiced amphibious landings. We were told that the island had snakes, scorpions, and other poisonous reptiles. At night we would stand guard: two hours on and four hours off. The first night most of us would not lie down after guard duty; we would try to get a little shuteye while leaning against a tree.

The second day we continued the training and that night after my first stint of guard duty, I decided that I was too damn tired and the hell with the snakes, etc., I passed out on the ground. Until I was discharged from the OSS, never again was I concerned with the elements, animals, or the environment of the respective countries where I was assigned. The island off the Carolina coast was an unforgettable experience. I realized the enemy I would confront would be much more formidable than any animal or reptile. This was another phase of our training to which many units of the army were not exposed.

When we returned to our base, the rumor that we would not leave for overseas from Charleston was correct. A few of us decided to sneak out of camp and see the sights of Charleston. We did not have a class "A" uniform, so we wore our new outfits including the fur-lined jacket. We decided that the worst that could happen if we were caught was to return us to our unit. We had nothing to lose. We were going overseas and we couldn't care less about a court-martial.

We put our commando training to good use. We sneaked past the guards and found ourselves on the famous King Street. What a disappointment! Most of the men in our unit were from the large cities of America, like the Oakland/San Francisco area, New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh. King Street was as narrow as the back alleys of these big cities, lined with small jazz joints, whorehouses, pool halls, and bars. We spent most of the evening at a dance hall. We sneaked back into camp without a problem.

Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia

We boarded a troop train heading north, this time to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, near Newport News. Enroute we stopped at Charlotte, North Carolina, for breakfast. Military police (MPs) entered our train and they ordered us to follow them to a restaurant and not stray. We were told that a paratroop unit had been stationed near Charlotte before leaving for overseas and they had raised havoc with the civilian population in Charlotte. The natives had no use for paratroopers and the MPs did not want a confrontation with our unit. We were disturbed that the troopers had left a bad reputation. The Greek/USOGs would not give any quarter to any unit in the service, but we never intimidated civilians or destroyed their property.

We had breakfast at a Charlotte diner and I ordered eggs with hominy grits. I had heard of this popular southern delicacy. It was the first and last time I ordered grits.

We arrived at Camp Patrick Henry on the evening of December 15, 1943. We camped there for nine days, but our group left its mark. Our morale was superb (see the quotation from Russell about the esprit de corps). Perry Phillips and fellow OGs Bill George, Lowell Massachusetts, and Alex Vellis, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania produced and directed a USO show attended by 5,000 GIs. This was the show when Alex Psomas and Gus Mukanos jumped on stage and danced with the two USO girls. Perry in civilian life produced and directed many Greek musicals including a show at the Sahara Lake Tahoe Resort in Nevada.

At Camp Patrick Henry I had another interesting experience . One of the Camp officers asked for a volunteer to drive a 2½ ton truck into Newport News. Most of the Greek nationals did not know how to drive and just a few Greek Americans had much experience with automobiles so I volunteered. This was right after the great depression and automobiles were at a premium, especially in the big cities of the East. I chauffeured an asshole of a sergeant, who was cadre at the camp. There was a little snow and ice on the ground and although I had never driven in that type of weather, the snow did not faze this cocky Californian. I drove into Newport News where the sergeant picked up his order; including a bag of liquor he wanted to sneak into camp. What the hell, I couldn't care less, so I went along with his ploy. He evidently had done this before, because he placed the liquor under the passenger's floorboard. By the time we got back to camp it was snowing harder and the roads were slippery. On the camp roads adjacent to the streets were large tank traps. This California boy made a turn not unlike the way he drove at home and slid into one of the tank traps. Neither one of us was hurt; the MPs hauled the sergeant and me in to the provost marshal. The sergeant was excused, not mentioning the liquor. As the driver I was reprimanded for reckless driving and destroying government property. Then the provost got real serious and demanded to know who brought the liquor into camp. I told him that I had no idea and that I was surprised that there was liquor in the truck. The provost questioned me further, giving me the song and dance that I could go to the brig. Of course I was leaving for overseas in a couple of days and I knew they would not give me the alternative. I never saw the sergeant again. He left me to hang; he was fortunate that I did not report him. I realized there is no loyalty among thieves. Years later this small lesson saved me a lot of grief in civilian life.

Once again I was proud I was a member of the Greek/USOG.

