John Zafiropoulos has never been far from water. Born and raised on the Island of Crete, he witnessed the WWII invasion by the Germans that devasted and shaped his early life. By the time he was eighteen, he had lived through the war-torn years of Greece in poverty and then, in 1952, joined the Greek Navy.
He eventually ended up spending seven years as a submariner and in 1957 was assigned by the Greek Navy to travel to Connecticut to pick up a U.S. Navy submarine. He stayed a year training aboard the American submarine and on his down time, he visited the great cities of the East – New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, before returning to Greece. On his second trip to the United States in 1961, he visited Philadelphia again, where he was introduced to Maria Makrides, his future wife, at the original church of St. Demetrios on 58th and Larchwood. Discharged from the Greek Navy in 1963, he married Maria in Greece and returned to the United States for the third time to stay, settling in the ever expanding Greek community in West Philadelphia.
He and Maria raised three children, George, Despina, and Christina. John worked as an electrical engineer, is a longtime member of the AHEPA and St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church. For thirty-five years, Zafiropoulos spent his free time sailing the Chesapeake on his boat; he calls it “Happy Days.” Nowadays he returns to Crete in the summers where he reunites with his childhood friends and over a drink and food, they reminisce about their youth and friendships. The sailing he says reconnects him with his island homeland and invigorates his love of the sea. Today, that boat sits idle, awaiting John to guide it on another odyssey.
Originally published on Cosmos Philly by Eleftherios Kostans. Video by Vasilis Keisoglou.