THE OXI COURAGE AWARD
For his courage, in the spirit of Oxi Day, to promote freedom and preserve humanity
Ji lived through North Korea’s “Arduous March,” the propaganda term used by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea to describe the famine of the 1990s that killed an estimated 3.5 million people. He survived by eating grass and tree bark, and by foraging through garbage at street markets.
When he was 13, he joined other boys hopping aboard moving trains to take coal he could trade for food. On March 7, 1996, while jumping from one train car to another, he was so weak from malnutrition he passed out mid-jump. When he regained consciousness, he saw the back of the train disappearing down the track before realizing it had run over half of his body.
His younger brother helped stem the bleeding before lifting him into a cart and wheeling him to what passed for a hospital in North Korea during the famine. No morphine, no anesthesia.
“The simplest thing to do was cut off everything. They didn’t try to save my remaining two fingers, they just cut off my hand,” he recalls.
Once able to walk on crutches, Ji was back to foraging for food, which sometimes involved crossing the border into China, a risky endeavor that could have resulted in torture, or worse, if captured. One time he was caught, and he quickly realized that the North Korean authorities were beating him more severely than they were the other hungry kids who had been apprehended that day.
“I didn’t have any friends with disabilities. There weren’t wheelchairs. There weren’t any prosthetics. My greatest wish when I was in North Korea was to be able to walk again.”
In 2006, he and his brother escaped North Korea. Within a month of arriving in South Korea, he was provided prosthetics, and a few years later he founded a human rights activist group, NAUH (Now Action & Unity for Human Rights).
“In North Korea, you are born in to whatever situation you find yourself in. There’s not much room to change it. Even in South Korea, not many people know about this issue of disability rights. But with the recent UN findings on the rest of the human rights abuses in North Korea, the international community has heard a lot more about it.”
Ji has participated in several human rights symposiums and cultural events in a bid to improve North Korean human rights. Through his organization, Ji helps defectors plan escapes to South Korea and other countries and is involved in fundraising to secure financial stability for defectors. Ji is also involved in various activities reporting on the situation through Radio Free Asia broadcasts.
THE OXI COURAGE AWARD
For her courage, in the spirit of the women in the Battle of Crete, to promote freedom and preserve humanity
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. As she grew up, she strove to live as a devout Muslim but began to question aspects of her faith. One day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn’t resist asking, “Must our husbands obey us too?”
In 1992 Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage. There she was given asylum, and in time citizenship. She quickly learned Dutch and was able to study at the University of Leiden, earning her M.A. in political science. Working as a translator for Somali immigrants, she saw first hand the inconsistencies between liberal, Western society and tribal, Muslim cultures.
From 2003 to 2006, Hirsi Ali served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament. While in parliament, she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society, and on defending the rights of Muslim women.
In 2004 Hirsi Ali gained international attention following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin, a radical Muslim, left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh’s chest.
In 2006, Hirsi Ali had to resign from parliament when the then Dutch Minister for Immigration decided to revoke her citizenship, arguing that Hirsi Ali had mislead the authorities at the time of her asylum application. However, the Dutch courts confirmed that Hirsi Ali was indeed a legitimate Dutch citizen, leading to the fall of the government. Disillusioned with the Netherlands, she subsequently moved to the U.S.
In 2007, Hirsi Ali founded the AHA Foundation to protect and defend the rights of women in the US from harmful traditional practices. Today, the Foundation is the leading organization working to end honor violence that shames, hurts, or kills thousands of women and girls in the U.S. each year, and puts millions more at risk.
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal referred to Hirsi Ali as “the most dangerous foe of Islamist extremism in the Western world.” Her book, “The Challenge of Dawa,” describes the ceaseless, world-wide ideological campaign waged by Islamists as a complement to jihad.
THE METROPOLITAN CHRYSOSTOMOS AWARD
For his lifelong commitment to combating anti-Semitism, discrimination and intolerance while forging strong bonds between the Jewish and Greek peoples
Bruce Mosler is Chairman of Global Brokerage of Cushman & Wakefield, the world’s largest independent real estate services firm, and has been a champion of diversity and a defender against discrimination during his tenure at the firm. Along with his commitment to inclusion, Mosler currently serves as Co-Chairman of the Board for the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
The Museum, now a national icon, has over a million visitors each year, since the arrival of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. The Intrepid Aircraft Carrier was one of the most successful ships in United States history, serving proudly in World War II, three tours of duty off Vietnam, as a recovery vessel for NASA, and, today, as a monument for all who have served our nation.
Under the leadership and direction of Mosler, in 2011 Cushman & Wakefield was one of eleven founding members of the Veterans Jobs Mission. The participant firms currently number over 230 of America’s most influential companies and, to date, in excess of 395,261 veterans have been hired. Furthering this commitment, Mosler spearheaded the creation of Cushman & Wakefield’s own Veterans Initiative in November 2016. Mosler also serves as Chairman of BENS (Business Executives for National Security).
Mosler serves on the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York. He is a member of the boards of the National Navy SEAL Museum, Real Estate Round Table, Police Athletic League (PAL), Tufts University Friend of Fletcher Advisory Board and the Wharton Executive Education Advisory Board. Mosler is also a member of the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families and World Fuel’s Military Advisory Board, among other civic and charitable organizations.
THE GREATEST GENERATION AWARD
Senator Daniel K. Inouye
Honoring an American Veteran who served valiantly in World War II
With a distinguished tenure of more than 49 years, Senator Daniel K. Inouye was the second longest serving member of the U.S. Senate prior to his death. As president pro tempore from 2010-2012, Inouye was the highest-ranking public official of Asian descent in U.S. history.
