Worshipers traveled from all over the country to be on the island of Tinos on August 15, 1940. It was the feast day of the Virgin Mary and people wanted to enjoy the festivities and see the Icon of the Virgin. This was a beautiful day of celebration with people going into the little shops and cafes, and passing the time of day until it was time to go to church for religious services. My mother Maria, brother Apollo, our younger cousin and I, had just entered one of the small cafes to have some breakfast. We sat at an outdoor table and placed our order. After a few minutes our waiter came with Greek pastries for us to enjoy. I had just taken my first bite when we all felt the earth shaking and heard the sound of a very large explosion.
My family and I ran out into the street. Panicked people were screaming everywhere, not knowing what to do or where to go, thinking perhaps this was an earthquake. In this confusion we looked toward the harbor and there was a Greek military cruiser sinking into the sea. The ship and its crew had come to enjoy this important Greek religious day. But now there was mass panic on the island. There were fears the explosions on the ship would endanger the people on the shore. Many took to the hills and others took refuge in the church half way up the mountain.
Then came the sight that would forever haunt my memory - wounded sailors from the ship walking up the hillside steps, some barely able to make it, others with bodies blackened and burned from the fire on the ship, crawling up the steps to reach the church for shelter. As all of this was happening the ship slowly sank and finally disappeared into the sea.
We would learn later that we had witnessed a submarine torpedo attack on the Greek military ship. We left the island that day by military escort back to Athens, but the mood had changed for everyone in Greece. WWII was threatening to involve Greece, and it had suddenly become a dangerous place for everyone, especially for our visiting American family.
* Adapted from Six Years to Freedom ©, unpublished manuscript by Angeline Spillias, 1992; ©Kenneth Spillias, 2017, 2019, 2022.