Monday, May 14, 2007

"Liberty is of great value for us"

The Prague Post has a nice story about residents of Plzen, Czech Republic celebrating the May 1945 liberation of their town by American troops.

For more than 40 years after U.S. forces drove Nazi Germany from Plzeň, west Bohemia, an important truth was kept quiet. Although this event was known as the “liberation” of Plzeň, the city continued to suffer under the oppressive censorship of Soviet communism, and schoolchildren were taught that it was the Russians who freed Plzeň from the Nazis’ grip. 
But private memories persisted. Many people remembered the massive celebration when the Americans rolled into town in May 1945. Families secretly kept photos, and some even hid U.S. military vehicles that had been left behind.

Now, official amnesia has been abolished, and the town’s collective memory of the U.S. liberation has been celebrated each year since 1990. Late in the morning May 6, closing day of the 18th annual event, hundreds of people lined the streets under a sky that threatened rain to watch a convoy of dozens of historical U.S. military vehicles — mostly jeeps — make its way down Plzeň’s main drag. In them sat Czechs outfitted largely in U.S. Army camouflage and waving American flags. A few passengers cried as their jeeps drove down Klatovská street, re-enacting the liberation.
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Along the streets, locals dressed in U.S. military uniforms waved the stars and stripes. 
“It’s a tradition for us because liberty is of great value for us,” said Andrea Řeháčková, 35, of Plzeň, as she waited with her husband and their 4-year-old son for the parade to start. “It’s a nice show for our son.”

Perched in one of the jeeps was Earl Ingram, 84, a U.S. veteran from North Carolina. It was his division, the 2nd Infantry, that liberated the city in 1945. Before his jeep took off down the parade route this year, he recalled his first trip down that same street 62 years ago. “The most memorable thing is how happy the people were,” he said. Since 1990, he has attended the celebration 13 times.

Doug Brackenbrough, 75, a Korean War veteran, came over from Washington state for the celebration. His eyes teared when he remembered driving through a small Czech town in 2002 with the convoy and passing a crying elderly couple holding a sign that read, “Thank you America.”

“The outpouring of appreciation and patriotism in this country is much greater than in our own,” he said.
Lee Dashiell, a 40-year-old U.S. filmmaker capturing the event, was also surprised by the large turnout. 
Dashiell was at the event with his business partner, Robert Galloway, 39, to make a documentary about the liberation festivities. The two men own Osprey HD, a South Carolina film company that shoots in high definition for The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and other clients. The one-hour film they are making will likely air on one of those two U.S.-based channels, they said.

They knew about the celebration from Galloway’s father-in-law, who is General George Patton’s grandson. Patton led the Allied forces into Plzeň and was ordered to stop nearby so the Soviets could liberate Prague. In Dýšina, a small town 5 kilometers (3 miles) outside of Plzeň, Patton’s grandson, George Patton Waters, attended a dedication ceremony to a statue of his grandfather standing still but peering toward Prague, a city he wanted to free.

Also in Dýšina, Czech actors dressed in German and U.S. army gear re-enacted a battle complete with machine guns, smoke bombs and pyrotechnics. Bryan Denny, a U.S. Army officer and Iraq War veteran stationed in Germany, explained the battlefield maneuvers: The Americans made a first attempt to overcome the Nazis but were pushed back. A second attempt also failed, but a third try “pressed home the fight.” By then, Denny was satisfied. “I think I know how it’s going to end now,” Denny said and walked away.

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