The panelists (left to right): Retired Vice Admiral Ioanis Pavlopoulos, State Senator Lou Raptakis, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Spyros Polemis, Aristides J. Pittas, Despina Panagiotou Theodosiou, and Konstantine Drougos. [Nikolas Afentoulis]
The more than 2,000 Greek sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for freedom on the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps the last unsung heroes of WWII, will finally be honored thanks to the East Mediterranean Business Cultural Alliance (EMBCA), which is seeking to build a monument to their memory in Manhattan.
Lou Katsos, the founder and president of EMBCA, which has become one of the leading cultural and professional organizations in the Greek-American community, told the 250 guests at the SS Hellas Liberty museum in Piraeus – its first event in Greece – that the monument will also be dedicated to Hellenic shipping and Hellenic-American friendship.
The event featured a panel discussion about the history, present and future of Hellenic shipping whose participants included US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt; retired Vice Admiral Ioannis Pavlopoulos, George Pateras, president of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping, Rhode Island State Senator Lou Raptakis, and Konstantine Drougos, the organizer of the event which aimed “to build cultural bridges and foster greater understanding between the United States and Greece and to promote commercial relations between them, and to support entrepreneurship.”
Katsos spoke of the importance to Hellenism of spotlighting the historic sacrifice of the Greek merchant seamen, the vital contribution of the Greek shipping industry to the war effort that enabled the US to arm and supply its allies, and the appreciation of Greece for the 100 “blessed Liberty ships” given by the United States to help Greece and its vital maritime sector rebuild under the Marshall Plan – the SS Liberty museum being a living symbol of that gratitude.
Pyatt said to Katsos, “I want to congratulate your initiative for a memorial in New York to honor the sacrifices of the men in the shipping industry during WWII… I hope this event serves as a reminder of the strong ties between the Greek and American maritime communities, which are a deep and long-standing part of our bilateral relationship. I thank the EMBCA for their leadership in that regard.” He reinforced Katsos’s presentation by noting that the Greek fleet was decimated after WWII, adding that “it’s quite amazing to see the progress it has achieved so that today Greek shipping represents the largest non-military asset in the world for transporting goods… Every time I visit this ship I’m filled with pride at the testament this vessel bears to the Marshall Plan that replaced so many of the ships Greece lost during the war.”
Pyatt added that “the Greek shipping industry serves as a stabilizing force in the region that is grappling with a range of geostrategic challenges.”
Raptakis told the story of the heroic effort, in which he and others present that night played major roles, to find a Liberty ship – only three remain in the world – and convert it into a museum. He also noted that his father made 11 Atlantic voyages during the war before settling in the United States and enlisting in the US Army.
Constantine S. Sirigos is an Athens-based journalist who specializes in Greek-American community affairs.