Andrew Mousalimas, a West Oakland kid who grew up to become one of America’s greatest warriors in World War II – so great that Adolf Hitler personally put a price on his head – died May 20 at age 95.
A cause of death was not immediately known.
He was a member of an elite commando unit of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. Mousalimas and his comrades secretly parachuted behind enemy lines into occupied Greece and raised havoc among the German forces, destroying infrastructure and pinning down a whopping 31 German divisions that otherwise would have been sent to France to stop the Allied invasion on D-Day.
In retaliation, Hitler issued his infamous Fuhrer Order No. 003830: “From now on, all enemies on so-called commando missions are to be slaughtered to the last man. Even if these individuals should apparently be prepared to give themselves up, no pardon is to be granted them.”
Any Greek who helped catch them would be rewarded with their own weight in gold – no small incentive in a nation where the Germans were systematically starving the civilian population.
“But not one Greek ever turned us in,” Mr. Mousalimas said proudly, years later. “Not one.”He completely lost the hearing in one ear for the rest of his life, the result of a German shell exploding too close to his foxhole.
After the war, he returned to Oakland and became a pioneer in not one but two classic American pastimes: fantasy football and trivia contests. He bought a bar on Telegraph Avenue called the Lamp Post, where he gained a reputation as one of the few bartenders in the area who would serve African Americans.
He sold it in 1968 and purchased the King’s X bar in North Oakland, turning it into an American version of an English pub. Each night he would host either a gin rummy tournament, trivia contest, or a new game called fantasy football, which was invented in 1963 by an Oakland businessman named Bill Winkenbach as the Greater Oakland Pigskin Prognostication League, (or GOPPL, pronounced “gopple,” for short).
Mr. Mousalimas had the first pick in the first GOPPL draft, using it to select future Raiders Hall of Famer George Blanda – not bad, but not as good as the team after him, who used the second pick to draft Jim Brown, thought by many to be the greatest football player who ever lived.
The fun lasted until 1975, when Mr. Mousalimas decided to retire and concentrate his energies on the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in the Oakland hills, which he helped build after he got out of the Army in 1945.
“The founding fathers had aged, and they wanted younger men to take over the reins of the parish,” says Father Tom Paris, the priest at Ascension. “(Andrew) headed a talented young team that brought the first Greek-American priest — as opposed to Greek national – to lead the parish. Then they hired an architect and engineers to create the new complex.
“His parents gave him the name of the first apostle Jesus called to be his disciple. The name is derived from the GreekAndri, which means bravery or valor, and Andy reflected these traits in all that that he did. The Ascension Greek Orthodox family will always be grateful to The Lord for gifting him to the parish community and the city he loved.”
Both the CIA and the Green Berets recognize the OSS as their precursor, and Mr. Mousalimas and his comrades were regularly brought back east to receive recognition and awards, Most recently, in 2018, the OSS Operations Groups were given the rarely-awarded Congressional Gold Medal. Mr. Mousalimas was the only survivor well enough to attend, so he accepted the decoration in honor of his brothers in arms, living and dead.
“I can’t think of enough nice things to say about Andy,” says Charles Pinck, President of the OSS Society. “He epitomized everything the OSS was about: modest, understated, but tough. Our commander, Gen. William Donovan, said it best when he said that members of the Operations Groups performed some of the bravest acts of the war. They comprised only five percent of the OSS but 20 percent of the casualties.”
Mr. Mousalimas was predeceased by the love of his life, his wife Mary, who died in 2014. He leaves four children – Sotiros Mousalimas, Eugenia Ahlas, Paua Gassoumas, and James Mousalimas, the superintendent of schools of San Joaquin County – seven grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. His funeral is planned for Wednesday at Ascension, but because of shelter-at-homeorders, only the family will attend.
“Otherwise, it would be packed,” Father Paris said.
James Mousalimas said: “When I think of my dad, I think of the Greatest Generation, who experienced things that those who came after did not. He lived his life to the fullest, a long, productive and honorable life, and that’s a big part of what he was — always trying to do the right thing, always fighting for the underdog, and always wanting to help those who were in need. He was very proud of his Greek heritage and very proud of being born and raised in West Oakland, too.”
Shortly before he died, Mr. Mousalimas was asked if he had any regrets.
“Only one,” he said. “I should have drafted Jim Brown.”
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Author: Martin Snapp