I make no apologies for the hyphenated nature of my U.S. citizenship.
I am a Greek-American, which was bred in me by my grandparents, all four of whom were proud old country Greeks. One of them, my paternal grandmother — Katina Kanelis — once informed me of a historical military action about which I knew nothing at the time. I must have been around 9 or 10 years of age.
It produced something of a national holiday in her native Greece. It’s called “Ohi Day.” What is that? I’m about to tell you.
My grandmother and I were sitting in her kitchen one day when she told me of when, on Oct. 28, 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini issued an ultimatum to the Greek prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas: Let the Italian military use Greek bases from which to conduct operations in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations or else face the prospect of war.
Legend has it that Metaxas replied with a simple “ohi!” which is Greek for “no!” Grandma told me he said it with emphasis, meaning I suppose it was taken as “hell no!”
The Italians invaded Greece from Albania. Grandma said with great pride that the Greek army responded with such ferocity that they drove the Italians out of Greece. Mussolini’s forces supposedly were better equipped, better trained, more seasoned. They ran into a ruthless enemy in the Greeks.
I’ve done some research in the decades since I heard that anecdote from my dear, beloved grandmother. I learned that the Greeks essentially let the Italians storm into their country, then cut them off in the Pindus Mountains in northwest Greece — and then slaughtered them.
It was warfare at its ugliest. The Greeks then drove the Italians out of Greece, just as Grandma told me. The opposing forces fought to a stalemate in Albania, prompting the Nazi Germans to invade Greece in April 1941. The Axis forces eventually conquered Greece — but they would pay dearly for their occupation until they were driven out in 1944. The Greek resistance was among the fiercest of any in Europe during World War II.
I bring this to you courtesy of my late grandmother, who became a proud American, too, by choice.
Happy Ohi Day, everyone! Have a glass of ouzo to commemorate it.