He was a simple man from an agrarian family in the heart of the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula. His family had a century of American roots. His uncle, William Sianis, is famous for the “hex of the Billy goat” upon the Chicago Cubs. George Panagiotis Siolas lived in the United States from 1966, raising a Greek-American family. He passed away on August 2, 2004 of a short illness in Flushing, New York. This outspoken, vibrant personality was a unique W.W. II war hero who fought for his country’s freedom. His story could be a plot for a T.V. movie.
In 1939, John Metaxas, dictator/president of Greece, defied the Axis Powers. He refused to surrender to fascism and said “OXI” (No). He called upon his country to fight. Every young man entered the military with the purpose of defending his home and country’s freedom. George Siolas, a 21 year old from the village of Paleopyrgos, outside the town of Levithi, participated in the Albanian campaign. He was one of the victorious troops celebrated as a liberator of the Greek Epirotes. The Greek Albanian campaign delayed Adolph Hitler’s Russian campaign. Nazi elite corps was sent into Albania to defeat the Greek army.
Nazi Germany’s troops swept into Albania and captured the retreating Greek army. George Siolas was one of the prisoners of war on the Yugoslavian border. They were detained for 30 days in a schoolyard. Greeks were systematically executed. George was told to assume the identity of a dead officer, when an officer’s name was called for non-execution. George and others were freed. His real struggle for survival was leaving the Northern Greek mountains for Southern Greece. The soldiers would travel at night and hide during daylight hours from the German troops. Greek villagers would give them bread and then try to betray them to the conquering forces. During their retreat, they lived off the land. George and his friends made it back to their homes in Arcadia, Peloponnese. He spent the remainder of the war in his village, pursuing agrarian pursuits. The young soldier married Konstantina Kotsiou. They had a newborn son, John, when the communist Civil War broke out in 1945.
Mountain villages suffered most as targets of communist aggression. Anti-government forces entered Paleopyrgo in 1945, with the aim of conscripting men into their ranks. George Siolas at gunpoint was told to join the communist forces. He refused. After beatings, he was to be executed by a Communist leader. At the last minute, a kind guerilla fighter who did not want to leave his newborn son an orphan spared his life.
U.S. intervention through the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine saved Greece’s freedom. At the conclusion of hostilities, George Siolas wanted one thing: revenge. He took his shotgun, searching for the communist leader who tortured him. He could not be found, probably because someone else got to him first. Instead George discovered his communist benefactor who spared his life. “Remember, George, I spared you. Now you must spare my life,” he said. George Siolas remembered. He forgave and returned to his village.
The young Greek raised three other children; Pete, Maria and Nicole. The family immigrated to the United States in 1966. His children married, became successful in their careers, and active members of their communities. He leaves behind ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, who remember a person who loved music and folk dancing. George Siolas was buried on August 6th in the family plot with his beloved wife, Konstantina, in Paleopyrgo. His valor and heroism is a unique legacy to his descendants.