The photo of the emotional Greek mother giving one last farewell to her son who is leaving for the Korean War is the essence of what is celebrated on Mother’s Day around the world.
It is a timeless reminder of the special relationship between mothers and their children.
Taken sometime in the summer of 1950, the photo depicts the deep anxiety of the Greek woman, who is captured perhaps whispering last-minute advice to her son on how to survive the war.
The son, however, seems a bit embarrassed to be lectured by his mother in front of his comrades in arms.
Mother’s Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly on May 9.
Greek mother honored since ancient times
Greeks have a special bond with their mothers stemming from ancient times. Ancient Greeks honored her accordingly as the life-giver, centuries before Mother’s Day was celebrated in the West.
Mother Earth (Gaia), wife of Uranus, was the personification of nature that gives birth to everything and she was worshipped as the ultimate deity.
Her worship then passed to her daughter Rhea, wife, and sister of Cronus, who gave birth to several deities in Greek mythology.
Rhea was worshipped as the ‘Mother of Gods’ and ancient Greeks used to celebrate their annual spring festival to honor Rhea, the goddess of nature and fertility.
Ancient Romans also celebrated a spring festival by the name of Hilaria in honor of mother goddess Cybele, some 250 years before Christ was born.
Later, Christian Greece honored the mother associated with the feast of Ypapanti (Feb. 2). The Οrthodox Church celebrates the day the Virgin Mary, with Joseph, took the 40-day-old Jesus to the temple to be blessed.
However, in the 1960s, the celebration of Ypapanti lost its popularity, and Greeks started honoring the mother on the second Sunday of May as the rest of the West, even though the Church insists on the old day of celebration.
Greece’s contribution to Korean war
The photo is also a poignant reminder of the Korean war, which started on June 25 1950, when 100,000 North Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel and which technically is still ongoing today.
The three-year conflict which drew in 19 nations, including Greece, resulted in the death of an estimated 3 million people.
Greece, just out of its own brutal five-year civil war, participated in the Korean War by sending an expeditionary force there. Approximately 4,700 Greeks served under United Nations command and saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire conflict.
The Greek contribution comprised a reinforced Hellenic Army infantry battalion and a Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF) flight of seven transport planes. Greece was the fifth largest troop contributor to all the combined UN Forces in Korea.
Fifteen Greek officers and 168 men were killed in action, while 33 officers and 577 men were wounded during the conflict.