We appeal to you to be vigilant and not let anyone, under any pretense to take your liberty and freedom.
–American Veteran Earl Ingram, Lieutenant 2nd Infantry Division
I received an email the other day which contained much of the following. It’s one of those emails that are shared from mailbox to mailbox and no original source information was included, but my friend Susan passed it along to me and thus I am grateful to be able to share its contents (and more) with you all.
This is an amazing story of remembrance and sparked several hours of research on my part.
Have you ever wondered if anyone in Europe remembers America’s sacrifice in World War II?
There is an answer in a small town in the Czech Republic.
The town called Pilsen (Plzen).
Every year, Pilsen conducts the Liberation Celebration of the City of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
This is because the liberation of Czechoslovakia by allied troops on May 1945 ended the Second World War fighting in Europe.
Most of the Czech area was occupied by the Soviet army, the bulk of western Bohemia was occupied by the U.S. 3rd Army led by General George Patton.
On May 4, General Dwight Eisenhower ordered to advance in the heart of Czechoslovakia, which began key American operations in Czechoslovakia.
On May 6, soldiers with a white star came to Pilsen and it became the last place where the path of allied troops through European continent ended up.
Because of Soviet occupation, the memory of fighting or dead Americans was forgotten and even belittled and thus any official celebration marking the arrival of the U.S. army in Pilsen would have been unthinkable before 1989.
But things have changed…
E May since 1990, Plzeň goes notionally back to 1945 and honors those who gave us freedom.
The Liberation Festival is held here and people from all over the world come here to celebrate the liberation by the US Army with the inhabitants of the town, military veterans and their families together.
Participation of veterans whose annual visits tend to be full of emotions, was until recently the sole basis of the upcoming program.
However, the number of veterans decreases by time due to their age.
Only individuals who can undertake a difficult journey to the Czech Republic despite their health conditions have remained.
That´s why the city of Pilsen has moved the Liberation Festival to the next level, thus ensuring the continuity of the Liberation Festival, the preservation of tradition, the memory of the crucial moments of history and especially of strengthening our current freedom.
At present, the Liberation Festival program is divided into several parts.
These are regular recurring events, a convoy of historical military vehicles, memorial meetings at WWII memorials, and discussion with veterans.
Sectional projects of individual clubs of military history offer new and interesting conception of history associated with the presentation of contemporary military equipment, weapons and military activities.
Some of the projects go beyond the borders of individual years and continuously continue.
The festival program also contains attractive innovations that will attract new visitors and offers a program for the whole family.
The entire city transforms itself into a living museum and important history lesson.
In addition, 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.
Every May 6th, the anniversary of the liberation of Pilsen by General George Patton’s 3rd Army is marked.
Pilsen is the town that every American should visit.
Because the Czechs there genuinely love, appreciate, honor and respect America and the American Soldier.
Even 65 years later…
By the tens of thousands, the citizens of Pilsen and the Czech Republic come to say thank you.
Lining the streets of Pilsen for miles…
From the large crowds, to quiet reflective moments…
Including time to honor and remember their 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 seen as Rock Stars that these children and their parents want autographs from.
Yes, Rock Stars!
The respect the Czech children and their parents have for our troops serving today was heartwarming and inspirational.
The Brian LaViolette Foundation established The General George S. Patton 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 was presented in May of 2011, in honor of Lt. Virgil Kirkham, a young 20-year-old P-47 pilot. He was the last USAAF pilot that was killed in WWII. It was Lt. Kirkham’s 82nd mission and one that he volunteered to go on.
This is the crash site of Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham, the last recorded American USAAF pilot killed in Europe during WWII.
Presenting Virgil’s award was 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!
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 straight years, Zdenka, now 79-years-old, took on the responsibility to care for Virgil’s crash site and memorial near her home. 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.
Here is what the city of Pilsen thinks of General Patton’s grandson.
George Patton Waters (another Rock Star!) we’re proud to say, serves on the Foundation board.
And by the way, we have to mention that this special event is always front page news over there – not buried in the middle of the social section as it would be in the U.S.A.
We support our armed forces, first responders, law enforcement, and others who sacrifice their own lives for the safety, comfort, and freedom of others… and we thank them as often as we can for their dedication and their service.
The convoy of liberty…
In 2017, records were broken as 90,000 people attended the 2017 four-day Liberation Festival in Pilsen, which is 40,000 more than last year.
A strong highlight is the vintage military vehicle Convoy of Liberty with both American and Belgian WWII veterans in jeeps who parade through the city. Thousands of people also visited the military camps and the Czech army presentation and other programs.
According to the local law-enforcement agencies, the Liberation Festival was trouble-free as it has been in the past.
“The Liberation Festival offered even this year many remarkable moments and strong stories. For me personally most of them are related to the veterans. I am convinced even they enjoyed the festival”, said the City Mayor Martin Zrzavecký.
In his own words, he would be happy if the Liberation Festival further belonged to the biggest European celebrations of the end of the 2nd World War and if the festival permanently succeeded even in attracting the attention of younger generation.
Despite the unstable weather this past year, the City Mayor called the attendance of the public outstanding.
“The renewed Convoy of liberty was a great success; I was pleased with the large number of public attending the commemorative events, which are sometimes considered of peripheral importance. But hundreds of locals who attended General Patton’s Memorial commemorative act, proved that we would really like to pay honor to the veterans even in this official way”, reviewed the 1st deputy of the City Mayor, Martin Baxa. He emphasized the success of the 16th armored division camp. “Although the weather was bad the attendance of public showed that the concept of the authentic military camp reality from 1945 is the right way”, added.
The Liberation Festival staff prepared some new moments for the veterans. It was the Friday camp visit, where they enjoyed the authentic military canteen lunch. Even the traditional public discussion and other events were not missing. “I am ready to take a gun in hand and to fight even today for freedom and democracy”, answered 92 year old Belgian veteran José Schindfessel to a question whether he would volunteer the Army again.
93 year old American veteran George Thompson affirmed his words. “I would definitely go through it again. Freedom is not for free. It is always redeemed by bloodshed, and not only ours, but even of our brothers, fathers, or mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, simply by everyone.”
Learn more about the celebration by clicking here.
Czech speakers may also enjoy this historic film.