Costas E. Themelis, 85, soldier who fought for Greece in World War II

September 01, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Costas E. Themelis lived quietly for a half-century with his family in Highlandtown.

Not until his funeral was a secret unveiled -- that as a tough resistance fighter and a highly decorated Greek soldier who fought the Nazis in World War II, he received the prestigious Cross of St. Mark.

At Oaklawn Cemetery in Baltimore on Thursday, Col. Chris Portocholis, the military attache from the Greek Embassy in Washington, spoke reverent words over Mr. Themelis' flag-draped coffin:

"Let the soil above your casket weigh lightly on it," said the colonel, invoking a cultural tribute reserved for the bravest and most dedicated.

"We had no idea," said his son, John C. Themelis, a Baltimore City circuit judge. "He kept the cross in a little steel box with his naturalization papers. The decoration symbolized a return for his love to his country, that no matter what kind of person he was, he would go to a rich afterlife. For the Greek government to recognize a civilian, a little guy like my dad, is something very special."

Costas Themelis, 85, died of a stroke at Franklin Square Hospital Aug. 24.

"Costas lived in the same house for over 45 years, and no neighbor could be found to speak ill of him," said the Rev. Manuel Burdusi, pastor at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, where the funeral was held. "He has lived a good, Christian life, and he has now earned his reward."

Born in Samos, Greece, Mr. Themelis fought during World War II with the Greek resistance, the Greek army when it was under British leadership and afterward, when the army fought under its own flag.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Stella Mallis, in 1944 in the area of Palestine known as Jerusalem. She was in a refugee camp after Greece fell to Germany; he was a staff sergeant waiting eagerly for order to return to combat.

As a young man, he had fought in the mountains of Greece and in Albania. When he returned to the front, he was sent to Italy and North Africa.

In 1948, Mr. Themelis reunited with his wife in Baltimore after fighting to free and then unify Greece.

They bought a house on Savage Street and had two sons, John and Peter, who is an executive with the labor and employee relations office with the National Institutes of Health. Both sons reside in Baltimore.

Mr. Themelis, who never discussed his war record with his family, became a painter and belonged to Local Painters Union No. 1. He helped paint the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and other towering structures at local steel plants and shipyards.

He eventually invested in a neighborhood tavern, the Volcano Bar near Johns Hopkins Hospital, which was bought by the city in the early 1970s.

Several years ago, Mrs. Themelis became ill and he cared for her. She resides in a Dundalk nursing home.

"He was a very tough, loving man who, when he made up his mind to do something, he did it," said John Themelis.

In addition to his wife and sons, survivors include seven grandchildren.

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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