Croatian Soldiers light candles to honor their heroes on the even of Remembrance Day Nov. 17, 2020. Croatian Army Photo by Capt. Liviu Burtica
Croatian Soldiers light candles to honor their heroes on the even of Remembrance Day Nov. 17, 2020. Croatian Army Photo by Capt. Liviu Burtica (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

BEMOWO PISKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland -- Croatian Soldiers from the 6th Contingent and their international Battle Group-Poland partners and allies gathered on Nov. 18, Croatian Remembrance Day, to honor the fallen heroes of war and the victims of the towns of Vukovar and Skabrnja who lost their lives during the Croatian War of Independence.

Candles were lit to honor the dead and a special mass was held by Croatian military chaplain Daniel Colo following the assembly.

In an address given at the ceremony, Croatian Maj. Mirjana Kis, BG-P public affairs officer, called the events on that fateful day in her homeland's history, “ the most difficult and distressing moments of the modern Croatian history.”

Kis said she vividly remembers the war.

“It was like hell opened up over my town,” she recalled.

Born in Vukovar, the easternmost city in Croatia, Kis was a college student when the war began. Her father and brother convinced her to leave the town with her mother, but the men stayed on to fight.

Residents of Vukovar who stayed suffered for months under constant attacks and bombings. They went without food, water and basic hygiene supplies. Civilian freedom fighters battled heroically on the streets under desperate conditions. They lacked ammunition, and supplies and they were woefully outnumbered, but according to Kis, they were never short on courage.

Finally, on Nov. 18, 1991, Vukovar fell victim to enemy hands after the people there had spent three months under heavy siege by opposing forces. When the last bullet was spent, the fighters were forced to surrender, facing “unimaginable tortures, humiliations, executions and imprisonment,” said Kis.

Kis had tears in her eyes as she spoke of how her own father and brother were held as prisoners of war for 9 long months after the surrender. For Kis and her countrymen, the future was uncertain.

“You never know what strength you possess until it is challenged,” she said.

On the same day, there were brutal massacres in the villages of Skabrnja and Nadin. Thousands of Croatians were killed, wounded or imprisoned and thousands more were displaced from their homes.

“Those were the days of uncertainty and suffering, but also the days of unbreakable spirit and faith in Croatian people,” said Kris, who then detailed the heroism of her people who fought on even when surrounded by death and destruction.

Ultimately the Croatian people gained their independence, in great part due to the heroic efforts of the freedom fighters in the east.

“Their sacrifice brought us to long awaited independence and today is the day to honor them and pay tribute to their sacrifice,” Kis said proudly.