The inaugurating ceremony was made special by the presence of a group of Albanian-American veterans, led by their commander Ronald Nasson and Peter Lucas, author and columnist
A monument honoring the 26 US officers who operated in Albania during the World War II was inaugurated this month in the southeastern city of Korça.
They were operatives of OSS (the Office of Strategic Services) and most of them were of Albanian origin, hailing from the region that has Korça as its most recognized center.
The communist regime that was established in Albania following the WWII was virulently anti-American, despite the historic traditions between the two nations, and it ignored the contribution of the US officers in Albania during the war. Now a monument which honors them stands proud in one of the main squares of Korça, as a powerful reminder to current and future generations.
The US Ambassador in Albania, Alexander Arvizu and former President of Albania, Aleksander Moisiu participated in the inauguration ceremony together with several Albanian-Americans who had traveled from overseas for this occasion. It attracted a massive turnout with hundreds of Korça citizens and others who drove from the capital and the adjacent towns.
The ceremony began with a prayer from Father Joan, the bishop of the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Korça. The city band performed the national anthems of the United States and Albania.
“I feel humble and privileged to represent the United States of America in the inauguration ceremony of this memorial”, US Ambassador Arvizu said. “We are deeply grateful to the people who fought in this war, to those who fought and survived, but particularly to those who gave their life. Today we live in a world full of hope because people like them, who served their nations and gave it all for the greater cause.”
“The people, whom we honor today, came from different backgrounds, but they were united by their determination to fight for freedom and peace”, he said.
“Today we stand together Americans and Albanians, NATO allies, friends and brothers, to remember our shared sacrifices and to honor the memory of those who fought bravely in the name of the freedom. Let’s make sure that this memorial will serve as a reminder for generations to come of that sacrifice and the eternal friendship between the Albanian and the American people,” Ambassador Arvizu concluded to heartfelt applause.
Aleksander Moisiu, the former President of Albania and former chairman of Albania’s branch of the Atlantic Council, brought memories of the war when as a child he had had the chance to meet the US officers who worked with his father, a partisan commander.
“During communism, so much was made about the contribution of the Soviets who had only two people Helmës, by the middle of 1944, who contributed nothing to the war. Their role was only to report to the Red Army and help the Communist Party rise to power after the war, These are the facts”, Moisiu said. “However, we would not have been here today without the crucial American help, from the time in 1919 when President Wilson stopped the efforts of our neighbors to divide Albania among them all the way to 1999”.
The ceremony was made special by the presence of a group of Albanian-American veterans who served in the US Army. They were lead by Ronald Nasson, commander of the Albanian-American Veterans of the United State of America.
“The people in Albania will always remember Captain Thomas Stephan and the US soldiers of OSS, who came from the sky and the sea to help Albania in a time of crisis”, Nasson said during the ceremony. “Today we are honoring the sons of the Eagles who contributed to bring freedom in Albania”.
The Boston-based organization is founded in 1946 and Nasson has played a personal role in the efforts to commemorate the role of the US officers during WWII in Albania. He had spoken about it with the Mayor of Korça Sotiraq Filo who had welcomed the idea. Nasson had urged him to act soon on this as most of the veterans were of old age now and their ability to travel was limited.
“The mayor of Korça he immediately embraced the idea,” Nasson said to Illyria, the Albanian-American newspaper, in New York, during an interview that will be published this week in Albanian. “Three of the OSS veterans are still alive and one of them 93-year old was so excited that he offered to help with 1,000 dollars, but I refused, considering his age and situation. However, there was a lot of support for this project,” he said.
A crucial role here was played by Peter Lucas. He is the author of “The OSS in World War II Albania” that describes the experience and the contribution of the US officers in the liberation of Albania.
“It was him who traced and found the names of the 26 people who had contributed to this OSS mission,” Nasson said. Peter Lucas helped also the project with his connections in Albania.
The noted Albanian-American author and journalist was also honored in a separate ceremony with the Golden Emblem of Korça City for his contribution in the identification and the recognition of the Albanian-Americans who helped in the liberation of Albania from the Nazi occupation.
“This is truly a great day, but it is not about me. It is about these brave soldiers, who fought against Fascism together with the Albanian people”, Peter Lucas said. “It is their day, not mine or ours. Let us thank also the people of Korça who showed up today to honor these brave soldiers.”
He also credited three Albanian friends Agim Prodani, Fatos Tarifa and Edi Kurtezi, who helped him with the research in Albania and Ronald Nasson for the work to make this memorial monument possible.
Lucas who continues to write regularly in the US press is also attentive to political developments in Albania. Speaking to our Illyria newspaper, after the ceremonies in Korça, he decried the problematic and prolonged post-communist transition in Albania to which he dedicated another book (Rrumpalla) and wished that the United States had been more proactive to help Albania in the first confused years that followed the collapse of communism.
In his recent column, he described beautifully the emotions of the inauguration ceremony of the WWII memorial in faraway yet near Albanian city of Korça.
“It was a good day to be an American,” he wrote.
(By Ruben Avxhiu – based on reports and interviews from Aristir Lumezi in Korça, Albania)