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An “American Comrade” in the Red Army

Posted on May 10 2010 8:00 am
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That’s how the Russian newspaper Komsomol’skaya Pravda headlined its main article on May 7, right on the eve of The Day of Victory—the traditional Russian celebration of the victorious end of the war against the Nazis.

Here is, briefly, the content of that article:

Sixty-five years ago, on May 8, 1945, in Chicago, a young American sergeant Joseph Byerly, a veteran of two armies, the American and the Soviet, celebrated his miraculous survival in the brutal WWII.

Sixty-five years later, on May 6, 2010, in Moscow, his son, American Ambassador in Russia, John Byerly, opened an exhibition, devoted to his late father, – Joseph Byerly: Hero of Two Nations.

The Ambassador’s father had been a 21-year-old paratrooper, when his C-47 transport plane was shot down by Germans on June 6, 1944. He was captured and thrown into a concentration camp. Joseph tried to escape, and on a third attempt, in January 1945, he finally succeeded. Joseph heard the uninterrupted sound of the rapidly approaching Soviet artillery, and he decided to walk eastward, toward the Russians. When, several days later, Joseph saw the first Soviet soldiers, he shouted in broken Russian: “Ya vash Amerikanskyi tovarishch!” (“I am your American comrade!”)

Joseph Byerly refused to leave the 2nd Byelorussian Front, continued fighting as a soldier in a tank battalion, was severely wounded, and was successfully treated in a field hospital. The war for the brave American Comrade was finally over.

This fascinating story is remarkable not only as a tribute to the heroic deeds of the courageous American soldier who had fought in the Red Army. Equally noticeable is the very appearance of this article in the Russian media. Let’s not forget that almost immediately after the end of the war, the Soviet government had started a continuous nationwide campaign, diminishing, in every way possible, the role of the American and British armies in the victory over the Nazis. The idea was to instill in the minds of the Soviet people the false notion that it was exclusively the Red Army that had defeated Germany, that the role of the Anglo-Saxon allies was almost non-existent.

For instance, in the 1960s, there appeared on the Soviet screens a patriotic movie serial “The Liberation,” where significance of the American and British military contribution to the victory was virtually ignored. This and other distortions in the Soviet movies, literature, theater, and school textbooks (like, for example, a mendacious 1940s movie “Encounter on the Elbe”) resulted in the fact that within the last 65 years, Russian people grew accustomed to the notion that they, and only they, had been the victors in that distant bloody war.

It seems that nobody in Russia remembers nowadays that at the beginning of the war President Roosevelt had signed the famous Lend-Lease Act, according to which the Soviets received an enormous amount of military, industrial, and food help. Without that crucial assistance, the Soviet Union wouldn’t have survived.

By spring 1943, the Soviets had already received a huge amount of the Lend-Lease materiel: food, clothes, tanks, planes, landing craft, the Dodges and Studebakers, machine-guns, ammunition; an uninterrupted chain of freighters moved from Portland (Oregon) and San Francisco, across the Pacific, to the Soviet port of Vladivostok.

I was born in Vladivostok, and as a schoolboy I, along with millions of other Soviet children, was a beneficiary of the Lend-Lease food program. I probably wouldn’t have survived if it were not for the Lend-Lease. We ate American bread, and drank American milk, and chewed American gum, and smoked American Lucky Strikes, and wrote with American pencils on American notebooks.

So, let’s hope that the latest Russian actions, showing a measure of respect toward their former wartime allies (like, for instance, their first-time inclusion of American and British military units in the Moscow Parade of Victory), are not empty gestures, designed to thank President Obama, on the cheap, for his shortsighted decision to remove the American missile shield from Poland and Czech Republic.

Let’s hope that the Russian leaders begin to realize that both in war and peace the American people are as loyal to their allies as was the young American Comrade Joseph Byerly.

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