Twenty-eight-year-old Greek-American Andreas Holevas may be the only man who ever obtained a Greek passport just to serve the country of his ancestors as an Evzone, a member of the famous Presidential Guard.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Holevas tells Greek Reporter he feels “super-blessed to wear the uniform of the Evzones because it was always a dream of mine.”
The Evzones are an elite infantry and mountain unit of the Greek Army with roots stretching back long into Greek history. Their members form the Presidential Guard, a ceremonial unit which guards Greece’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion in Athens.
In 2019, Holevas completed all the procedures to officially become a Greek citizen; after obtaining a Greek ID card and a passport, in January of 2020 he enlisted in the Greek Army. After a brief stint in the border town of Soufli, in Evros, his dream finally became a reality when he joined the Presidential Guard in Athens.
“The first two months as a Greek Evzone were pretty tough. Thank God for all the Evzones I served with who grabbed me by the arms and called me ‘brother,’” Holevas now recalls.
He tells Greek Reporter that one of the difficulties, as anyone might expect, was the language barrier. “I am not 100 percent fluent in Greek, and my vocabulary is not as good, so it was a little bit tough,” he admits.
Some of the training involved in this particular position consists of standing still for hours and practicing for parades. “We stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guard at the Presidential mansion, raise and lower the Greek flag at the Acropolis, and welcome foreign leaders at the Presidential mansion,” Holevas explains.
The offspring of Greek immigrants who came to the United States in the 1960s, Holevas was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1992. The Evzone’s mother was born and raised in the town of Agrinion and his father hailed from Nafpaktos. Holevas has been coming to Greece for about two months every summer since he was a young boy to visit with the rest of his family.
“Being Greek is something that comes from inside of you. The love for the culture, the traditions, the language, the heritage, the Church. All of that has to do with being Greek. I was blessed to be around all that as a young child. I was lucky to be raised in such an environment,” he tells Greek Reporter.
Holevas remembers the time as a young child telling his father that he wanted to join the Greek military.
“When we visited the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in Syntagma Square I remember my father telling me: If you join the Greek Army that’s where you will come.” For a young boy, the prospect seemed tough, he recalls.
“But growing up, as my mentality grew stronger, I would see my grandfather’s picture as a Presidential Guard, and I said that I would do it. I always wanted to join the Greek military but I did not make the decision to join the Presidential Guard until about the age of 18.”
Holevas was destined to become an Evzone just like his grandfather, whom he never met. “I wanted to be as prosperous as my grandfather,” he notes.
The military photograph of his grandfather, Georgios Holevas, his paternal grandfather, who also served as an Evzone in the late 1930s, is placed in a prominent place on the young man’s Facebook page.
Commenting on the photo, Holevas says:
“To the right is a picture of my grandfather as a Kings Guard! Unfortunately, some people in my family never had the chance to meet him… So I took it upon myself to honor him by following in his footsteps as a Presidential Guard!
“My journey has been full of ups and downs, but I’ll never regret my decision. Along the way I’ve bonded and created a family that can never be broken! The life of an Evzone can never be understood by anyone, only by the very few who have the honor of serving as a Evzone!” he states with evident pride.
After years of dedication, Holevas is now proud to stand in the very same spot where his grandfather once stood, next to his father in this photograph.
“So far my greatest accomplishment to date!” he says of the day he joined the elite unit.
“My father got to witness me salute and honor his father, whom he never met, at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider where he once served as a royal guard. While tears ran down his cheeks, I stood still and emotionless, but deep down all I wanted to do was tell him how much I love him!” he tells Greek Reporter.
Holevas says that his dream as a Greek-American is to one day be able to spend half of his time in Greece and the other half in the United States. “You can definitely be fully Greek and fully American at the same time,” he explains. “I was fortunate enough to be able to live both lives.”
But for now Holevas’ focus is on performing his duties as an Evzone. “It’s going to be a sad day when I leave. Every time I will be visiting Greece I will come and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I wish I could do another round of duty with the Evzones.
“Once an Evzone, always an Evzone.”