Written by By Elly Wood, CNN
It was a heavy burden for the young men of Greece to bear during World War II, but few crossed the border from mainland Greece to northern Albania with more force than the army regiment of the Athenian Infantry Corps.
Packed with more than 300 of the nation’s finest youth, the battalion was deployed to Albania in the spring of 1944 to deter the Axis powers from invading the then-occupied Greek province of Macedonia.
After a 12-month deployment, the regiment spent over a year occupying cities across southern Albania as part of a blockade mounted by the Allies to pressure Albanian resistance forces into collaborating with Nazi Germany.
For many, it was their only firsthand exposure to war.
The Greek Orthodox Church has commemorated the 77th anniversary of the Ionian Scouts Troop’s departure from Greece on Monday with a special parade on Athens’ Syntagma Square, amid tight security.
This year’s festivities saw European Union member state Spain, the Balkan country most affected by the bombing of its cities, attend with its ambassador. In one dramatic moment, the ambassador was accidentally run over by a passing police motorcade during the parade.
“Even though we are living very comfortable lives in Spain, we remember the events that happened in Spain, that lasted until 1948, that affected the whole of Europe, and still do,” Spain’s ambassador to Greece, Alfonso Jamayns, told the Greek official news agency, ANA.
The Greek-led contingent watched from afar as opposition parties turned out in force to protest at the state’s official commemoration of the service men and women.
The threat of demonstrations weighed on the minds of officials and troops marching through Athens’ streets.
Lt. Col. Sairos Milripis told ANA the threat of pre-emptive violence is nothing new for Greece. “As you know, the army was attacked in 1915 by the Turks. Then the attack came from the Armenians and there was a military sector ordered not to participate in these marches,” he said.
His comments echo the country’s most recent commemoration a decade ago, when, amidst violent protests, Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroumbis declared “none of you are human.”