At the beginning of January 1973, the Greek press proudly announced the signing of an Hellenic-American home porting arrangement for a task force of the United States Sixth Fleet. During the first phase of the five-year long agreement, the US navy would lease a strip of land 160 meters by 25 meters (525 feet by 82 feet) west of the old port of Eleusis. The fenced in area would enclose the fleet support office, warehouses and a “relocatable pier” with plug-in facilities (water, electricity, steam, telephones, and sewers) for six destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 12 (Sampson, Barry, Vreeland, Richard L. Page, Manley, William M. Wood). At a later date an aircraft carrier and the hospital ship Sanctuary would also be moored in Eleusis. In total, some 6600 officers and sailors, together with 3100 family members, would now consider Greece “home”.
Home, sweet home
The purpose of the homeporting plan was to cut down the long periods of separation for Navy families. Despite a recurring annual cost of $13 million for maintenance (and an equal amount for transportation), home porting facilities in Eleusis would facilitate the presence of Navy families near the operational area of the Sixth Fleet, thus raising morale and increasing the reenlistment rate for naval personnel.
The arrangement did not provide for the construction of government quarters in Eleusis. Each family was responsible for arranging its own accommodation in the area of Athens. American authorities would facilitate the transportation of furniture and personal belongings (aboard Navy transports); they would also provide them with listings of houses for rent and lodge them in Athens hotels until they could find a permanent home. The implementation of the arrangement, though, was poorly executed and caused significant problems; the seamen, their families, and their household effects arrived almost simultaneously and without adequate preparation. For example, there were no recreational facilities for single sailors, who comprised almost 75 percent of the crew. It seems the policy of the US navy authorities was to get the sailors “on the beach and sort them out later.”
The Soviet nuclear threat
But what were the benefits to Eleusis from this arrangement? Before the signing of the agreement, there had been concerns about the disruptive presence of the American sailors. During the 1972 visit of the USS Forrestal in Palaio Faliro there had been extensive disorder during the sailors’ time ashore. The press had had a field day reporting on them, despite the effort of Under Secretary Vyron Stamatopoulos, chief spokesman for the Greek Government, to downgrade their extent and significance. According to him, a segment of the press had used sporadic incidents for its own sinister purposes; the people of Eleusis had nothing to fear.
And yet concerns remained. The presence of the American destroyers turned Eleusis (and Athens in general) into a Soviet nuclear target. The Greek government dismissed the argument by claiming that in case of war the ships would operate in open sea and therefore the Soviets had no reason to bomb the port. Critics of the agreement were worried about rent increases or the potential for racial skirmishes.
Murder in Eleusis
In fact, the problems that arose in Eleusis were much more mundane but also much harder to solve. The “relocatable” pier became the core of an infamous zone where private entertainment facilities served the needs of American naval personnel, while local residents were afraid to walk there at night. The municipal authorities demanded the removal of these nightclubs but to no avail. The protests of the inhabitants also had no effect, despite a barrage of resolutions sent to ministers, members of parliament and Athenian newspapers. The government claimed that the presence of the US destroyers had caused no “turmoil”.
Things really got out of hand in December 1978. On Saturday, December 9, a 19-year-old builder named Ioannis Papadopoulos (from Karditsa) murdered Georgios Doukas, a 26-year-old taxi driver from Drapetsona. The crime shocked the people of Eleusis. The city council once again demanded the closure of all the nightclubs, while the residents organized a mass rally with a similar request. Eventually the watering holes closed for six months, but then they opened again.
Here today, not gone tomorrow
In the meantime, though, the United States had left Eleusis. Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the collapse of the military junta in Greece, the new Greek government decided to deny the Sixth Fleet home porting facilities, while the US Department of Defence had concluded that the political climate in Greece had rendered impossible the continuation (or expansion) of an arrangement signed by the dictators. The destroyers sailed for other ports but the “relocatable” pier and the infamous nightclubs stayed behind. And while the latter eventually shut down (after a lot of effort on the part of the residents), the pier is still there. Today it serves the needs of oil tankers, while numerous hulks lie abandoned and semi-submerged right next to it as a source of toxic pollution for the marine environment of Eleusis.