The inspiring accomplishments of George Dilboy and Hercules Korgis, now forgotten, need to be retold to a new generation. They are heroes in the panoply of over 70,000 American immigrants of Greek extraction who served with distinction in the Great War.
George Dilboy was born in Alatsata, near Smyrna, Asia Minor in 1896. He fought as a teenager in the the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. After immigrating with his family to Keene, New Hampshire he joined the New Hampshire National Guard and served in the Mexican Border Campaign. He was mustered out in 1916, but when war against Germany was declared in 1917, he joined the Army and sailed to France with his unit, Company H, 103rd Infantry Regiment, 26th Division. Before leaving Dilboy's father admonished him "To remember the motto of our country, of Greece, return with your shield of honor, come home with victory or die with honor." Dilboy's rendezvous with history came during the battle of Belleau Wood when he single-handedly and under his own initiative knocked out a pillbox containing a machine gun crew with one hand grenade, after crawling up to its blind side. Subsequently his unit was pinned down again by another machine gun emplacement. While reconnoitering with his platoon commander, he volunteered to knock out the emplacement. Without assistance and alone he began maneuvering against the position and sustained a number of hits in the leg above the knee almost severing it. He continued to crawl on his back pushing off with one heel. In his progress he was hit twice by a German sniper, but he never stopped to think about himself and kept going. He got close enough to fire his rifle, killing the gunner but was immediately cut down by a burst from an adjoining machine gun. Lying on his back, with his right hand raised, he was able to signal to his platoon to go forward, and reportedly died with a smile on his face. In 1921, Dilboy was awarded the Medal of Honor, America's highest decoration for valor, posthumously, by the President of the United States. He was reburied in his native village at the request of his father. His funeral procession in Alatsata included a Greek Army Honor Guard and the streets were lined with thousands of mourners. In 1922, the New York Times reported that the Turkish Army occupied Alsatata and Turkish soldiers broke open the coffin entombed in the Church of the Theotokos and desecrated Dilboy's remains and the American Flag. President Warren G. Harding was outraged. He demanded and got an apology from the Turkish government. He ordered a US warship, the USS Litchfield to recover the remains, which were delivered by a Turkish Honor Guard, draped with an American flag, to a US Navy landing party from the Litchfield. The remains were brought back to the US and were eventually interred at Arlington National Cemetery, outside of Washington, D.C. in a ceremony attended by scores of dignitaries including two US presidents. General John "Black Jack" Pershing listed Dilboy as one of the top ten American heroes of the war.
Many thanks to Mr. Alex Caragonne who provided the above photo belonging to his father, now deceased. Dilboy is the soldier on the right. The soldier on the left is George Caragonne who was a boxer under the name of "Kid Brown" and the man seated was his manager John Coleman. The photo was taken shortly before Caragonne's and Dilboy's departure for France.
Hercules Korgis was a Greek immigrant who was born on the island of Mytilene in 1889. In 1903, like many young men of his generation he left for America settling in Lynn, Massachusetts where he worked as a waiter. In 1912, he volunteered, like many others, to fight in the First and Second Balkan Wars. He subsequently returned to the United States with two medals from the Greek government for heroism. When the United States entered the First World War he immediately enlisted in 1917. While serving as a Sargent in the 23rd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Second Division, he earned America's second highest decoration, a Distinguished Service Cross. During fighting near Mount Blanc, France he was responsible for knocking out two German machine gun positions and killing the crew of eight men with hand grenades. A month later he fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to reorganize a panic stricken unit that had been ambushed and led them in an attack upon the enemy position.
Interestingly, his most famous exploit which only earned him a Silver Star (the third highest U.S. award for valor) involved the capture of 256 German soldiers, including their officers. This was the biggest bag of prisoners in World War I by an American. He was dubbed the "The One Man Army" by the American press. No American soldier during the war including the legendary Alvin York ever equaled his feat. It happened when Korgis was shot in the neck and leg during an attack and was subsequently captured. The German unit holding him was bypassed during the attack but still occupied a well defended position. Sgt. Korgis wounded, in pain and bleeding, would still play a decisive role. With his smattering of German, Korgis was able to talk the Germans into surrendering. He found some stray soldiers from his outfit and marched the Germans to a safe area in the rear. On his way to the rear, with over 256 prisoners, Sgt. Korgis, covered in blood, ordered them to pick up and carry wounded Germans and Americans. When a German officer balked, Sgt Korgis aimed a .45 automatic to his head and obtained his willing cooperation.
Upon his return to the U.S. he was honored by a parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City and resumed his life as a civilian, but not before he completed one more task. He joined a number of Greeks and non-Greeks known as "The Friends of Greece" including fifty decorated Greek-American veterans of World War I to meet President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C. in order to solicit his aid in preventing Thrace from being apportioned to Bulgaria at the peace talks in Paris.
The above photograph was graciously provided by Ms Paula Ricks.