The Legion of Romanian-American Volunteers, a brotherhood cemented by military service and heritage, celebrates its 85th anniversary this year.
The veterans group was formed by Romanian World War I veterans from Youngstown and Campbell in 1927.
“We honor our forefathers, who like my father, joined the American army to fight for their country and also to liberate their homeland, Romania, from the domination of the Austria-Hungary Empire,” said John Curea Sr. of Boardman, a LRAV member.
Thousands of Romanian- Americans served in the military in WWI, World War II and the Korean War, and it is important to keep the LRAV alive in memory of them, said Curea, 85, who grew up in Niles.
Curea is one of a mostly aging group of men and widows who make up the Legion of Romanian American Volunteers that meets at Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church, 626 Wick Ave., in Youngstown.
“We have a room in the church with many pictures on the wall of men who came before us,” said Curea, who served in the Army’s 103rd Combat Engineer Battalion from 1952 to 1954 in the 28th and 9th Infantry Divisions during the Korean War era, including a stint in Germany as part of the NATO Occupation Force. He is also a member of American Legion Post 565 in Boardman and VFW Post 3538 in Struthers.
Like other veterans groups, LRAV members enjoy the common background of being military veterans but also share the same ethnic heritage, said John Besoiu of Mineral Ridge, treasurer of the group.
“It’s mostly a brotherhood of Romanians or someone who married a person of Romanian heritage. A bunch of us still speak Romanian,” he said.
Curea’s parents left the United States and went back to Romania in 1936, and as a result he spent World War II in Romania and graduated from high school there before coming back to the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1948.
He and his wife, the former Patricia Ekoniak, have a daughter, Shirley Collins in Florida, and a son, John Jr. of Enon Valley, Pa., and four grandchildren. He worked for the Debartolo Corp. in its engineering department for 36 years retiring in 1992, and attends Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church. A Vietnam War veteran, John Besoiu, 66, served in the Navy Seabees from 1965 to 1967, including 10 months in Vietnam in 1966-1967. He retired from the Navy after 24 years, most of which was spent in the Navy Reserve, and he was decorated with the Vietnam Service Ribbon, Vietnam Campaign Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
Besoiu, of Mineral Ridge, who attends Holy Resurrection Romanian Orthodox Church in Howland, was an operations supervisor for 31 years with United Parcel Service. He is a member of the Fleet Reserve Association, Seabees Vets of America and the MCB 6 Association.
He and his wife, Marilyn, have three sons: Christopher in North Carolina, David of Mayfield Heights, and Eric of Cranberry Township, Pa.; and two grandchildren.
Legion of Romanian-American Veterans members live primarily in Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio and Mercer County in Pennsylvania.
Its commander, the Rev. Father Andrew Gall of Sharon, Pa., a native of Campbell, is a priest for St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sharon. He served in the Air Force from 1967-1971 as a crew chief on a specialized electronic reconnaissance aircraft with the 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron.
The LRAV hosts four major events annually. In January, there is a planning meeting; on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, there is a memorial prayer service and fellowship; a Romanian style picnic is in August; and an annual dinner for members and their spouses, and widows of past members is in November, Father Gall said.
The 2012 picnic is at 11 a.m. Aug. 18 at Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church, 626 Wick Ave., Youngstown.
Any military veteran of Romanian heritage or who is married to someone of Romanian descent is welcome to attend. No reservation is necessary, Besoiu said.