I am a proud Albanian-American veteran of WWII where I served in the Pacific aboard a Destroyer-Escort with a crew of about 220 men. Although the Orthodox religion wasn’t then practiced in the U.S. Navy (back in those days, you were designated Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish), and I was occasionally teased as being an “Albino.” I am thankful in my resolve to proudly proclaim that I was Albanian even though most of my shipmates didn’t know where Albania was located on a map.
During the 1930′s and 40′s, a vital source of news for the Albanians of Massachusetts was a radio program called “Zeri i Shqiperise” (Voice of Albania) that was broadcast in the Albanian language each Sunday morning by the popular Nuci Cojo over Boston radio station WORL. Albanians clustered around their radios to listen with rapt attention as Nuci announced in his trigger-fast-delivery-style Albanian community events — births, weddings, baptisms, picnics, dances, deaths, etc., and, when available, news about the motherland, Albania.
On Nuci Cojo’s radio program (on one such Sunday morning), the eminent Albanian-American MD, former WWII U.S. Navy Lt-Cdr. Andrew Elia, broadcast an appeal for all Albanian-American WWII veterans to attend a meeting at the Boston West End Settlement House then located near Leverett Circle (Note: Dr. Elia served as the model for the ship’s doctor in the novel “Mr. Roberts” by Thomas Hagan. Dr. Elia was portrayed by William Powell in the movie version of the same name).
So, as a WWII U.S. Navy veteran, I was one of some 100 men – and 1 woman - at the settlement house meeting who listened to Dr. Elia’s strong intent to establish an Albanian-American war veterans organization in Boston. I recognized a few of the men present having seen them in uniform previously at various Albanian events in Boston including Peter Chani and Archie Anthony, both U.S. Army 2nd lieutenants, Peter Chicos, a U.S. Army major, and Jimmy Kosmo who, crisply uniformed, looked like a combat trooper for a U.S. Army enlistment poster.
Standing left to right: Angelo Andon, George Ratska, James Kosmo, George Chani, Louis Kosmo, Nick Tochka, William Kosmo, Steve Peters, James Christo
Seated left to right: Dr. Andrew Elia, Paul Apostol, Al Tromara, Peter Chani, John Chicos, Peter Lukas
After Dr. Elia completed his presentation, it was accepted with enthusiastic approval by the audience of WWII veterans for what would eventually become known as the Albanian-American War Veterans of the United States, Inc. (AAWV).
Peter Chani asked me to design AAWV’s new symbol (logo) so on a meeting room blackboard, I sketched a concept that came to me immediately of an American stars-and-stripes shield superimposed on an Albanian double-headed eagle. My design was unanimously approved along with an urgent request that I – ably assisted by the talented sign letterer, Mike Markou - immediately begin to produce master artwork for the new symbol that would be utilized as the official AAWV emblem for signeage, letterheads, lapel pins, etc.
A committee was formed to establish an AAWV constitution which was subsequently adopted at in December, 1946, where Ted Mantho, a Boston attorney, was nominated to serve as the AAWV’s first commander. An Inaugural Ball to launch the new Albanian American War Veterans was held on April 24, 1947, at the Hotel Bradford in Boston. Commander Mantho welcomed all guests and after a short speech about the AAWV and its purposes, invited all Albanian-American WWII veterans to come forward so he could administer the oath of AAWV membership thereby making it an official and legal U.S. veterans entity.
Although formed as a social organization, the AAWV devoted considerable time, energy, and finances to keep Albanian culture, language, and traditions alive through its various picnics, dinner-dances, and other social gatherings. Especially notable was a major AAWV initiative in the Albanian community by bringing together on several occasions representatives from the three Boston Albanian orthodox churches and other organizations to promote both religious and civic harmony. The AAWV also organized charity drives for the cancer fund, and helped needy families.
Over the years, the AAWV participated actively in various Veterans Day observances and ceremonies at the Massachusetts State House and other governmental locations where the Albanian-Americans distinguished themselves by their presence and by proudly displaying both American and AAWV flags. Veterans Day luncheons at Anthony’s Pier 4 were hosted by the late Anthony Athanas who was awarded Honorary Membership in the AAWV.
Following Ted Mantho, the first AAWV commander, Peter Chani, Lou Kosmo, Donald Cotto, and Mickey Ligor were among others who served as commanders but the person with the longest record as commander was Bill Kosmo (right) who was re-elected several times due to his commitment and dynamic leadership. During Bill Kosmo’s long tenure as commander, he always worked long and hard to show the AAWV to good advantage through its beneficial works and deeds.
I believe there are many Albanian-American veterans of the Korean, Viet Nam, Gulf, and Iraqi wars who could join the Albanian-American War Veterans (AAWV) thus assuring its continuation as a patriotic Albanian-American organization. For more information, contact: Ronald Nasson, 26 Enfield Street, Boston, MA 02130-2138, Tel: 617 522-7715
Van Christo thanks Virginia Kosmo for her valuable assistance by providing research materials from the files of her father, the late Bill Kosmo, the energetic and popular Commander of the AAWV,