My Dad shared with me an email with photos of a town called Pilsen in the Czech Republic that celebrates on May 6 each year its liberation from the Nazi's by the US military. Loving America and especially the WWII era, I was moved and had to share.
Below is an article I found by Mark Van Treuren...
Pilsen Liberation Festival Honors the U.S. Army as a New Generation Learns the Lessons of History
For forty-five years the people of Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, were unable to express their gratitude to the American Soldiers who liberated their city from the Nazis on May 6, 1945.
When the Iron Curtain was lifted in 1989, one of the first anniversaries Pilsen's citizens chose to remember was that day in May, so many years ago.
The Pilsen Liberation Festival taking place this weekend remains a source of great pride for this small city in western Czech Republic.
"The fact that we are visited by American veterans is a great and unique opportunity for us. They came to a country they hardly knew. It was uncharted waters for them but they did not hesitate to put their lives at stake to bring us freedom," said Pilsen's mayor, Martin Baxa.
This year's festival is themed "Thank You America."
While the event has its roots in 1945 when George Patton's Third Army led the liberation of western Czechoslovakia, the Pilsen city planners have added a modern day focus designed to impress upon young people the meaning of the liberation to them and their future as Czech citizens.
Young World War Two enthusiasts can be seen throughout the downtown area dressed in period uniforms, both Czech and American. Many are teenagers who are able to connect the events of 1945 to their lives today.
"I am only an enthusiast, but I do think that every should help each other and more countries should get involved in the common platform of assistance, not only in combat, but also humanitarian assistance," said Radim Novak, a seventeen year-old student from Sokolov, about 130 kilometers from Pilsen. This is the second time he has come to the festival.
American veterans are the stars of the show here. Several have come back annually to the place where they fought hard to liberate the people of Pilsen. These soldiers of yesterday are advanced in years, but with memories of 1945 still intact.
Former lieutenant Earl Ingram has come back to Pilsen eighteen times; he was a platoon leader during the war.
When Ingram arrived in Pilsen, the shooting has stopped and he "saw the happiest and most grateful people in my life."
Ingram and his fellow veterans, wearing their veteran's hats and hard-earned medals, make the pilgrimage back to Pilsen to salute those they liberated and receive the thanks from a still-grateful Pilsen community now sixty-seven years later.
Mayor Baxa expressed the great level of community pride than endures in Pilsen and as an historian, he is also able to connect the events of 1945 to his city and country today. The Czech Republic is now a NATO ally and training partner with the U.S. forces stationed in Germany- and a contributing nation to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
"The United States Army has done a great deal to keep Europe safe. They did a big part in World Wars One and Two. I am very happy that they continue their role as a guarantor of security and peace today," said Baxa.
The three day celebration, which continues through May 6, is one of the biggest events of the year for the people of Pilsen. It includes military displays, wreath layings, and a gala concert.
From the email that my Dad shared with me (I don't know who to give credit to for the story or photos) ...
This is an amazing story of remembrance. In the Czech Republic, the school children of the equivalent of fifth grade are each assigned one of the American and Canadian liberators buried there. Their grave is the student's responsibility for the year and they learn all there is to know of their own hero. Their surviving family is sent letters and they respond to the annual child who tends their loved one's grave.
This is the crash site of Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham, the last recorded American USAAF pilot killed in Europe during WWII. It was Lt. Kirkham's 82nd mission and one that he volunteered to go on.
At the time, this 20-year-old pilot's P-47 Thunderbolt plane was shot down, a young 14-year-old Czech girl, Zdenka Sladkova, was so moved by his sacrifice she made a vow to care for him and his memory. For 65 years, Zdenka, now 79-years-old, took on the responsibility to care for Virgil's crash site and memorial near her home.
On May 4th, she was recognized by the Mayor of Zdenka's home town of Trhanova , Czech Republic , for her sacrifice and extraordinary effort to honor this American hero.
Another chapter in this important story... the Czech people are teaching their children about America 's sacrifice for their freedom. American Soldiers, young and old, are the Rock Stars these children and their parents want autographs from.
The Brian LaViolette Foundation established The Scholarship of Honor in tribute
to General George S. Patton and the American Soldier, past and present.
Each year, a different military hero will be honored in tribute to General Patton's memory and their mission to liberate Europe. This award will be presented to a graduating senior who will be entering the military or a form of community service such as fireman, policeman, teaching or nursing -- a cause greater than self. The student will be from 1 of the 5 high schools in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
The first award will be presented in May 2011 in honor of Lt. Virgil Kirkham, that young 20-year-old P-47 pilot killed 65 years ago in the final days of WWII.
Presenting Virgil's award will be someone who knows the true meaning of service and sacrifice... someone who looks a lot like Virgil. Marion Kirkham, Virgil's brother,
who himself served during WWII in the United States Army Air Corps!
I recently recommended a 1940-era movie to a friend of mine who wasn't interested and said she didn't like WWII, to which I reply no one likes war.
World War II was one of the greatest and most tragic events to happen in world history and still shapes our lives today. Remembering the veterans, the victims, the destruction, the sacrifice, the bravery and the patriotism is very little to ask of us today. I want to keep the memory alive of the stories of valor and honor. And I never want to forget the horrors, lest we be swayed to follow down that path again.