George Codrea, 88; Navy Cross Recipient

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2006

George Codrea, 88, a career Marine officer who was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in World War II and was a former high school government teacher in Alexandria, died May 20 at Inova Commonwealth Care Center in Fairfax of complications from a fall. He was a Falls Church resident.

After joining the Marine Corps in 1941, he was assigned as an infantry platoon leader with the 1st Marine Division and took part in the invasion of Guadalcanal, a Japanese-held island in the South Pacific, on Aug. 7, 1942. After two weeks of minor skirmishing, a Japanese infantry brigade attacked his battalion Aug. 21 in the battle of Tenaru River. The young second lieutenant held his ground, according to his Navy Cross citation.

"When it became necessary to reinforce the firing line during the heaviest fighting against a Japanese landing force of about 700 men, Second Lieutenant Codrea, coolly and with complete disregard for his own safety, placed each man, individually, in a position to deliver the most effective fire," the citation states.

Despite being wounded twice early in the fighting, Lt. Codrea remained at the front until being ordered to be treated for wounds to his arm and back. "His outstanding leadership, determination and inspiring fortitude throughout the engagement were largely instrumental in stopping the most serious enemy threat," the citation states.

After surgery and recuperation in a hospital, he returned to Guadalcanal for the final four months of the campaign. His role in the battle was recounted in "Guadalcanal Diary" (1943) by Richard Tregaskis and "Bloody Ridge" (2000) by Michael Smith.

Subsequently, he saw action in the Cape Gloucester campaign during the 1943-44 battle for the island of New Britain in the South Pacific and also served in New Guinea. In the final months of the war, he was a battalion operations officer and regimental logistics officer with the 21st Marine Regiment training for the anticipated invasion of Japan.

Col. Codrea was born in Akron, Ohio, the eldest child of Romanian immigrants. He graduated with distinction from the University of Akron in 1940. After World War II, from 1946 to 1947, he was post adjutant and company commander at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington. In that role, he supervised security at the court-martial of U.S. Navy Capt. Charles B. McVay III, former commander of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

Col. Codrea also taught military science at Purdue University and served in the Korean War as an infantry officer, participating in the battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

After a six-month tour of the Mediterranean as commanding officer of an infantry battalion assigned to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, his final duty assignment was as a logistics liaison officer in the office of the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He retired in 1969.

Col. Codrea then taught government at Francis C. Hammond High School and economics and government at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria for 14 years until 1983.

In his later years, he researched and published articles on the experiences and contributions of early Romanian Americans, especially those who had served in the U.S. military. He also volunteered as a translator for Romanian visitors, immigrants and patients who came to the Washington area for medical treatment.

For his efforts, the president of Romania awarded Col. Codrea Romania's National Order of Merit in 2002.

Col. Codrea was a former member of Holy Cross Romanian Orthodox Church in Arlington. For 36 years, he belonged to St. Mary Orthodox Church in Falls Church, where he served on parish councils.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Martha Codrea of Falls Church; a son, George Richard Codrea of Rockville; and a brother.

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