2008-01-09 / Features

George Vlassios Tsounis, WW II Vet, Dies At Age 84

BY CATHERINE TSOUNIS

George V. Tsounis as a young noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. George V. Tsounis as a young noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. George Vlassios Tsounis of Mattituck, Long Island and Bayside died Wednesday, November 21 at the Veterans Administration Nursing Home in Stony Brook, Long Island at age 84. Arrangements were handled by Vernon C. Wagner Funeral Homes. A Greek Orthodox funeral service was held at Holy Trinity Church in Hicksville, followed by a military burial at Calverton Veterans Administration Cemetery. His 40-day memorial service was held on December 30 at the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Mattituck.

Tsounis was born in 1922 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania to Vlassios and Catherine Tsounis, Greek immigrants from Limnos, Mosconisi and Tseme in Asia Minor. Vlassios Tsounis immigrated to the U.S.A. in the 1900s and was drafted into the U. S. Army during W.W. I. He was wounded in action and received the Purple Heart, the Victory Medal and the "silver citation star", a forerunner of the modern Silver Star. Vlassios Tsounis was one of nearly five million Americans who fought in W.W. I. Although disabled by his war wounds, he worked in the steel mills and raised six children as a single parent after his wife, Catherine, died at the age of 46.

George Tsounis was forced to work at eight years old to help his family during the Great Depression of the 1930s. An enduring influence was Catherine Christofis, his Godmother, who lived in the same neighborhoods in Pennsylvania and Astoria.

Tsounis was 5 feet, 11 inches tall, handsome and athletic when he was drafted into the Army on Apr. 17, 1943. He served in the European Theater of War, where he was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant, the highest rank for a non-college graduate. A belly gunner in a B24 Liberator airplane. Tsounis served with distinction in the 777th Bomber Squadron of the 464th Bomber Group. His plane was shot down in Germany in 1944. "Several soldiers refused to parachute out of the plane because of fear. I pushed them out and pulled their parachute [ripcords] for them, saving their lives," he recounted.

Tsounis was a POW for 11 months after being shot down by antiaircraft artillery, receiving two flak wounds as the result of enemy fire. For several months he was listed as missing in action until he was discovered by the Red Cross in a stalag camp in Eastern Germany. He wrote poetry, read the Bible three times and a Greek Orthodox prayer book from the Holy Cross Seminary in Pomfret, Connecticut.

"Everything went on in the POW camp," he said. "I told the fellows that I wanted to be alone. That is what I did. I refused to mingle with my fellow POW prisoners who did not follow my family traditions." He kept to himself and developed a strong, independent character that remained with him. All his life, he refused to mingle in crowds and was a loner.

Tsounis was released from active duty on Oct. 10, 1945, He was awarded the Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal and a disabled veteran's pension. He came home to a family destroyed by the trauma of his POW captivity. Within two weeks of his release from the military, his beloved 21-year-old sister, Antonia, died of tuberculosis in an upstate New York hospital. Ekaterini, his mother, died six months later at the steps of the old Zoodohos Peghe Greek Orthodox Church in The Bronx, waiting to bring Koliva (memorial boiled wheat) for her daughter's sixmonth memorial service.

In 1947, Tsounis married his patriotisa, Cleopatra Athena Pappas (Papantonakis) whose mother was his mother's neighbor in Mosconisi and Tseme, Asia Minor. The wedding ceremony took place at the Archdiocesan Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, Rev. Efthymiou officiating. That same year, he settled in Astoria. He worked seven days a week for 25 years in a grocery and restaurant business. He bought his home in Mattituck in 1961 and was a resident of Southold town for more than 46 years. In 1972, he retired at the age of 50 because of his W.W.II injuries, becoming 100 percent disabled.

He influenced his wife, Cleo, and four children, Catherine, Christopher, Nicholas Sotirios and Thomas Angelo in performing community service. All four are college graduates of the CUNY University system. Tsounis had four grandchildren, Michele, Teresa and Steven Tsounis and Dr. Despina Siolas.

"I see his face and hands for the first time. An aristocratic face at peace," the Rev. George Stavropoulos said during the church funeral service. "He is surrounded by children and grandchildren. George Tsounis is honored for his Greek roots by his American children. A perfect relationship: a son of immigrants honored by his American children. Immigrants from Greece were poor people, who raised their children to be honest Americans. This was the life of George Tsounis, an American who served the American cause. I am proud to see his casket, covered by the American flag. Be thankful you enjoyed the presence of your father and heard stories of the American Army and of his Greek roots. This is your legacy today."

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