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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 26 March 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 26 MARCH 2016 21 FEATURE of Asia Minor the Greek and Turkish representative of the prisoner of war exchange. Additionally, for the next 12 months he continued to evacuate other refugees from Asia Minor. ROGER JENNINGS In a recent interview with Asa's grandson, Roger Jennings, he revealed that he still has grandfather’s diaries and records. "My father told me the Greeks would kneel when my grandfather walked down the street as though he was carrying the host, and they wanted to kiss his hand and feet," Roger recalls. "He was very embarrassed by this attention. He never wanted attention on himself. And well, he got his wish. Almost no one in Greece today ever heard of Asa K. Jennings. That is pretty sad. And no one knows the Greek hero, Theofanides, which is sad too." But this is slowly changing. Roger recently ventured to Volos in February, where they are making a concerted effort to recognise Asa's heroic efforts. Since Asa's passing in 1933, a short film has been produced entitled Strange Destiny, by MGM. While he may have been forgotten by a Greece that has spent years dealing with war and political issues, his deeds have resulted in the birth of millions. So from here on, not one Hellene should forget what he did. tain Ioannis Theofanidis. He brazenly sent a message via the ship to the Greek government of Athens, calling on them to support his efforts to rescue the wretched refugees. The government was not entirely disposed to an American giving them orders, as they contemplated the defeat and humiliation in Asia Minor. Then came a masterstroke. He told the government that unless they agreed to the fleet sailing with him by 6.00 pm he would broadcast to the entire world the cowardly rejection of his pleas. The government, both bullied and embarrassed, gave Asa command of the entire fleet in the Aegean, proving to be the most incredible act of the era. Within an hour, Ataturk had agreed to the ships under Asa entering the harbour of Smyrna to rescue all refugees except men aged between 18-45 years (their tragic fate would come). Athens also gave him a further 25 ships from Piraeus, on the condition that each ship to enter Smyrna's dock be escorted by an American warship. RESCUE Asa's next hurdle was the attitude of almost every ship captain; nobody wanted to return to a city that had been destroyed. As the 'Admiral' of the fleet, Asa reminded each captain that should they attempt to call in unseaworthy ships, he would have them courtmartialled and possibly ex- ecuted. This worked a treat. By midnight the fleet had set sail and the US was there to help with a frigate to support the operation. By now, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, that had been tolerant to everyone, was now soaked in misery. The poor refugees were trapped and despondent. Every possible hurdle that was placed in front of Asa was overcome and managing an evacuation that few in history could ever imagine. All Americans came to his aid, while the French, Italian, British and Turkish did very little. Within a matter of days, Asa had cleared Smyrna of refugees; 350,000 were estimated to be saved, the descendants of whom owe their existence to this one hero, and all those who helped him. Most of the refugees ended up in Athens, Thessaloniki, Mytilene and other nearby islands. After his heroic deeds, the 'Commodore' added another incredible chapter, becoming Greece has had many great philosophers, leaders, artists and writers, and this man shall forever stand alongside them. He may have been born an American, but he died as a Hellene. To a man who truly is a hero, I, along with all the descendants of the Asia Minor catastrophe, salute you. Compiled from 2,500 documents that Asa provided his family, Roger Jennings has released a new book entitled Waking the Lion, available through Amazon. If you're interested in learning more about the rescue, visit www.vimeo. com/52745334 * Billy Cotsis has ancestry from Mytilene and Asia Minor and is the author of the Many Faces of Hellenic Culture.
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