One morning, as I awoke to the sharp shooting pain in the bottom of my foot, caused by neuropathy as a result of bilateral trench foot known as “frozen feet,” from temperatures 20 degrees below zero during The Battle of the Bulge. Thinking back, if I hadn’t been hospitalized at the 36th General Hospital APO 380 somewhere in France between Feb. 18, 1945 and April 27, 1945 and had continued with my 80thInf. Division, where would I have ended up on V-E day?
History tells me it would be Czechoslovakia or Austria. This is my bucket list to finalize my quest to continue my tour of duty under the command of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army and celebrating the surrender of Germany on April 30, 1945.
After some trip planning mishaps, my son Marty and I have arranged a trip to Plzen. My son arrived Sunday night April 26th. Stayed overnight and we are all set to leave the following day on our adventure. Departing 2:00 PM from RSW International Airport on United Airlines with a stop at Newark, N.J. we continue flying all night arriving next morning in Frankfurt, Germany. After clearing customs we continued our journey by train to Plzen by way of Nurnberg, Schwandorf and arriving in Plzen around 5:00 PM. After checking in to our Hotel and having dinner. Two tired travelers were ready for bed.
Next morning, after a restful night and an enjoyable breakfast at our Hotel UZvonu, we were welcomed by our beautiful compassionate smiling Patricia Kraftova, who works tirelessly volunteering her time as coordinator of the programming for the liberation festival and overseeing the escorts and buses for transportation to all the events every day. She is a remarkable lady for the love of the veterans and their families. For example she asked us what we would like to do today and we suggested that we would care to visit the Pilsner Brewery. No problem, as she called a cab and off we went to visit the Brewery where she had lunch with us in the Na Spilce restaurant ( still in the Brewery complex) after which she arranged our guided tour threw out the Brewery and told us she had to get back to work but the cab driver would return to take us back to the Hotel at the end of our tour.
Friday- May 1, 2015 We begin our whirlwind of a week of celebration including the dedication and ribbon cutting of a new monument in memory of General George S. Patton made of core ten steel located in the heart of down town Plzen followed by an invitation to City Hall where we were treated like Royalty being honored with gifts, whined and dined, and feasted on a wonderful buffet of food. We also were presented with a shopping bag filled with articles as a cap, tee shirt (with the Czech Republic insignia logo) on them. A ½ liter beer mug engraved with our name including an 18 ounce can of beer. The Lord Mayor really knows how to throw a welcome party!
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After having a wonderful breakfast at our hotel, we boarded our appointed buses departing around 9:00 AM and were led by a police escort through town non stop at the intersections regardless of the traffic lights, red or green. People along the streets must have wondered what VIP’s were we? Arriving at the main hall of the Mestanska Beseda meeting with the public together with the Belgian veterans-sharing memories and interviews between 10:00 – 12:00 noon plus 30 minutes of signing autographs. Enough to give you writer’s cramp by the time you signed your name, company, regiment, division and 3rd Army that you served in. One of my friends had the right idea as he had a rubber stamp with his signature and outfit on it. I excused myself to go to the men’s room and thought instead of returning to the auditorium I would remain out in the lobby. Well that didn’t work as I had thought because low and behold the T.V. camera spotted me and was interviewing me along with people with cameras wanting pictures taken beside me with their spouses or children. Now I know what it must be like to have the paparazzi chasing after you. At 12:30 our buses depart to Plaza area and military camp, including the presentation of military history clubs, technology, equipment and Municipal Police Plzen presentation including a fly over of jet planes.
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Buses departure to Patton Memorial (museum): Reflex magazine photographing veterans and after visiting thru the museum we again departed to the Republic Square –restaurant Comix. Friendly dinner with Belgian veterans and Deputy Mayor, Martin Baxa. Municipality of the City of Plzen invitation list of WWII veterans from the USA and Belgium. The restaurant was closed to the general public during the dinner other than family members, guests and escorts. When we came out the door of the restaurant there were crowds of people on both sides of the sidewalk clear to the street waiting to photograph us. Because the jeeps were waiting to take us to the main stage in the Republic Square for a big swing party with the Melody Makers from 19:00-20:00 including folk celebration in dresses of 1945, dancing in the square, tasting limited edition of pilsner “Liberation beer.”But we ducked around the corner and walked back to our hotel.
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Again, another full day of celebration. After breakfast we boarded our buses at 8:00 AM and proceeded to Husova Street for a wreath-Laying Ceremony at the 16th Armored Division Memorial. Also a Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the monument of Czechoslovak soldiers fighting on the Western Front. At 9:45 AM a Wreath- Laying Ceremony at the 2nd Infantry Division Memorial in Chodske Square. After the ceremony your escorts show you to your jeep( with your name tag on it) only WWII veterans with one closest family member ride in jeeps. All other quests and all escorts to observe the convoy of Liberty from the VIP platform near the Opera House. The Parade lasts from 10:50 until 13:00 ending up in the Republic Square meeting the public once again for autographs. Thousands of people lined the streets cordoned behind fences along the curb.
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Called a Free Day including a memorial match of 1945-football (soccer) game between old guard of Victoria Plzen and American soldiers-members of historical military clubs reserved 30 seats for our group or by invitation by the Foyes family to their Frisova villa for the society of honor reception including a buffet lunch of which we attended. Later the same day by invitation meeting at the Marriott Hotel 200 guests gathered for an evening of entertainment, movie, and dinner provided by the George Lavickas family. They have been entertaining the American troops including their families every year at their home until the number of people became more than their house could accommodate and now they had to move it to the hotel. They do this in appreciation for the liberation and freedom that the American troops had given them in 1945. We were fortunate to be seated at the same table with Rob Gilbert and his father, Col. Robert I. Gilbert who will be 100 years old in June of this year.
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Buses depart for Dysina. A ceremony was held at the Gen. George S Patton school. Students performing dance and song. Returning back to Plzen Republic Square for The George S. Patton Scholarship of Honor Award. Also, Medals Awards by the Czech Army. It was followed by the Gustav Brom Big Band.
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[quote cite=’Marty’ align=’left’]It was a trip of a lifetime.[/quote]It’s time to leave behind our dream vacation and arrive at the airport for our flight home. It was a pleasure bonding with my son for a week but I don’t think he ever realized what a hero his Dad was, until the way that these people accepted us as their heroes. My son Marty quotes: “It was a trip of a lifetime.”
And I have to agree it was fabulous, exciting and beyond my expectations.
Written by: Norval (Dick) Williams Chevalier