From the Greek Resistance to Onassis’ Boardroom: “Destiny Prevails” and the Incredible Life of Paul Ioannidis
It is one of Paul Ioannidis’ favorite stories to recount: the tale of how he ended up as a pilot and a member of the Greek Royal Air Force during World War II. The story begins in 1944, when Ioannidis, having been called to Egypt by Allied Forces, stayed overnight in a home near Athens, at the beginnings of a treacherous trip out of the German-occupied country. It was there that the elderly lady of the house insisted in telling Ioannidis’ fortune.
“You are a pilot!”, she insisted.
Ioannidis, taken back, insisted that he was not a pilot. His longstanding dream had been to join the Naval Academy. As Ioannidis described it in a recent interview which aired on Dialogos Radio, “I was in love with the sea ever since I could remember. I wanted to attend the Naval Academy in order to become an officer. I would not hear of anything else.” But the elderly woman was adamant: “Even if you’re not a pilot, you are going to become one!”
Having finally reached Egypt, which was the home base of the Greek government in exile during the war, Ioannidis was informed that the deadline to join the Naval Academy had just passed. Little did he expect the offer which immediately followed: a personal invitation from Petros Rallis, the Minister of the Hellenic Royal Air Force, to join its ranks.
“Over the years, Ioannidis’ became one of Onassis’ most trusted confidants, rising to the positions of chief pilot and director of flight operations of Olympic.”
It is from this fateful moment that the title of Ioannidis’ recently-published autobiography, “Destiny Prevails: My life with Aristotle, Alexander, Christina Onassis and her daughter, Athina,” is derived. As Ioannidis put it, “since I had no other options at that moment, I decided to accept Rallis’ offer and joined the Greek Royal Air Force. So destiny prevailed.”
“Destiny Prevails” is a fascinating look inside the intriguing life of Ioannidis, containing numerous detailed recollections such as the fateful moment when he realized his destiny of becoming a pilot. Born in Germany to Greek parents, Ioannidis’ family later relocated to Greece. At the age of 18, angry at the brutal occupation his country was experiencing at the hands of the Germans, Ioannidis took to the mountains, joining the Greek People’s Resistance Army (ELAS) in early 1943.
Ioannidis recounts pivotal moments during the war which solidified the Allied victory over the Nazis in Greece…the intentional destruction of the Gorgopotamos and Asopos bridges, which cut off vital Nazi supply lines supplying Rommel’s troops in North Africa, and the prevention of a Nazi attack against the Marathon Dam, which would have resulted in widespread flooding and casualties in Athens. Ioannidis, who had been a member of the British Force 133 unit which took part in these operations, recounts these relatively unknown missions in detail, including their planning, the hostilities which existed between ELAS and Greece’s other major resistance force, the National Republican Greek League (EDES), and the frequent close calls which almost led to the failure of these operations. In one such incident that is described in the book, quick thinking and a bit of irony saved the day, as Ioannidis was able to use his German birth certificate to escape detention at a Nazi roadblock.
Ioannidis’ wartime journey took him from Athens, to the Greek countryside that was the hotbed of resistance against the Nazis, to a treacherous sea journey to Turkey, en route to Egypt, and then back to Greece, this time as a pilot. Having discovered his destiny, Ioannidis remained in the cockpit even after the conclusion of the war, joining Greece’s first civil airline, TAE. Ioannidis’ decision to continue as a commercial pilot resulted in a second rendezvous with destiny: the opportunity to meet Aristotle Onassis, who bought out TAE in 1956 and renamed the company Olympic Airways. Over the years, Ioannidis’ became one of Onassis’ most trusted confidants, rising to the positions of chief pilot and director of flight operations of Olympic. Along the way, he also developed a personal friendship with Onassis, and much of the second half of “Destiny Prevails” details this relationship.
Along the way, Ioannidis never abandoned his principles. Having collaborated with British forces as part of the successful Greek resistance against the Nazis, Ioannidis later returned the King’s Medal for Courage that he had been awarded for his service during the war, to protest the execution of two Greek Cypriot freedom fighters, Mihalis Karaolis and Andreas Dimitriou, by British colonial forces in 1956, compatriots which Ioannidis says “were fighting for the same ideals as me.” Ioannidis’ strong convictions later helped him earn the trust and respect of Aristotle Onassis and his family, with Onassis frequently consulting with Ioannidis on matters ranging from business decisions to personal and family matters. As stated by Ioannidis, “my relationship with Aristotle Onassis was based on honesty, loyalty, the ability to sustain difficult situations, and the courage to always state my opinion frankly and not to agree with his views just to please him.” It was this trust which led Onassis to name Ioannidis in his will as a life member of the Board of the Aristotle J. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, a position which he still holds today at the age of 91.
In “Destiny Prevails,” Ioannidis vividly describes scintillating moments from his fascinating life in tremendous detail, giving readers an insight not just into his character, but also the personalities of many of the fascinating figures he has come in contact with, from Aristotle Onassis, to the former King of Greece, to Athina Onassis and her father, Thierry Roussel, to leading figures in the Greek resistance and the Allied forces during the second world war. Throughout it all, Ioannidis remains firmly grounded, presenting his life’s experiences as an experienced storyteller would, and with a balanced dose of wit, humility, and pride. Ioannidis’ descriptive style of writing engages the reader and the imagination, drawing us into the moment, whether it is the front lines of the resistance against the Nazis, or the inner sanctum of the Onassis family at the height of their fame and fortune and in the depths of personal tragedy. “Destiny Prevails,” will be available in paperback format by Amazon, as well as in e-book format for Kindle and Nook platforms, in April 2015. It is warmly recommended as a must-read for anyone who is interested in modern Greek history, in tales and recollections from World War II, or in the life and times of one of the most legendary figures of the 20th century, Aristotle Onassis.