V-E Day Celebrations: Many Memories of a Great Occasion
LONDON (AP) _ Thousands of veterans of World War II joined in commemorations Saturday of the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, each bringing particular memories of triumph, liberation and sorrow.
``I think of so many of my friends who died. So many of them died in horrible, horrible ways,″ said Suzanne Cherise, a veteran of the French Resistance _ and one face in the crowd at Britain’s official celebrations in Hyde Park.
Vice President Al Gore told veterans gathered at the American Cemetery in Cambridge that the war against evil did not end on May 8, 1945.
``From their deaths, we have learned enduring lessons,″ he said. ``If we don’t heed them now, the 21st century ... could bring us a greater barbarism than the world has ever known.″
London was the starting point for a border-hopping pilgrimage by leaders of the World War II combatants, going on to Paris, Berlin and Moscow.
Presidents, prime ministers, kings and other officials of 54 nations were in London for a formal dinner Saturday night, a service of reconciliation at St. Paul’s Cathedral Sunday morning and another banquet at Buckingham Palace.
Queen Mother Elizabeth, at 94 a living symbol of the British generation that stood alone against Nazi Germany in 1940-41, formally opened the celebration in Hyde Park.
``I do hope that all ... will remember with pride and gratitude those men and women, armed and unarmed, whose courage really helped to bring us to victory,″ she said. ``God bless them all.″
Derek Waghorn, 76, wearing a chest-full of medals on his crisp navy blazer, served with the British army from the retreat at Dunkirk in 1940 through the D-Day invasion in 1944 and to V-E Day.
``They say miracles don’t happen. But it must have been a miracle for those who came through it all,″ he said with a smile.
John Linzer, 71, checked a database at the veterans’ center in Hyde Park for old shipmates from HMS Nadder. He recognized one name, but was informed that his shipmate had just come home from the hospital and was too weak to talk.
``We’re survivors, not heroes,″ said Linzer, who paused as old emotions welled up. ``The heroes are still out there _ some of them, like my buddies, at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.″
Charles Everard, 69, came to Hyde Park with his grandchildren Stella, 10, and Alex, 12.
``I want them to realize that if what happened never happens again, it was worthwhile,″said Everard, who served with the British army in Germany.
Alex Everard said he enjoyed his grandfather’s war stories. ``It sounded pretty drastic. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to war,″ he said.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl provoked some protests in Britain with a statement remembering not only the victims of Nazi aggression and concentration camps, but also his own country’s civilians and war dead.
``The German people have to learn from what happened and never forget that the Nazis were the aggressors,″ protested Mike Whine, spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
A survey published Saturday by the German magazine Der Spiegel found that four out of 10 people over 65 years old believed that the forced deportation of more than 7 million Germans from eastern lands after the war was as great a crime as the Holocaust.
Nearly three in 10 people among respondents ages 18-34 held the same view.
People in the Czech Republic remembered the brief days of liberation from Nazi occupation before the Iron Curtain fell. Pilsen residents re-enacted the defeat of German occupation forces by partisans and American forces led by Gen. George S. Patton on May 6, 1945.
Patton’s forces stopped at Pilsen, as the United States had promised Stalin, and withdrew as soon as Russian forces were in position.
``It would have had a tremendous impact on the history of the world if the United States got into Berlin before the Russians,″ said George Patton Jr., who was in Pilsen.
Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus did not indulge in recriminations, but thanked the Americans. ``They helped us in 1918 to create Czechoslovakia. ... in 1945 to save the country from Nazi genocide ... and recently to defeat communism.″
The Stars and Stripes flying from church spires and building fronts spoke of the warm welcome for visiting Yanks. Tens of thousands feasted on beer and sausages, while bands played _ what else? _ Glenn Miller tunes.
``I remember the sleet and rain when we came here, all the rubble and all the great people,″ said 73-old Robert Crooker from Danville, Calif., who helped liberate the town with the 97th Infantry Division.
``It’s wonderful to see the town rebuilt and the guns replaced by bottles of beer.″