Veterans, honoured in Pilsen, recall "the war stopped here!"


One of the major focal points of this year's anniversary was the return of American and Belgian veterans to Pilsen, the city they liberated in the final days of the war 60 years ago. Town officials as well as Belgian and U.S. representatives were all in attendance to honour soldiers' deeds in liberating Pilsen, while veterans like Leo Hymas, addressed the crowd.

Photo: Milena Strafeldova
"In World War II we overcame Italian Fascism, German Nazism, and Japanese Imperialism: that war ended here. I was 19-years-old, a U.S. soldier. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also the best thing I ever did. Thank you!"

All of the veterans including Mr Hymas expressed joy to be back again - most have been coming back for years. Jan Velinger spoke to some of them including Bill Creech of Texas who was a 25-year-old lieutenant when he entered Pilsen so many years ago.

"Yes, I've been here before and this is the friendliest country I've ever been in! The weather today about like it was 60 years ago! Right behind the 16th armoured division & we got all the wine and rose and kisses and hugs, where they'd already gone on!" {laughs}

JV: Until that point did you experience a lot of difficult fighting and difficult situations?

Photo: CTK
"Yes! All the way from the beaches [of Normandy on D-Day] to here."

JV: The war stopped here but could have gone on - the liberation could have gone all the way to Prague. Have you reflected over the years on the fate of this country following 1945 [liberated by the Soviet Union instead]?

"We were stopped between here and Prague. As a matter of fact I was getting ready to go on a patrol the night before the war ended. And, we could have gone on; there was nothing between us and Prague. But, they wouldn't let us go."

His wife Tootsie also added a few words:

"To me the people in the Czech Republic are the most patriotic and appreciative in the world!"

Photo: CTK
That has been one of the nice things about the celebrations: that so many veterans have been able to come with their families: wives, children, or grandchildren, wanting to see Pilsen for themselves, though many have been here before and know the city well. It doesn't lose in intensity over time: Nels Peterson was one of those told us how he felt about being here with his granddad.

"If you don't have a grandfather or somebody who is still alive or when you were growing up, really I think my generation is losing the whole story of what they did, I mean, they are considered the 'greatest' generation. I think it is special to be here with my grandfather to see this and see how people are still taking this to heart and how important it really was."

Nels' grandfather, Oscar C. Peterson, himself:

"Out of 32 medics there were two captured and everybody else wounded but three us. Out of 32, I was one of the lucky ones who survived. I came in as a private and when the war ended I was in charge of my outfit, one of the few survivors. I am really thankful to be alive, and I am really thankful the way the Czechs have greeted us. It's been really wonderful."

Dwight Eisenhower
Meanwhile, on the same day veterans were honoured in Pilsen the town officially became a "sister city" to Birmingham, Alabama, as a choir of and young Czech men and women performed a moving rendition of the well-known spiritual: Go Down Moses.

As organisers pointed out the sister-cities programme was the brain-child of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, in an effort to promote peace world-wide. Ruth Bradbury LaMonte is the chairperson for Birmingham's sister-cities commission:

"President Eisenhower believed that if people were able to share meals and have fun, then we wouldn't be sharing in the shooting of weapons, that it is far less likely we'd have war. I have been able to make friends all over the world."

When World War II ended Mrs Bradbury LaMonte says she was just a little girl - but her reflections were interesting too:

"I was just a tiny child when this happened but I can remember I could read and I brought in the newspaper to my mother... because I couldn't read roman numerals at the time I said 'Oh look! World War Eleven is over!'"