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Preservation of American Hellenic History

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

Addendum 2
Congressional Gold Medal
Washington DC
March 2018

73 Years after the War

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor that the United States Congress can bestow. It was awarded to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in a ceremony at the Capitol's Emancipation Hall, March 21, 2018.

"100 to 200 former members of the OSS are believed to be alive" from the "13,000 civilians and service members" that the OSS employed "at its height"; and among the dwindling ranks of the survivors, only "about 20 OSS veterans" gathered in Washington DC for the award ceremony.[note 1]

Only one was present from all of the US Operational Groups of the OSS: me at 93 years of age. I was accompanied to the award ceremony by three of my adult children.

These six United States Operational Groups were comprised mainly of Americans of ethnic backgrounds who volunteered for hazardous duty behind enemy lines in the countries whose languages they spoke: the Greek/USOG, Yugoslav/USOG, Norwegian/USOG, French/USOG, German/USOG, and Italian/USOG.

The Greek/USOG itself had six groups of twenty-four men and two officers each when we left the United States. The type of warfare was unique in which the Greek/USOG (Co. C., 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion) was engaged, according to OSS records:[note 2]

"During a period of 219 days from 23 April until 20 November 1944, troops of Co. C., 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion [the Greek/USOG] were continuously in occupied Greece. The type of warfare they engaged in was unique in the history of the American Army."

253 days was the total for my own Group 4 of the Greek/USOG on the front lines at the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia and then behind the lines in occupied Greece: 16 February to 19 June 1944 and then 16 July to 20 November 1944, respectively.[note 3]

It saddens me that I was the only one who was still alive and able to go to the ceremony, but it was seventy-three years after the war.

Irony Etched in the Medal

It also saddens me that none of these six United States Operational Groups were mentioned during the award ceremony at Washington DC, although the USOGs collectively saw more battles than any other units of the OSS combined.

The name of an OSS airborne unit is emblazoned on the Congressional Gold Medal because they flew the soldiers into the battle zones (and flew themselves out);[note 4] but "USOG" does not appear among the names on the medal, not even the shortest two letter abbreviation "OG" — to remember those men who were flown into battle zones and who stayed there.

The code name of an operation in which the Italian/USOG was involved, "PEE DEE", is included on the medal; but it was a single battle involving one USOG among many battles by the six ethnic USOGs. Why did the OSS Society single out its name for preferential treatment while ignoring the much longer and much wider, excellent battle records of all of the ethnic USOGs? Someone's influence, perhaps? No matter how important the single operation might have been, it was no more important and no more difficult than other operations by the ethnic USOGs, and it should not have eclipsed our excellent, fuller battle records. It looks strange on the medal.

Only one OSS veteran spoke during the award ceremony. The other speakers were politicians and government officials, along with a OSS Society executive on the podium. There was nothing about the ethnic USOGs in anyone's speech, not even for a moment. It was as if these USOGs had hardly existed while plane pilots were acknowledged, pilots who flew infantry to drop points.

A Pattern of Disregard

The ethnic USOGs have been ignored repeatedly or relegated to second-class status in the OSS Society. This sort of disregard surfaced early in the history. After a couple of our initial successful raids in the Adriatic, Major P. G. Lovell — who had limited military training and involvement[note 5] — tried to merge the Greek/USOG and the Yugoslav/USOG into a "Balkan Group". He would have become a colonel through the merger but at the expense of the two USOGs, which would have lost their identities. Captain Bob Houlihan and Captain Andy Rogers, the commanding officers of the Greek/USOG and of the Yugoslav/USOG respectively, went over Lovell's head and contacted Colonel Russell Livermore, the Commanding Officer of all of the ethnic Operational Groups who agreed that the Greek/USOG and the Yugoslav/USOG would remain distinct.

Forty-eight years later, a reference to a "Balkan Group" surfaced again. This time it happened in 1992 during the OSS 50th anniversary commemoration at McClean, Virginia, near CIA headquarters. By this time, our key officers such as Captain Houlihan and Captain Rogers had died. So had First Sargent Strimenos who was another excellent leader of the Greek/USOG. A few other veterans attended — three other Greek/USOG veterans including an officer and then two Yugoslav/USOG veterans — but they did not wish to get involved when I asked them to help me correct the nonsense about a "Balkan Group". This old guy had to struggle on his own. I was unable to discover who was responsible for the concoction "Balkan Group". So, I entered interview rooms and demanded to be heard. People looked blank at me for a moment and then continued with their own interviews as if I wasn't there. Yes, I was upset. Finally, a young military historian Troy Sacquety took notice, and he approached me. He promised to try to correct the mistake We exchanged e-mail addresses. I did not expect much help from the young man. I was pleasantly surprised later.

The next year, 1993, I am glad to say, the Special Forces and their CO General Downing referred to the USOGs as the "grandfathers" of the Special Forces — the USOGs only. This took place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during a USOG reunion. Fort Bragg is the headquarters of the United States Army Special Operations Command.

