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American and Soviet Veterans Renew Peace Pledge

April 25, 1986

CHICAGO (AP) _ Soviet generals carried the hammer and sickle north up Michigan Avenue on Friday, while American World War II veterans bore the Stars and Stripes south, and they embraced when they met on a bridge over the Chicago River.

The old soldiers had met before - at another river and in another time.

That was on April 25, 1945, on the Elbe River near the towns of Torgau and Strehla in what is now East Germany when forward patrols of the U.S. 1st Army’s 69th Division encountered the vanguard of Marshal Koniev’s 1st Ukrainian Army.

The meeting that marked an allied line across Nazi Germany, which surrendered 12 days later to end the war in Europe.

Friday’s meeting, accompanied by the wail of bagpipes, was dedicated Pfc. Joseph Polowsky, one of those soldiers at the Elbe who swore an oath of friendship with the Soviet troops.

Polowsky, a Chicago cabdriver who died of cancer in 1983, made the ″The Oath at the Elbe″ his obsession and promoting U.S.-Soviet friendship his life’s work.

He wanted April 25 to be commemorated worldwide as ″Elbe Day,″ dedicated to world peace.

When visits to Washington and Moscow failed to achieve that goal, Polowsky took to standing on the Michigan Avenue bridge every April 25 to plead his cause.

He was dying and broke the last time he took his stand, three years ago, and he announced his wish to be buried at Torgau, where the main linkup occurred.

An Associated Press story on Polowsky’s death got the word to East Germany, and his last request was granted, reviving his dream posthumously.

″We’re here because of Joe,″ said Buck Kotzebue, 62, of Colfax, Calif., Polowsky’s former patrol leader and the first American to meet the Soviets at the Elbe. ″He was the only one who was dedicated enough to get us all together again.″

The publicity surrounding Polowsky’s burial spurred the first reunion of the Elbe veterans in Torgau, last year, the 40th anniversary of their historic meeting.

Kotzebue was one of the Americans who attended, reswore the ″Oath of the Elbe,″ and agreed to meet each April 25, alternating nations.

He grinned Friday at the first Soviet he met in 1945, Major Gen. Aleksandr Olshanski.

″Aleksandr flew to this meeting and the one last year,″ Kotzebue said. ″Back in 1945, though, he’d walked - all the way from Stalingrad.″

″I was a lieutenant then, and Joe Polowsky was my runner and translator,″ he recalled. ″Aleksandr was a sergeant, but look how far he got. I only made it to colonel.″

Other former Soviet officers at the reunion Friday were Colonel-General Ivan Katyshkin; Major General Aleksei Gorlinski, an old friend of Polowsky; and Lt. Aleksandr Sylvashko, who was seen hugging American William Robertson at Torgau in photographs published worldwide in 1945 and 1985.

The Soviet delegation earlier visited Cleveland, Detroit, and Lansing and Kalamazoo, Mich. They were to visit Lawrence, Kan., Dallas and Washington, D.C., before returning home.

Elbe Day, though, was reserved for Chicago and remembrance of Polowsky.

″Gen. McArthur used to say ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away,‴ said LeRoy Wolins of Chicago Veterans for Peace, which helped organize the ceremony. ″Joe Polowsky said ’Old soldiers do die, but their ideas don’t have to fade away.‴

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