“I have recently finished reading your fine book, Ships of Mercy, and I want to thank you for writing it. The depth of your research is everywhere evident, and you have effectively presented the newly uncovered details of the Smyrna rescue in the larger context of the political and military events that led to the Catastrophe. These features, together with your straightforward writing style, will make the book especially comprehensible to a non-Greek readership unfamiliar with the Smyrna story.
You have done a great service to scholarship, not merely scholarship about Greece and Turkey, but also about the United States. I say this because of your even-handedness in dealing with the Smyrna tragedy. While by no means diminishing its horror, your book still does not succumb to being a partisan tirade against the Turkish nationalists, which it could easily have become. Your purpose, it seems, was much nobles. You have set straight a significant error in the historical record and have revived the memory of Asa Jennings, an astonishing American hero.
I am living proof of the extent to which Jennings’s heroism has been forgotten. You see, I grew up knowing of the Catastrophe through my maternal great-grandmother’s experience, but had never heard of Jennings until recently. My maternal great-grandmother emigrated to the U.S. in 1924 as a refugee. She came from Peristasi, a Greek seaside village in Eastern Thrace. Her son (my grandfather) had already come to American by 1922, but she had stayed behind and personally experienced the loss of everything as a result of the Catastrophe. I enclose for your reference a short piece about her experience I published in Odyssey magazine a few years back (http://www.helleniccomserve.com/marketosasiaminor.html).
My ignorance of Jennings is particularly egregious given that I was born and raised in Utica, New York, where Jennings evidently lived for some time and very near to where I understand his grandson currently lives (Mohawk, New York). There ought to be a statue of Jennings in Utica. A major street should be named for him. He should be featured in the curricula of all the local schools. But as far as I can tell, he and his heroism are completely unknown there.
I should add that my parents (both deceased) raised their children to be very conscious of their Greek heritage. Stories of my grandparents’ emigration to the U.S. (including my great-grandmother’s refugee status) were frequently told in the family. My parents were also born and lived all their lives in Utica. They were both very active in Utica’s small Greek community, and they were also very much assimilated into Utica’s non-Greek life. They knew Utica and its history intimately. Surely if Jennings’s heroism had been locally known, my parents would have been alert to it, and I would have learned of it from them. Yet despite all of this, I heard nothing of Jennings and new nothing of his direct connection to my home town until very recently.
You can imagine my shock, then, when after reading, Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost and googling Jennings, I came across the New York Times article about Jennings’s double Greek honors (the Chicago Tribune version is reproduced at page 205 of your book). The article refers to “Asa K. Jennings of Utica, N.Y.” That was my awakening.
I will make it my business to see that Utica rediscovers its unknown hero. Your excellent book will make that task much easier.”