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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

COMMENT: What V-E Day Meant For One Ohio Town




Our town in eastern Ohio never had more than some 4,000 residents. At least half of us were of Eastern European descent: Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians. Our fathers, largely uneducated, took jobs in steel mills or worked as laborers in nearby towns. Many of us, like our family, grew our own food in small plots and kept cows, chickens, pigs and geese.


When World War II erupted, the sons of these Slavic immigrants lined up to join the U.S. army and serve their country. During the war, fathers and mothers all worried: Will our sons come home? If so, will they be hurt, wounded, crippled? They went on with their lives, but the lines in their faces deepened. When the Bodnars lost one of their sons, we all silently grieved in sympathy.


George Drotr, a widower with seven boys to raise, always seemed to scowl as he puffed on his pipe; he never talked about his sons. But when one son was wounded in Europe, he bit down so hard on his pipe that it broke.


Tekla Wojick, with five sons in the service, cried because Drotr couldn't. She was an ample lady, always smiling, but, when war came, she smiled a little less and visited my mother a lot. They talked quietly of the war. What about our relatives in Ukraine? How would we ever know if they were alive or dead? Tekla and my mother talked, then they dried their eyes and went about their chores.


Hretz Romanchuk, a Ukrainian Catholic, would visit us and talk about the Church, saying with confidence that the Roman pope had it on the best authority that the Nazis would lose, especially after having attacked Russia. He said angels delivered letters to the pope from God. But at one point, Hretz seemed to visit us less and less; his son was missing in action.


I remember when World War II ended in Europe: Joy was everywhere. "Horse" Andriko treated his steady customers to free beer at The Falls tavern. He loudly proclaimed that without the fighting spirit of the Slovaks, America would be in serious trouble. V-E Day was a happy day, meaning the killing in Europe was over. But my mother would say tearfully that her oldest son was now somewhere in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese. The worst of it was still on - her son could still die. On V-E Day, we rejoiced, but we would rejoice more on V-J Day, which would mean our brothers would come home.


Do Americans observe V-E Day as the Russians do? Sadly, no. But they should: Most Americans have no idea how close we came to losing the war, a war that took the lives of more than 27 million Soviets, including many relatives of the residents in our town.


Michael Wyko is a U.S. veteran and retired businessman living in Moscow. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.