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Commemorating Greek Independence Day

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Bilirakis) for 5 minutes.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis

legislator photo

Today, I rise to honor and commemorate Greek Independence Day.

On March 25, 1821, Archbishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese, and ``Eleftheria i Thanatos,'' which means ``Liberty or Death,'' Mr. Speaker, became the battle cry. This day to start the Greek War of Independence was not chosen by chance because it coincides with the Greek Orthodox Church's celebration of the Annunciation to the Mother of God. Again, this was not a coincidence because to the Greeks of 1821, Mr. Speaker, the Mother of God was their champion and their protector.

As we all know, the price of liberty can be very high. Socrates, Plato, Pericles, and many other great minds throughout history warned that we must maintain democracy only at great cost. Our Greek brothers earned their liberty with blood, as did our American forefathers. The freedom we enjoy today is due to the sacrifices made by men and women in the past.

Like the American revolutionaries who fought for independence and established this great Republic, Greek freedom fighters began an arduous struggle to win independence for Greece and her people. After four centuries of Ottoman oppression, they faced what appeared to be insurmountable odds. This was the 19th century David versus Goliath.

The revolution of 1821 brought independence to Greece and emboldened those who still sought freedom across the world. It proved to the world that a united people, through sheer will and perseverance, can prevail against tyranny.

The lessons the Greeks taught us then continue to provide strength to victims of persecution throughout the world today. By honoring the Greek struggle for independence, we reaffirm the values and ideas that make our Nation great.

I take great pride in both my Greek and American heritage, and each time I perform my constitutional duties, I am doing so in the legacy of the ancient Greeks and early Americans.

As Thomas Jefferson once said:

To the ancient Greeks, we are all indebted for the light which led ourselves, American colonists, out of gothic darkness.

Throughout American history, Greece and her people have stood as a staunch and unrelenting ally of the United States. In 1917, Greece entered World War I on the side of the Allies, as well as when they were invaded in 1940 during World War II. The enemy was then forced to divert troops to Greece to protect its southern flank in 1941. Alongside the American and Allied Forces, Greece played an integral role in defeating the enemies.

I would be remiss if I stood on the floor today and did not also pay homage to the American and Greek soldiers who fought side by side during the Korean War and, most notably, at Outpost Harry. As many of you know, each night the outpost was defended by only a single company of American or Greek soldiers. The Chinese had anticipated an easy capture; however, they did not anticipate the resolve of our soldiers to hold Harry at all costs and, therefore, making withdrawal not an option. Due to Harry's defense, the enemy ultimately called off their attacks due to the heavy losses suffered. This, ladies and gentlemen, was heroic.

For the first time in United States military history, five rifle companies together--four American and one Greek--would receive the prestigious Distinguished Unit Citation for the outstanding performance of their shared mission.

In expressing his sympathies with Greece revolting its Ottoman rulers, Thomas Jefferson said:

No people sympathize more feelingly than ours with the sufferings of your countrymen, none offer more sincere and ardent prayers to heaven for their success. Possessing ourselves the combined blessing of liberty and order, we wish the same to other countries, and to none more than yours, which, the first of civilized nations, presented examples of what man should be.

I stand here before you today to commemorate the Greeks who fought against oppression. I stand here before you today to celebrate that day, March 25, 1821. By doing so, we reaffirm the common democratic heritage we share. And as Americans, we must continue to pursue this spirit of freedom and liberty that characterizes both of these great nations.