WWII veterans reflect on liberation of Pilsen

Erick Petersen, photo: CTK

The City of Pilsen, the University of West Bohemia and the US embassy hosted their annual Pilsen Talks conference on Thursday. This year's topic focused on the liberation of southwest Bohemia and the transatlantic alliance. The conference officially opened celebrations throughout Pilsen to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.

Erick Petersen, photo: CTK
Historians, politicians, but mainly WWII veterans took part in the conference. American war veteran Leo Hymas:

"Along came two Nazi soldiers, who I captured. 'What shall I do with these soldiers?' I couldn't think. I decided to lock them in the chicken coup. I hope they're still there."

Erik Peterson was a tank driver in the 16th armoured division:

"We were not allowed to speak to civilians and then General Patton said 'on to Czechoslovakia and fraternisation'. And boy did the American army fraternise with the Czechs. I was very happy then. We continued on and that night we saw the celebration in Pilsen, with the fifty calibres shooting up in the air, celebrating the end of hostilities in Pilsen. I'm with you all the way and I would fight for you any time your freedom is taken away, with the support of America."

For many the joy at the liberation of 1945 was short lived. Three years later, in 1948, the Communist government came to power bringing with it forty years of authoritarian rule. WWII veteran Earl Ingram:

General Dwight Eisenhower
"I became a career soldier and was stationed in Germany. Many times I looked across at what I considered an unnatural border and I knew that wonder people, freedom-loving people, lived on the other side of that border. At that time, in the early 1960s, there was little hope that I would see those people again. But I'm here today and being here simply proves that we never know one day what is going to happen on the next."

The question that remains open is whether the Communist takeover could have been avoided if allied, rather than Soviet forces, had liberated the larger part of the country. Jeffrey Clarke is from the US Army Centre of Military History in Washington DC. He believes the fate of the Czech people could have been different if General Dwight Eisenhower had balanced out military and political objectives:

"Appeals by Czech leaders for immediate allied assistance to Prague were warmly supported by Winston Churchill and by General Patton. But Eisenhower said no. He said 'no, we must honour the agreements that we made with the Soviet Union'. For Eisenhower and his political superiors in Washington, cooperation with the Soviet Union was still regarded as vital for the post-war peace of Europe at that time and for the continued war against Japan."