The Embodiment of the American WWII Soldier was a Greek Marine

Klonis on the cover of Life, in 1944

It is one of the most famous images of the Second World War and was taken by the great photographer Eugene Smith. The stark black and white image shows the strength and resolution of an anonymous soldier, one of America’s toughest. The figure who became a symbol of American military was actually Greek, and his name is Euaggelos Klonis.

The man who would go on to embody the Allied soldier was born on the island of Kefalonia. He did not have the opportunity to attend school, so he went to work in Athens with his elder brother as a bus collector. One day, he saw some sailors carrying supplies to a ship and he decided to make the move to America for a chance at a better life.

Klonis entered the ship secretly, as a stowaway, but with the kind assistance of the captain he was able to sail all the way to Los Angeles.  He then moved to Denver, where he sold hot dogs on the street to survive.  A young Greek girl fell in love with him and wanted to marry him, but Klonis felt that he was too young, and he also wanted to help out his family in Greece financially.

She got angry at him and threatened him, saying that she would reveal that he was in the nation illegally.

Klonis, pictured long after the war in his jazz bar in New Orleans

He then left the area for a time but later returned, hoping that the girl would have forgotten him by then. By this time, a presidential decree had been handed down, offering all those who were in America illegally to enlist in the army in exchange for citizenship.

Klonis decided it was best that he become a soldier.  He went to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he entered into basic training, and thanks to his performance, the army sent him as a marine to Virginia. When that training was over, Klonis hoped that he would be shipped to the Pacific theater, but he was suddenly informed then that his entire family back in Greece had been killed in the war.

Greatly depressed by this horrifying news, he then asked to be sent to Europe. Klonis fought for his new country the United States in many nations throughout Europe, including Germany, France, Austria and Poland.

Klonis turned out to be a stellar marine and he received many medals for his service, and even a congratulatory letter from Harry S. Truman, the thirty-third President of the United States.

The famous photographer who so famously snapped a photo of Klonis took numerous other photos of the Second World War as well. But the portrait of Klonis smoking his cigarette is without a doubt one of the most iconic images from that war, embodying an unnamed American soldier who was doing his best to fight the evil of the Axis powers.


1 COMMENT

  1. This is vary interesting, but yet vary confusing, I love this photo but something does not add up, the photo was reportedly taking during the battle of Saipan June to July 1944

    The photo was taken by the photographer W. Eugene Smith and he was never in the European theater. Even if Mr. Klonis was transferred to the European theater after the battle of Saipan, by the time he would have got there Germany was already on the ropes so to speak.

    Thats not to take any honor away from Euaggelos Klonis, as a Marine in the Picific he fought through hell and still made it home. I just cant find any reference to him being in the European theater.

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