By Mark Van Treuren (JMRC Public Affairs)May 4, 2012
PILSEN, CZECH REPUBLIC--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.