John Nicolopoulos' Blog

personal notes and memories of some historical value for public consumption

Helicopters for Hire

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This sequel to my story on the K-32 fire-fighting helicopters’ fortunes in Greece appeared in the greek  press on March 5, 2011 (cf. “Estia “, 3.5.2011, p. 5).


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March 8, 2011 at 12:35 am


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I I would like to add two sisters of Vassilis,  both of whom lived in Karytaina while I was there as a child in 1941:  Katina Vazinta

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February 1, 2011 at 5:50 pm

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Alex Protegdico,Triestine First Cousin

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Son of my mother’s eldest brother Costa Protedgico.  The family name is a local variant of the Greek surname Πρωτεκδικος, encountered in the Aegean islands.  It means literally  ” judge of first instance” in Byzantine Greek and it was used as an equivalent of “justice of the peace” in the ecclesiastical administrative system which succeeded the Byzantine imperial government after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.  Civil affairs in the multinational Turkish empire were routinely turned over to the religious bureaucracies of captured nations  professing the religions of the Book — i.e. the Bible, the”Old Testament” of which was recognized as the common religious ancestor to the major religions of the period,Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  That is how church titles became common family names of the holders of such offices, especially in islands, which the land oriented Turks did not occupy.

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October 5, 2010 at 12:33 am

Vassilis Karydis

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                                                                                                                                             Vassilis Karydis, eldest    son of my father’s eldest sister Eleni Nicolopoulos,  who, along with her husband Theodore Karydis, inherited the family notary public office and remained in Karytaina as the standard-bearers of our family interests in Arcadia from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.  Beside Vassilis, my aunt Eleni had three children: the twins Yannis and Lambis (Charalampos), and Frosso,  who married Thodoros Kontopoulos, head of Karytaina’s post and telegraph office.    When Mussolini invaded Greece on October 28, 1940, all three Karydis brothers were mobilized and sent to the front.  At the end of the so-called Albanian campaign,the first Allied victory in World War II, the twins returned home, but not Vassilis.  His bones remained for ever on a nameless Albanian mountaintop.

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August 27, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Praxiteles C. Nicolopoulos, USMC (1925-1945) RIP

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 This obituary appeared in the Greek-American daily Atlantis  in July, 1945.  On 11 June 1945 my firt cousin,eldest son of my father’s  eldest brother Constantine, was killed in action in Okinawa, Japan.  Praxiteles dropped out of college and  joined the Marines in the summer of 1943. He served  as a chartographer on the staff of the  6th  Marine Division.

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August 27, 2010 at 1:21 am

My Academic Rat Race

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Cleaning out my basement the other day, I came across the documents presented in today’s blog entry.  They brought back  to me very vividly an earlier period of my life, when I had the opportunity to devote myself to academic pursuits.   Courtesy of the military dictatorship ruling Greece in those days,  that well-spent time stretched over a period of seven years (1967-1974).  Having been formally declared persona non grata in my homeland,  I found refuge in the hospitable groves of  American academia and I would still be there today as an emeritus  humbug of one sort or another, if my military compatriots had not spectacularly blown it  in 1974, precipitating a major international crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean.  This crisis involved full-scale military operations  by Turkey in Cyprus, including ethnic cleansing against the Greek population of the island.  I  was pulled out of academia by the restored  democratic government of Greece and thrown into a desperate operation of damage control, at the UN and Washington.

The first document,  SUNY Term Renewals May 1 1972, is an internal document of the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) History Department that offers an evaluation of my work there.  It also offers a glimpse into the reaction of academic institutions to affirmative action quotas.  The document essentially recommends which non-tenured professors to terminate in order to make room for new hires who are female or members of minority groups.  I’m proud to say I was recommended for retention.

The second document, Invitation to Lecture, April 1975, as the file name implies, is an invitation from SUNYA to become a guest lecturer in my old department.  By 1975 I was once again employed as a diplomat with three offices, one in the Greek embassy in Washington D.C., one at the Greek consulate in New York,  and one at the Greeek delegation to the United Nations in New York.  I took them up on their offer and over the next year delivered a number of lectures on the topics of Greece since World War II, Greece and NATO, and the Cyprus crisis. 