Embarkation, Esprit de Corps

The Greek-American Operation Group was finally on its way overseas; we boarded the liberty ship, Pierre L'Enfant, on December 23, 1943. I remember climbing the gangplank with my rifle and my duffle bag, and recalling the newsreel photos of the GIs who had preceded us overseas. I had just turned 19 years old on December 6, 1943; our unit was anxious for overseas duty and for the unknown

It is impossible to describe the esprit de corps of the Greek/USOG. During the group's first reunion in 1991 in Denver, Colorado, Communication Officer First Lieutenant Theodore Russell of Dearborn, Michigan, was interviewed by Denver's Television Channel 9. The following is an excerpt from the interview in which First Lieutenant Russell related his thoughts about the Greek/USOG when the unit was at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, preparing to embark for overseas:

The unit confirmed in my lifetime what determination and devotion was to duty. These guys [the Greek OG] were the toughest men and best trained unit in the army. To sum it up, I will never forget when we were at the port of embarkation at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, where thousands of young and ill-trained soldiers were being sent into combat.

At the camp, our boys would march and sing both in English and Greek, and the entire camp would say, Who are these guys? We were dressed smartly, had new experimental clothing, including jump boots, and were the first unit to be assigned the new Eisenhower jacket. We looked good, acted good, and the biggest thing, we felt good. Officers from other outfits would ask me, Who are you guys? Security told us to say that we were truck drivers. They knew that wasn't the case.

As I speak now, I vividly recall a dreary day in Virginia when many units were marching, including the 88th and 45th Divisions, slated for combat duty in Italy. Standing aside as communicating officer, I could see these poor soldiers in these infantry outfits scared and ill prepared for combat duty. Our group was marching with joy. We were hyped up and ready for combat. We wanted to go into battle. We were not forced to go into battle. We were prepared to go into battle.

We had a good group of commanders who were all young men. I had been in the infantry since 1939 when I joined the Michigan National Guard. Later, I graduated from infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, class #12, and had been in many infantry units. I had seen people with whom I said I would not like to go into battle. But with the Greek/US Operational Group, you don't go into battle, you go for an experience. We were told that it would be a one-way trip; no one was required to go. They told us that we should expect 90 percent casualties. That was not a deterrent for me or any other member of our unit. Every man knew what he had committed to do when he volunteered for the OG, and this is the inspiration that I hang on to in life.

I knew a lot of guys who tried to find ways to stay out of the army or, at least, to see no combat duty. They did things that, unfortunately, were dishonorable.

You couldn't stop our guys; these guys would only say, Let's go! We boarded our transport ship, the Pierre L'Enfant, on December 23, 1943. Our enlisted men told us that if we did not leave immediately for overseas, they would go AWOL and spend Christmas in New York. The officers in charge of the convoy told the captain of the USS Pierre L'Enfant to get the Greeks out of here and leave the port immediately. On Christmas Day, we met up with one of the largest convoys to cross the Atlantic at that time.

The TV moderator ended the interview by asking Russell if they were all volunteers, and he answered in the affirmative.

Note & Comment

[Skip the Note and the Comment]

The number, over 160, is a reflection during an impromptu interview in 1990 about the volunteers the OSS took in August 1943. Similarly in the same interview, the expression the full battalion volunteered is a spontaneous expression. Most of the battalion did volunteer, which is a remarkable fact.

The number increased to seventeen officers and 205 enlisted men, according to the National Archives, Formation of Unit, Greek US Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, p. 18 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944):

During the summer a recruiting team from the OSS came to Camp Carson seeking individuals with language qualifications for duty overseas. So many men volunteered for this duty that the commanding officer, Major Peter Clainos volunteered the entire battalion. Negotiations were undertaken to procure War Department approval of this scheme and in September authority was given for the transformation and a recruiting team from OSS Washington appeared in Colorado.

The officers and men were again given an opportunity to volunteer or not. Most of them volunteered and a screening began at once to pick out those fit. After the selections were made the majority of the officers and men volunteered, orders were cut out for them to report to OSS Hq. Washington DC 8 October 1943. Seventeen officers and 205 enlisted men went east to join the unit to be known as Unit B, third Contingent. The screening continued during training.

Subsequently, 185 (consisting of sixteen officers and 169 enlisted men) landed in Egypt, January 23, 1944, according to the report titled Headquarters, Third Contingent, Unit B, Operational Group, filed in the National Archives. (At the time of our arrival in Egypt, our unit was known as Third Contingent, Unit B. The official name, Company C 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion, was established later, in August 1944.)

Some of our operational groups were ordered from Egypt into Yugoslavia where a few men suffered wounds, injuries, battle fatigue, etc., and became unable to fulfill their personal goal to go into Greece. A few other men were diverted by orders to stay in Egypt or in Italy.

I am glad to say the total number 185 from the roster at arrival in Egypt will be inscribed in a monument that is being erected in Athens to honor our unit: the total number because all the men were volunteers for hazardous duty to liberate Greece; each and every one intended to serve in Greece.

Publisher's Comment

[Readers with scholarly pursuit should be able to locate the document in the National Archives through the data within the quotation, here above. This instance aside, the fuller references are given for the (other) quotations from the National Archives documents in these memoirs.]

Copyright & Credit

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