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Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2

Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

Area "F", Bethesda, Maryland

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We were placed in six groups of two officers and 24 men each. Unlike an infantry platoon each group had two officers, two section leaders, and four squad leaders. A section was comprised of two squads; each squad had five men.

The "California Five" (Nick Cominos, Tom Georgalos, Alex and Perry Phillips, and myself) were assigned to Group 4 under the command of Captain Robert Eichler and Lieutenant Nick Pappas; we would be together for the next 14 months. (In Yugoslavia Lt. Paul Pope replaced Lt. Pappas, who replaced the wounded Lt. John Giannaris as Group II commander.) Technical sergeant Gus Carconie (Carkonen), Seattle, Washington, was the group sergeant, and the section leader was Staff Sergeant Chris Christie, Fredricksburg, Maryland. Sergeant Nick Cominos was squad leader of the first squad which included Perry Phillips. Sergeant Tom Georgalos was the squad leader of the fourth squad and I was the assistant squad leader; our squad included Alex Phillips, Byron Economou, Boston, Massachusetts, Pete Lewis of Akron, Ohio. Our squad's average age was barely nineteen years old.

The training in the OSS was not as intense as in the Greek Battalion. Many men had lost weight due to the grueling training at Camp Carson, but in Maryland we gained weight with added muscle.

We were assigned to tents on the golf course, six men to each tent. In my tent there was the California Five plus Byron Economou. Byron was one of the late comers to the Greek Battalion; he succeeded me as the youngest member of the Greek/USOG.

The tents had potbellied stoves. The weather turned cold in November. Each morning a different person would take his turn to wake up early, gather coal from a bin, and light the fire before the rest of our group in the tent would arise. It did not take long for the stove to warm up the tent. Reveille was 6:30 a.m., exercises for one half hour, breakfast, and back to our training.

We were trained by American OSS officers, veteran British commandos, and a member of the French resistance. I don't recall the Frenchman's name, but he would tell us: If you don't like it here, you can go back to your mommy. The training at Area F was in field craft, map reading, tactics, formations, knife fighting, tactical exercises, some weapons training, compass reading, and night maneuvers. The course lasted two weeks. A great deal of material was covered, which only a seasoned officer or enlisted man could assimilate. This training was different from the infantry training we had received at Camp Carson.

We discarded the drab olive army uniforms and were issued the latest army equipment. We were the first unit to be issued the Eisenhower and fur-lined jackets. We were also issued parachute attire and jump boots. Only paratroopers and commando units wore the jump boots. No other unit dared wear them; the boots were a badge of honor for our units.

Unfortunately we were never issued a unit patch because of the secrecy of our unit. After the war, OSS command admitted their mistake of not having a patch for the Operational Groups. A unit patch is a badge of honor for combat troops; frustrated, we wore a mishmash of patches. Men who were in combat proudly wore their respective patches.

Most of our training at area "F" was at night. Maryland was conducive to this type of training because of the wooded terrain. It was pitch dark on moonless nights; we had to become proficient with the compass; on some maneuvers, without a compass, we studied the stars and moss on the trees for directions. I recall a maneuver one very cold night with ice and snow on the ground. We were in the exclusive Chevy Chase area, and as I was crawling toward a simulated target, I looked up and in front of me was one of those beautiful colonial homes that Chevy Chase is famous for. The home had a big bay window; the living room was lit up, and I could see its elegance vividly. There were adults and children in the room, appearing to be enjoying a family gathering. For a minute I thought what the hell am I doing here, and how fortunate the family was to be in so much warmth and splendor.

Whenever we had the opportunity we would visit Washington DC. By this time we young recruits had grown physically and matured mentally. I was a month short of my 19th birthday, but I had grown to almost 6 foot and weighed 175 pounds. No doubt my ego was overblown as a member of one of the elite outfits in the Armed Forces. Oh!! The innocence of youth!

We attended St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral a couple of times. We did not meet many Greek-American families during our training in Maryland. We toured beautiful Washington DC and visited the different memorial buildings. A few of us attended a session of Congress and were shocked when a senator from Michigan and another from Mississippi (I believe it was Senator Rankin) got into a shouting match that ended in fisticuffs. We had no idea why they had the argument, but it blew our image of the Senate.

Because we couldn't know what the future held for us, we attended the many nightclubs and lounges in the DC area. We were told there were nine women for every man in Washington DC and we were not disappointed. One of the highlights was visiting the Stage Door Canteen located next to Lafayette Park, which was across the street from the White House. We were surprised to find Woody Herman's band, one of the most popular big bands of the era, playing live at the canteen. Entertainers would offer their services to the canteens and the USO. Dating of canteen hostesses was supposed to be taboo, but I got lucky and met one of the ladies in Lafayette Park after the canteen closed. No doubt she was older than I was (I always added a couple of years to my age). We took a trolley to her small apartment; she was a nice person; we had a great time. Our paths never crossed again.

Popular songs: Paper Doll, the Mills Brothers ~ Woodchoppers Ball, Woody Herman.

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