Troy Sacquety was there. In the meantime, he had come to Oakland, California, to interview me as a member of Group 4 of the Greek/USOG, and I drove him to San Jose to interview Angelo Lygizos as a member of Group 5. Troy received his doctorate in military history at Texas A & M. He was assigned to Fort Bragg as a military historian; and he edited Fort Bragg's quarterly magazine Veritas, in which he featured Commando units such as the Rangers, the Seals, and the Operational Groups. Whenever he would write about the Operational Groups, he would recognize the Greek/USOG and the Yugoslav/USOG distinctly.[note 6]

In 1993, Troy was proud to show me the Operational Groups monument that had been placed there on the grounds at Fort Bragg, and I was very pleased to see that the monument included each of the six ethnic USOGs clearly and distinctly, including the Greek/USOG and the Yugoslav/USOG. But this occurred outside the OSS reunion programs.

Inside the OSS reunion programs, things were different. At Fort Bragg in 2009, there was a reunion for all of the OSS veterans and spouses. My wife Mary and I attended. The ethnic USOGs were ignored during the program despite the monument there on the grounds of Fort Bragg, despite the articles in Fort Bragg's magazine Veritas, and despite the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, 1993, referring to the USOGs as the Special Forces' "grandfathers". So, after the OSS reunion ceremony, Caesar Civitelli confronted (retired) General Singlaub in the lobby. Civitelli was a veteran leader of the Italian/USOG. Singlaub was a key speaker in the program, a former officer of the OSS and a founding member of the CIA. Old Civitelli grabbed Singlaub by the throat, yelling at him for ignoring the USOGs "again!" I grabbed Civitelli from behind, worrying he might hurt Singlaub. Civitelli and I had not met before then. Caesar Civitelli died a few weeks before the Congressional Gold Medal presentation in Washington DC.

Reasons for the Disregard

There are numerous reasons why all the ethnic USOGs in general and the Greek/USOG and the Yugoslav/USOG in particular have been ignored repeatedly.

Personal Consequences, too

Imagine it: You would go the Veterans Administration, and the VA would say you had not served. Why? No records. Historians and veterans would look at you as a liar if you mentioned your duty. No records. 253 days in warfare on the front lines in the Adriatic and behind the enemy lines in occupied Greece. No records available.

The records were classified as top-secret, but we did not know that. No-one told us. The records began to be declassified by the CIA and transferred to the National Archive about forty-two years after the war. I did not see any records of my own group until the 1990s. Then in 2014 — through the help of my son Soter and through the help of Dan Muryako the AmVets advocate in Oakland, and through examinations by Josh Olney and others at the Veterans Administration clinic at Oakland — the VA recognized me as 100% disabled because of injuries sustained during warfare in US military service during WW2.[note 13] That was sixty-nine years after the war.

So, I wasn't pleased when the American ethnic USOGs were ignored at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at Washington DC, March 2018.

There was an OSS reception on March 20th, the evening before the medal ceremony. I went uninvited to the podium during the reception to ask if there were any other veterans of the USOGs in the audience. I had to walk up and ask, because none of the very few veterans in the audience had been introduced publicly by the OSS Society except one of the Society's favorites (and none were invited to speak except the one the next day at the ceremony either). The OSS Society members on the podium were not pleased by this old guy's request to speak at the reception on the eve of the ceremony, but they gave me the microphone for a moment. I asked if there were any USOG veterans in the audience. I found that, yes, at 93 years old, I was the only veteran from all of the ethnic USOGs.

The next day at the ceremony, I did not expect to be introduced. I was handed my medal while sitting in the audience. I was very pleased with the medal … until after the ceremony when I had time to peruse it and saw that it had a lot of abbreviations and acronyms on it for various OSS units and operations but not the short abbreviation "USOG", not even just the two letters "OG".

Final Words:
My purpose for writing these memoirs

Writing these memoirs, I've struggled to make sure that the brave young men are remembered who volunteered into their respective USOGs for hazardous duty behind enemy lines.

I have never meant to glamorize war, not even to glamorize my involvement with the elite Operational Groups. I am sad whenever it appears to me that I might have. For instance on Sunday March 25, 2018, the Sunday after I returned from Washington DC, I was invited by our parish priest Father Tom Zaferes at the behest of the Parish Council of the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Oakland, California, to come forward at the end of the church service to be honored because of the Congressional Gold Medal. There was a outburst of approval from the congregation. I wish I had the opportunity to speak. I went quietly back to my seat in the congregation. A couple of teenagers nearby whispered "thank you" to me for my WW2 service. I couldn't say anything. I might have shouted to warn them, "War is hell on earth!"

The next day, I spoke by invitation to an association of senior citizens at Rossmoor, Walnut Creek, California. They are Greek-Americans, very old now but still younger than me. There were familiar faces I have known for a long time. I spoke to them about the darkness of war. I spoke about Hitler's dastardly edict, ordering his commanding officers to execute any and all allied soldiers captured behind enemy lines.[note 14] I spoke of the sad story of the sixteen Italian-Americans, sons of Italian immigrants, who were captured when they landed in Northern Italy behind enemy lines. They were betrayed by Italian Fascists, turned over to the Nazis, and executed forty-eight hours later. We trained those boys at Bari. They were my friends.

