Celebrations marking the liberation of Plzeň by General Patton’s Army on May 6th 1945 took place in the West Bohemian city at the weekend. Despite the cold, thousands of people lined the streets of the city to greet the war veterans who rode at the head of the Convoy of Liberty organized in remembrance of the event.
For thirty years now the West Bohemian city of Plzeň has marked the end of the war and the liberation of the city by US troops in a big way. The role of the US army in liberating West Bohemia was downplayed during the communist regime and it was only after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that the people of Plzeň could properly express their gratitude. They do so annually in three-day-long celebrations that involve The Convoy of Liberty, a vintage military vehicles parade riding through the city, reenactment camps, meetings with war veterans, commemorative ceremonies and street happenings with live music.
At the head of the convoy of 220 military vehicles which passed through Plzeň on Sunday rode the VIP guests at the celebrations, feted wherever they turned - 10 war veterans from the US and Belgium who were part of the armed forces that liberated Plzen 74 years ago. Eighty-seven-year-old James Duncan has taken part in the parade for the past 15 years. He says his feelings are hard to describe.
“It is easier to describe my feelings towards the Czech people. I admire them so, because they have saved their country from tyranny twice. They have contributed more to our freedom in America than we have contributed to the Czech people’s freedom. And we have confidence that the Czech people will continue to preserve their freedom in every way they possibly can and I believe America will be behind them always.”
The parade, which included veteran tanks, armored vehicles, Jeeps and Harley Davidsons was greeted by thousands of people waving flowers and American and Czech flags. It ended with a fly-by of two Gripen fighter jets and two veteran single-engine Harvard planes.
However the big surprise this year was the appearance of 96-year-old US war veteran Earl Ingram – a well-known face to the crowd since he has been taking part in the celebrations since 1994. During breaks in the parade he posed tirelessly with people who wanted a picture with him and spoke about Plzeň with love saying he had friends all over town. The Czech driver of his Jeep said Earl was now a close family friend and had tears in his eyes as he told the media the war veteran had presented him with his military dog tag as a gift the night before.
Military history buffs were able to view period military camps set up in one of the town’s parks, including a field kitchen which provided real food, military quarters for officers, repair workshops and demonstrations of shooting from infantry weapons and machine guns.
The cultural program this year included a debate with the war veterans, American jazz and, on a more serious note, selected works by Antonín Dvořák including the famous aria “Song to the Moon” which was performed in the liberated city in 1945.