Petre Kvedelidze tirelessly promoted the rich culture of his homeland from the time he arrived in America in 1956 until his passing in 2014 at the age of 95. He wanted Americans to learn and appreciate the history and nationalism of the Georgian people. He took a special interest in helping new Georgian immigrants assimilate into the United States, and shared with them his values and how they should keep their Georgian identity alive. He also encouraged them to embrace and serve the United States, to respect its values, and embrace future immigrants, as he had embraced them. He was once referred to as the heart and soul of the Georgian diaspora in Washington.
Petre’s strong nationalism was influenced early in his life. A few months before his birth in Tbilisi in 1918, the Russian Empire, which had ruled Georgia for over a century, had fallen, making way for a free Georgia. This freedom lasted less than three years when in early 1921, the newly formed Soviet Union invaded, and ultimately defeated Georgian resistance. The democratic government fled, and a communist government, sympathetic to Moscow was installed, followed by full integration into the Soviet Union in 1924. These events influenced Petre’s life, values, and character. The Kvedelidze family was vehemently anti-communist, anti-Russian, and had a very strong love of Georgia. These views were instilled in Petre, and would shape him for life.
He was called to the Red Army in 1939 for his military service and first served in a regiment of Georgian recruits. He was assigned as an interpreter with Russian-speaking officers, and was sent to Ukraine and Bessarabia. A few days after the declaration of the German-Russian war in June 1941, his detachment was captured by the Romanian army and handed over to the German army. He was placed in a prisoner-of-war camp in Romania, where he would stay for the next nine months.
He enlisted in the German army as did many of the Georgians captured by the Germans because they wanted to free their homeland from the Soviets, and not because they believed in the German cause. While fighting in the German army, Petre was badly injured. He was evacuated first to occupied Warsaw, and then to Munich for rehabilitation. After the German surrender in May 1945, the US Army offered the Georgians a choice to return to Russia or go to France. Most of the Georgians chose not to return to Russia for fear of reprisals, so Petre and other Georgians went to France which today has a large Georgian community.
Once in France, Petre saw similarities to the Russian-backed communist aggression against Georgia to the communist aggression against France’s colonies in Southeast Asia. Petre enlisted in the French Foreign Legion where there were already some Georgian officers. He was deployed to Africa, and after a few months was sent to Southeast Asia to fight against anti-French communist factions. During this war, Petre suffered his second major combat injury, which required rehabilitation for nearly three years.
After his rehabilitation in France, Petre decided to immigrate to America which he viewed as having the best political system in the world. He came to America in 1956, became a US citizen in 1963, and joined the Georgian desk of the Voice of America in 1967 where he served as a sports correspondent. He later worked in a broader role at VOA, translating English news into Georgian for radio broadcasts, eventually becoming an on-air correspondent covering American culture and politics until his retirement in 1985. In his retirement years he continued to meet with his numerous Georgian and American friends, often at his favorite kabob restaurant in Arlington.
In the last few years of his life, Petre took a special interest in visiting soldiers from the Georgian army who were undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The soldiers were recovering from serious wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan while supporting American and other Coalition military forces. He celebrated his 95th birthday at the center with them. Petre was proud that a small country was making such a sacrifice of their young men. Additional information about Georgia’s support to the U.S military is described in a separate posting on this website.
Upon his passing, his body was flown to Tbilisi, and laid to rest with a traditional Georgian Orthodox funeral attended by approximately 150 people at the prominent Didubis Panteoni. Some of the soldiers that met Petre at Walter Reed had already returned to Georgia and were in attendance. His wish to return to Georgia and be buried there was fulfilled. Petre will be remembered for his kindness, hospitality, dignity, refined manners, and most of all for his love of Georgia and its people.