By Harry Agritha
On Saturday, March 18 at 1:30 a wreath will be placed in front of the George Dilboy monument at Somerville City Hall. My father shared our local hero Dilboy interesting story with me over 50 years ago. Here is a version I recently compiled from additional resources such as The Somerville Museum, Somerville Public Library, the book After Alatsata to name a few. My grandparents came from the same village Alatsata and settled in the “Brickbottom” neighborhood in Somerville around 1920 🇬🇷 🇺🇸
Honoring George Dilboy
George Dilboy was born Feb. 5, 1896 in Alatsata, a flourishing village in Asia Minor where many Somerville families emigrated from. He had six brothers and two sisters. As his father later said his family felt Turkish persecution so they began immigrating to the United States. With his brother and a group of 22 Alatsataians, 13 year old Dilboy emigrated to the United States arriving at Ellis Island abroad the SS Alice on January 6, 1910. He lived on Poplar and Linwood Streets in the “Brickbottom” section of East Somerville. At the age of 16 he returned to his native land and fought for Greece in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.
George and one of his brothers arrived back in Somerville to join their father. They found work at local Swifts meatpacking plant, the Boston hotels and other industries in the area. George went to school and got a job in the laundry room at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also worked as a busboy at the Georgian Café and at the Copley Square Hotel as a bellhop however the summer heat forced the newly built hotel to close. Originally only men came to this country from Greece to work and send money back to Greece, however when the Turks invaded Greece the woman and children followed suit to escape persecution from the Ottoman Empire. Greeks immigrated to the United States in 1916 and shortly thereafter in record numbers. In addition more Greek churches were established here in 1916 than any other time in history. The Dilboy family were amongst the first parishioners of the beloved Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Somerville also established in 1916.
When war against Germany was declared in 1917, Dilboy joined the United States Army and served in the battle of Belleau Wood in France when his unit came under attack. German machine guns punished Dilboy’s platoon. His lieutenant started to go to the front to see how this nest could be flanked. A young lad with an automatic rifle jumped up and said: “Lieutenant, I can wipe out these men.”
The lieutenant answered, “Go ahead.”
Dilboy threw himself flat and wriggled through a wheat field, killed several machine gunners with hand grenades and automatic fire. A German sniper shot him twice, but he kept going. When he reached the machine gun nest he found two remaining Germans. He then stood up in clear view and received a burst from the machine guns, which cut off his right leg. With several bullet holes in his body, Dilboy fell on his back and pushed himself forward with his left foot. He turned his head, aimed and killed the two men. He single-handedly knocked out a pillbox that contained a machine gun crew to successfully beat back the German Army. Lying on his back, with his right hand uppermost, the lad motioned to his platoon to go forward, and died on July 18, 1918 with a smile on his face.
Dilboy was the first Greek American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest decoration for valor by the President of the United States. When Dilboy’s father was presented his Medal of Honor in 1919 he remarked:
“In other circumstances I would have shed tears because of my son’s death but when I learned of the manner in which he died, I was proud that he had given his life with honor to the cause of his adopted country, the United States.”
At the request of his father, Dilboy was buried in his native village of Alatsata. After a funeral procession through the streets of Alatsata, said to have been witnessed by 17,000 mourners, his American flag-draped casket was placed in the Greek Orthodox Church of the Presentation to lie in state. The Church fell into disrepair during the three-year Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. In 1922 when the Turkish Army occupied Alatsata, Turkish soldiers broke open Dilboy’s coffin entombed in the Church and desecrated Dilboy’s remains and the United States Flag. President Harding was outraged that our hero would be treated in such a manner and the incident was elevated to an international issue. Harding ordered a United States warship to recover the remains and brought them back to the United States where they were interred at Arlington Cemetery in a ceremony attended by scores of dignitaries. Harding also demanded and received a formal apology from the Turkish Government.
Dilboy has been honored by three US presidents; Woodrow Wilson who signed the authorization awarding the Medal of Honor, Warren Harding who brought him back, and Calvin Coolidge who presided at his final burial.
General John Pershing listed George Dilboy as one of the 10 greatest heroes of World War I.
We must never forget the sacrifices of our veterans and their families. May all their memories be eternal.