When Thousands of Greek Men Left the United States to Fight the Turks


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.



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  2. Mary Lee Pappas on

    My grandfather left Indianapolis, Indiana to join. Born in Gavrolimni in 1888. Anthony John Pappas/Patoyiannes.

    • Mary Lee Pappas on

      The author brings out many great details, but romantics a bit. The fact that these men were summoned back to Greece is never mentioned, that essentially they were presented with the threat if never being allowed in Greece again to see family. Considering many of them, the majority most likely, came to the US to earn money to send back to family in Greece, this left them no choice but go and fight. Casualties were many as well. Very honorable, but there is a very sad reality to their flight back to the Motherland. Then, those who survived and returned went on to fight in WWI – these were men. Not an easy road.

      • Gregory Pappas on

        Mary Lee thanks for your comment. A few others have made this claim but there is no evidence on either side of the Atlantic to prove this. Numerous newspaper accounts surveyed from the era pointed to a voluntary movement, completely, which included fundraisers and much support coming from local communities. In Greece, there are no military records we found from the era that show any kind of summons or decrees forcing these men back. Furthermore, we spoke to descendants of some of these men and none remembered anywhere in their grandfathers/father’s stories of any forced return. If you have such evidence, I’d love to update the story.

  3. My great grandfather, Angelo Vlahos, left his family in Greece in the early 1900’s to establish himself before bringing his family to America. He then left New York to return and fight in the Balkan Wars. He returned home to Exanthia, Lefkada to his wife and 5 children never leaving Greece again. Three of his sons and most of his grandchildren left Greece between the 1920’s and 1960’s all bound for Sydney Australia.


    It must be underlined that it was a consequence of the action of the Panhellenic Union that it had been founded two years before the Balkan Wars by the Special Ambassador of the Greek Gonernment in the USA, Konstantinows Papamichalopoulos, who was descendned from Kremasti, Lakonia.

    • Martha Manikas-Foster on

      My grandfather and his brother came to New York from Kremasti. The brother married and had a child before returning to Greece to fight in one of the Balkan Wars. He did not survive. My grandfather, now the eldest of the siblings, brought over the rest of the family. I have always been interested in how I might learn more about the return of Greek men to fight, and how I might learn more, specifically, about my great-uncle.

  5. This is a very touching story. Two brothers of my grandfather came back to Greece to fight the turks and after the balkan wars they were sent to Minor Asia. They served the Greek army for ten years from 1912 to 1922. After the war they went back to the USA, as there was still no place and no job for them in Greece.

  6. Jonathan Vlahakis on

    My great grandfather Nikolaos Vlahakis left New York to fight for Hellas in both balkan wars. After the wars ended, he returned back to the US. He left the US again to fight the Germans during WW2. He survived all wars and all foreign invaders. He was killed after WW2 had finished, by greek communists, in his own house in Dyrrahio, Arkadia.

    • Nikitas Tsenes on

      My grandfather was one of them too. Left N.York to come back home and fight for almost 10 years until the Minor Asia disaster. Then he returned to his village and never went back to the States.
      Jonathan Vlahakis, we come from the same village, Dyrrahio, Arkadia!
      Our ancestors were most probably together at some point!
      Really glad to meet you. I am a friend of a Vlahaki relative of yours too!

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