The third and last document for this post is a letter from the chairman of the SUNYA classics department for my efforts to support Greek studies at SUNYA. Thank you note from Pohlsander

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August 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Greece and the Ka-32 Helicopter

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There are a lot of forest fires these days in Greece, which reminds me of the sad story of the Ka-32 firefighting helicopter.  10 years ago, the nephew of my good friend Kostas Keletzekis was a volunteer pilot flying Canadairs, the only firefighting aircraft in the Greek inventory at the time.  He was called to put out a forest fire in a fairly steep gorge.  Unfortunately for him, the Canadair was not powerful enough to pull out of the gorge.  It disintegrated on impact killing all aboard.  Keletzekis was understandably upset about the loss of his nephew.

At that time I was heading the Antenna TV office in Moscow, Russia.  I had just covered the annual |russian airshow and had been very impressed by the exhibition of the Russian firefighting and sea rescue helicopter Ka-32, so I mentioned it to Keletzekis.  At this point I should mention that Keletzekis was a prominent international business man in the energy sector.  He told me to invite the director of the Kamov factory and some of his engineers to Greece to talk about participating in an upcoming tender offer for the Greek government to buy four firefighting helicopters in order to avoid the type of accidents that killed Keletzekis nephew.  The Ka-32 apparently is perfectly suited for that role with its double rotors that provide full stability and extraordinary hovering capability under any weather conditions and with a heavy load of water.

Keletzekis was ready, as a memorial to his nephew, to put down the $2,000,000 guarantee required of all participants in the bidding process.  The Russians came and were delighted at the show of interest.  In those days only the South Koreans had exhibited such interest in these helicopters for firefighting purposes.  The South Koreans were so impressed by the Ka-32 performance they were trying to take over the entire factory and were pressuring the Russians for worldwide representation rights.  The Russians were not very enthusiastic about that and were keen on working with the Greeks.  The internal situation in Russia at that time did not allow for any great hopes of maintaining themselves in business since up until that point their main client was the Soviet Navy.  So here are the Russians in Athens with all the manuals and technical specification of these helicopters which had to be translated into Greek almost overnight.  This feat was accomplished by a group of volunteers and much Cretan raki was drunk in the process to keep this strange crew together.  The esprit de corps that had developed was incredible.  It was however shot down by a very simple maneuver of the Greek bureaucrats controlling the bidding who were committed to purchasing French Alouette helicopters which were much more expensive and of inferior performance to the Russian entries.  The trick was to, at the last moment, accuse Keletzekis of not submitting a full list of stockholders of his enterprises in order to prove that none of them were connected to Greek government agencies.  Keletzekis was flabbergasted because everyone in Greece knew he was the sole proprietor of his business and had no connection to the Greek government.  He sent an immediate reply to that effect by motorcycle messenger only to receive a reply two weeks later, by mail, a note from the bidding commission stating that regrettably his application had not been considered as it had been submitted after the deadline.  He was terribly disappointed. 

He was really infuriated when, a very short time later, he learned that the Greek government had approached the Russian minister of extraordinary situations and catastrophes, Mr, Shoigu,  with an offer to lease these same Ka-32 helicopters along with their pilots and ground crews.  The plan was to set them up in a cozy little base on the island of Crete adjacent to the NATO and US  installations in Souda Bay.  This was  dissonant with what these same officials were saying during the bidding, which was that NATO would never permit Russian helicopters in Greek skies.  Long story short, the lease was approved and is still active to this date with the addition of some firefighting airplanes, courtesy of Mr. Putin during the last onslaught of forest fires a few years ago.  Needless to say, the French Alouette helicopters bought at a comparatively enormous expense, remained parked in a hangar at the Athens airport, to be used only occasionally for VIP joy rides.

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August 23, 2010 at 11:12 pm