When the first Balkan Wars between Greece and Turkey erupted in 1912, an estimated 25,000 Greek immigrants who had made America their new home packed their belongings and returned to their homeland to defend Greece.
An entire battalion was created from New York City’s Greek population alone. The New York battalion purchased uniforms, equipment, and rifles from the state of New York. The New York National Guard also assisted the Greek cause by offering basic training in military discipline, hygiene, firearms, and the field guns themselves to the newly formed volunteer unit.
Other artillery and infantry units were formed in communities around the country. Overall, the American media dubbed these Greeks the “Sacred Battalions” because they considered their mission to defend their patrida— or homeland— a sacred one.
Some people portrayed them as unpatriotic to America. A letter to the editor in a Chicago newspaper asked “How dedicated to their new country are these new Americans that they can drop their lives and jobs and leave on a whim to fight in a foreign, far-away war?”
In far away Utah—days away from the East Coast by railroad, over two hundred Greek miners decided to hand in their pick and shovel and return to help fight the Turks. An elaborate church service was held at the local Greek Orthodox Cathedral for the departing warriors. A similar farewell was held in Chicago.
Those that remained raised money via their church and fraternal organizations and wealthy benefactors and sent money to support the Greek cause. Over $400,000 – which translates to about $9 million dollars today—was raised by a largely immigrant community.
During one particular fundraiser in New York City, Greek Americans managed to raise $20,000, as 5,000 people poured into the Amsterdam Opera House and another 1,000 waited outside to aid in the national cause at a time when the average annual salary in America was slightly over $1,000.