I concluded by saying that none of our Americans were betrayed by the Greeks during our long combat behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied Greece.

This, also, has been a motivation for me to write my memoirs: to make sure that I express our gratitude to those people of Greece for their courage. Greek civilians were murdered one after the other by the Nazis in retribution because of the resistance; but not one of our American boys was betrayed by the Greeks.[note 15]

We would recall only the good times whenever the "California Five" would get together in civilian life — the five of us from California in our Greek/USOG; and especially, Perry Phillips, Alex Phillips, and I. We would remember especially the wonderful hospitality of the Greek-Americans in the Greek Orthodox communities and parishes in so many locations of the USA where we soldier-boys would stop during our assignments. I am glad to recall this, too, for posterity.

I've written and spoken only to make sure that the courage is remembered, but never to glamorize war. And with these words, I sign off.


[Skip the Notes]

Ryan, Missy, "After a long wait, World War II spy service honored for daring acts that helped secure Allied victory," The Washington Post (20 March 2018), available at
US National Archives, Greek US Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, p. 11 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944).
Ibid., p. 2.
The oversight during the awards ceremony made me remember the night when my group was flown from Allied controlled Italy to parachute behind the lines in occupied Greece. The pilot was American. He had orders to circle over our landing point and drop a few of us each time on a plateau: a four-man stick each time; so that all twelve of us men would hit the ground near each other on the limited terrain of the plateau. Fortunately, there were no enemy planes in the air or any ack-ack firing from the ground; but it was a dangerous anyway, to bring the aircraft low enough to drop four men on the plateau, then climb above the mountain range and repeat the maneuver two more times on a moonless night. The airman was distressed. I don't blame him for his fear; but he insisted on dropping all twelve of us at once in a single "stick". If he did, we would be spread over Nazi-occupied territory and most of us would be captured while he would get himself out of there quick. Our commanding officer threatened him with court martial for insubordination. So, the pilot obeyed under threat His unit was not in the OSS, but the story speaks. See in these memoirs: Part 6, Greece: "At Last! Group 4 Enters Greece, Group 4 Parachutes In". See in these memoirs: Part 6, Greece: "Group 4 Parachutes In".
See in these memoirs: Part 4, Yugoslavia: "Battle of Miljet: Major Lovell and Mint Juleps".
More recently, he has published a book about the OSS in Burma: Sacquety, Troy J. The OSS in Burma: Jungle War against the Japanese. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas, 2013.
For lists of missions and battles, see the National Archive documents cited in this book at Part 4, Yugoslavia, and at Part 6, Greece.
The sudden disbanding of the Greek/USOG (Co. C, 2671 Special Reconnaissance Battalion) at Bari, Italy, in November 1944, reminded me of the sudden disbanding of the US "Greek Battalion" (122nd Infantry Battalion) at Camp Carson, Colorado, in August 1943, when some of us volunteered into the OSS because we still wanted to go and help to liberate Greece. See in these memoirs: Part 2, Office of Strategic Services (OSS): "The OSS recruits Volunteers; the Greek Battalion is Disbanded".
My memoirs from the CBI Theater of Operations (China, Burma, India) will be deposited as a manuscript in the Library of Congress. As a member of the OSS in China in WW2, I was one of 15 American military advisers who trained the 4th Chinese Commando. The big bomb ended the war a couple of weeks later, and my unit was sent to Nanking to roundup Allied POWS.
See in these memoirs: Part 7, The Greek/USOG Disbands.
For examples of the later dates, see National Archives, "Previously Classified OSS Records," Nazi War Crimes Interagency Working Group, available at
Also see CIA, "OSS Personnel Files Released," 2008 Featured Story Archive, News & Information Featured Story Archive, available at
See in these memoirs: Part 2, Office of Strategic Services: "Why Did I Join the Greek Units?"
Editor's Note. For the VA benefits that he receives today, the designation "100%" is sufficient, and it is allowing him thankfully to live a decent, independent life in this final years; but he has actually been classed with two 100% disabilities and an additional 20%, all from battle zone injuries sustained during US military service in WW2 and not acknowledged until the year 2014.
See in these memoirs: Appendix, Against Hitler's Edict, Not one American USOG was betrayed by the Greeks.
See in these memoirs: Appendix, "Against Hitler's Edict: Not one American USOG was betrayed by the Greeks".
The OSS records also reflect this as they give an account of only one fatality (which occurred during a raid) but no other losses among us in Greece:

"Casualties among Americans:
"Despite great number of engagements with the enemy, Company C. sustained very light casualties. One enlisted man was killed during an attempted attack on a rail line; one officer was wounded in the same engagement; twenty four enlisted men were wounded; one officer was injured by a fall; one enlisted man was injured by a fall."

U.S. National Archives, Greek U.S. Operational Groups, Operations in Greece 1944, pp. 14-17 (report filed at OSS Headquarters, 24 December 1944)

That was all, no more, according to the OSS report. It was filed at the end of December 1944, more than a month after our missions and after the disbanding of our battalion.

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