During World War II, Inouye served as a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. His heroic actions resulted in the loss of his right arm and he ultimately earned the nation’s highest award for military valor, the Medal of Honor.
Inouye was widely respected for his moral courage and his commitment to work in a bipartisan fashion to enact meaningful legislation. Inouye served as the first Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as a member of the Senate Watergate Committee and Chair of the Iran-Contra Investigative Committee. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Inouye focused on defense matters that would strengthen national security and enhance the quality of life for military personnel and their families.
Inouye continuously represented Hawaii in the U.S. Congress since it achieved statehood in 1959, serving as Hawaii’s first Congressman before being elected to the Senate in 1962 – the first Japanese-American elected to both the House and Senate.
Inouye is survived by his wife Irene Hirano Inouye, son Kenny Inouye and his wife Jessica, granddaughter Maggie and stepdaughter Jennifer Hirano.
THE GREATEST GENERATION AWARD
Honoring a Greek-American Veteran who served valiantly in World War II
Born to Greek immigrants in 1926, Possas was raised in Corona, New York in the midst of the Great Depression.
At 17, he enlisted in the army with signed consent from his parents. Following basic training, Possas was assigned to the 41st Infantry Division and deployed to the Philippines. He fought on several islands in the South Pacific and was part of the Battle of Hollandia.
Eventually, Possas was assigned to a ship headed for Hiroshima, Japan. Possas and his fellow soldiers were told the intended invasion would result in 70% casualties. After listening to firing noise from surrounding ships in confusion, the soldiers ultimately learned about the atomic bombing and the end of the war. Possas spent three more weeks out on the ocean before he was brought on to the island of Hiroshima and then sent to Tokyo as an MP.
Possas was discharged on November 29, 1946 – coincidently the same day his father was discharged from WWI in 1918.
Upon his return from war, Possas became an electrical helper and knew electrical work would be his occupation for years to come. By 1965, he had saved enough money to buy his own electrical contracting business. Now, 70 years later, at 91, he continues to work with three generations of family.
Possas married Evelyn Lambrinon in 1953, a marriage that would last 64 years until her recent passing. They had four children together and nine grandchildren. They raised a close-knit family and provided an excellent example of how to be kind, loyal, humble and hard working. To Possas and his family, this is one of the most important and profound joys in life.
Possas is and has always been proud of his Greek heritage. He served as a past President of St. Paul’s Cathedral in New York and remained active in the church for many years. In 1984, Possas became an Archon and proudly serves the church and Patriarch to this day.
THE GREATEST GENERATION AWARD
Honoring a Greek Veteran who served valiantly in World War II
Colonel Smirnio-topoulos was born in the village of Mystras, Greece in 1916. Recruited as a young law student to join the Royal Hellenic Air Force, Smirniotopoulos graduated from the Air Force Academy at the top of his class.
He met his future wife Panayiota Athanasiadou in 1939 in her hometown of Thessaloniki. During the Italian invasion of Greece in 1940, Col. Smirniotopoulos participated in the air defense of Thessaloniki flying Polish PZLs.
After German forces invaded, disbanding the military, Col. Smirniotopoulos was recruited by British intelligence (MI5) and escaped occupied Greece to join the Royal Air Force in North Africa. He flew Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes, participating in the decisive battle of El Alamein against Rommel’s forces and in the siege of Tobruk.
After the Allied victory, Smirniotopoulos returned to Greece. Then an active duty Air Force officer, Smirniotopoulos was targeted by communist fighters in a grenade launch. He received shrapnel wounds and subsequently lost an eye and his ability to fly in 1947. Torn apart by war, Smirniotopoulos was reunited with his beloved Panayiota at this time.
Col. Smirniotopoulos’ wounds led to his medical transfer to the U.S. for treatment. Panayiota joined him in 1950 and they settled in the Washington, DC area where they raised four children. Though a Greek national throughout his life, he considered himself a patriotic American.
Col. Smirniotopoulos was employed as the Secretary to the Air Attaché at the Embassy of Greece starting in 1950 until his retirement in 1981. He remained an active duty member of the Greek Air Force until his death.
THE JAHARIS SERVICE AWARD
For his dedicated service during the Korean War and for his many contributions, in the spirit of Michael Jaharis, to our community, our country and to the world
Peter Austin Vlachos is a native New Yorker. His father, Emmanuel Vlachos, immigrated to America in 1910 from Hydra, Greece and voluntarily joined the U.S. Army, serving in France during World War I.
Peter Vlachos served during the Korean War in the 93rd Bomb Wing of the Air Force Strategic Air Command and flew with the 328th Bomb Squadron as a radar bombing and navigational technician.
After the war, he graduated from Colby College in Waterville, Maine in 1958. He worked on Wall Street at Amott, the Dreyfus Corporation and Neuberger Berman and in 1989 founded Austin Investment Management, Inc. In 2016, Vlachos helped establish and joined Adalta Capital Management LLC where he is a Managing Director.
Over his career, he has served many non-profit organizations in varying capacities. Vlachos has been a lifelong supporter of the arts, humanitarian causes and education, having served on the boards and investment committees of Colby College, Outward Bound, Scenic Hudson, Metropolitan Montessori School, HANAC, Inc. and The School for Strings.
Vlachos’ commitment to good works and philanthropy includes serving on the Archdiocesan Council of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, as well as being Treasurer of Faith: An Endowment for Orthodoxy & Hellenism, Vice President of the American Associates of the Saint Catherine Foundation and Chairman of the Investment Committee of The Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund.
Vlachos currently lives in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, Dr. Susan Deakins. He is the proud father of Zoë and Dimitri, father-in-law to Ho-Young Yang and Maja Kovalova Vlachos, and grandfather to Zara, Athina-Anna, Claire Natalia and Alexander Ely.