I stumbled across an article recently about this small town in the Czech Republic, Pilsen, and the rather remarkable citizens that live there. Actually, what is most remarkable about the people of Pilsen is that there are not more like them, and even more remarkable…why such a moving story is not retold more often.
They have a celebration in Pilsen (Plzen) every five years, on May 6th. A “Liberation Celebration” which includes a parade, various festivities and a solemn prayer at a very unique monument. In this granite monument, carved and brilliant gold letters reads: “Thank You America! On May 6th, 1945, the City of Plzen was liberated by the U.S. Army”. More precisely, General George Patton’s 3rd Army. How touching. Simple, yet heartfelt and sincere.
The parade includes vintage U.S.Army vehicles and uniforms. Children seek out the autographs of U.S. Soldiers who may be in the crowd, visiting for the event. One native pointed out that the “United States soldier is the ‘rock star’ to our young people”. Pictures show, indeed, young Czech children seeking and acquiring said autographs and the looks in their eyes bears out the statement by their elder. They gaze upon these guys with the wistful, dreamy look of a teenage American girl watching The Beatles in 1965.
The story of Pilsen, their liberation and their own history, is entwined with our own history there. This was the town, the place, where Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham, a USAAF pilot, was shot down and killed. Lt. Kirkham was the last recorded pilot killed in Europe during World War II. It was Kirkham’s 82nd mission…and one that he volunteered for. He was 20 years-old when his P-47 Thunderbolt went down.
A 14 year-old Czech girl, Zdenka Siadkova, remembers the crash. She remembers also being liberated, and was so moved by the sacrifice, that she vowed, then and there, to care for Virgil’s crash site and the memorial that is there. She is now 79 years-old and has kept her promise for the last 65 years. The crash site and memorial are near her home.
Here, Czech children are taught in school about America’s sacrifice for their freedom. Here, the Brian LaViolette Foundation established The Scholarship of Honor in tribute to General Patton and the American Soldier. Each year the Foundation pays tribute to an American Soldier. In May, 2011, that recipient will be Lt. Virgil Kirkham.
As we look at world affairs today, we should all remember the efforts and sacrifices this great nation has made on behalf of so many oppressed people. It is reassuring to see a place where the expression of gratitude is volunteered with such enthusiasm. Thank you, Pilsen.