By Mark Van Treuren (JMRC Public Affairs)May 7, 2012
PILSEN, CZECH REPUBLIC-- On the evening of May 6, 1945, tanks from General George Patton's Third Army drove down Pilsen's Sady Petatricatniku ending six years of Nazi occupation of this city, bringing a close to World War Two. The people of Pilsen have never forgotten.
Each and every replica of those vehicles now makes the same trek into Pilsen as the main event of the Pilsen Liberation Festival.
Leading this modern day march into Pilsen are some of the same men, the American Veterans, who first heard the cheers from the people here in 1945.
Along with the vets, who are all smiles and thumbs up as they ride through town, are members of Czech reenactment clubs, the young liberation enthusiasts who have made it their hobby to keep the memories of 1945 alive while at the same time forging new friendships with soldiers their own age- many of whom are Americans.
"I think many of the U.S. Soldiers are interested in history too, and this is a chance to meet informally. This festival helps to improve relationships between the soldiers," said twenty- four year old Mark Malafa, a college student at West Bohemian University studying British and American history.
Malafa, an aspiring diplomat, said he enjoys his opportunities to meet with U.S. Soldiers based in Germany.
"People from reenactment clubs like us visit the bases in Germany and are trading with the American soldiers' uniforms and stuff." Malafa added, "It helps when you can talk to veterans and modern day soldiers. It is better than internet and books. We share pictures of this event and sometimes we go to bases in Germany."
As you walk around Pilsen during the festival, you see many uniforms both from the 1945 era and even some from today. Unit patches are everywhere and come from some of the US Army's most iconic units, the 2nd Infantry Division and 82nd Airborne, to name just a couple.
There are reenactment camps throughout the downtown area, where the enthusiasts set up shop for the weekend- tents and all- while putting on displays of equipment they have purchased from the Internet, US stores and even eBay.
Most are young- many not even old enough to remember Communism, but now glad they can honor the Americans who they know freed their city in 1945.
"The atmosphere at the end of the war was unique. You can tell by the pictures and the stories you hear. We were not allowed to honor Americans during Communism. We were taught in school that the Russian Army liberated us. We are proud that today we talk to Americans at bases in Germany now," Malfa explained.
The re-enactment clubs fall under the umbrella of "Pilsen 1945" the group which plans and organizes the yearly festival. It is a labor of love for the young people who take part.
"The uniforms are paid for personally. It's our hobby. We are very appreciative of our liberation in 1945, we are very happy we can celebrate these day," said twenty-one year old Daniel Musil, a law student in his second year and one of the organizers of the camp.
Musil explained that his club began with one old tank in 2008 and today he leads a full camp in a downtown park. He said he would like to some year have his club's equipment alongside modern day U.S. equipment.
"It would make for an interesting comparison," said Musil.
These young enthusiasts take great pride in making the Liberation Festival a yearly success. But they are also quick to point out they feel the festival is a great opportunity to forge new friendships with the grandchildren of the American veterans and the Soldiers stationed in Germany.
They are well aware Czech soldiers are training regularly at U.S. bases in Germany.
"It's important for our security and peace in Europe," said Musil explaining why he hopes the Americans will stay in those bases so close to his home in Pilsen.