Wilmington, DE – A great sense of pride overcame the Wilmington Greek community yesterday that filled their church gymnasium in anticipation for the arrival of the Greek Presidential Guard. Dignitaries, dancers, and guests looked on as the Evzones marched in. Four of the members were dressed in regional folk attire to show the variety of Greece military garb, while the others came in suits.
George Rassias of Holy Trinity introduced the 12 members of the Presidential Guard who have been in the United States for several weeks making appearances and performing at Greek Independence Day ceremonies from Tarpon Springs, Florida to New York City.
“This is an opportunity for our kids to touch and be part of living history. It’s a great moment for all us to celebrate and share,” said Rassias. The origins of the traditional uniform that the Evzones wear are closely tied to Greek military history. In fact, the term can be traced all the way back to Homer’s time, which indicates that the Evzone soldiers were present in some capacity in Ancient Greece. Today, the Evzones take on a ceremonial role. One of their primary duties is to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. In many ways, their role is a symbolic one, and their uniform is the very embodiment of Greece’s military legacy.
Nikolaos Spiliotis, President of the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Greater Philadelphia and Delaware Valley, also addressed the crowd and encouraged the guest to attend the weekend-long series of events. A schedule is online for all to see. Lieutenant Panagiotis Karkatzoulis, one of the members of the Guard, gave a brief history of each of the soldier’s costumes and then introduced the Guard to great applause from the audience.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the evening was when, Stephen Papantinas a member of the Wilmington Greek community (in a wheelchair), was brought in front of the Presidential Guard and honored with a pin placed onto him by an Evzone. Papantinas, who is 92 years young held a photograph of himself when he was an Evzone in Greece in 1948-1949. Papantinas first came to America later that same year (at the age of 25) as a Presidential Guard to meet with President Truman and ask for aid for Greece. He was successful. He met his future wife on that same trip, wearing a stoli and stayed in touch. His daughter Christine recalls her mother saying “I never thought I would marry a man in a dress.” The pair married some years later in New York and settled in Delaware in the late 60’s.
The evening concluded with Greek school students performing several dances in traditional folk attire for the guests and members and then had a chance to meet the Evzones. Parents snapped up the photo opportunities at the close of the event. The Evzones are on a tour of the city of Philadelphia and will be participating in several ceremonies during their visit before marching in the parade on Sunday.