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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

9 U.S. Veterans Are Guests of Honor

APBush hugging Vasik Korneer on Monday after the Russian veteran offered him a coin from his service in Berlin.
Nine World War II veterans from the United States were among the honored guests with Red Square seats for the May 9 parade, and they rounded out their busy day by having lunch with President Vladimir Putin and meeting privately with U.S. President George W. Bush.

The group, which included at least three veterans of the historic meeting of U.S. and Soviet soldiers on the Elbe River in the final weeks of the war, said they were impressed with the festivities and, even though they never expected to be celebrating Victory Day in Russia, they would gladly return in the future.

As guests of the Foreign Ministry, the veterans joined heads of state and veterans from across the globe for the military parade.

"I had no idea what would happen," said Delbert Philpott, a veteran of the Elbe linkup, who was watching the annual parade for the second time. "It was very impressive. I wish we could do something like this in the U.S."

"Russia has a knack for the grand spectacle," said U.S. veteran Igor Belousovitch, the son of Russian immigrants who, as a private first class, translated for the soldiers at the Elbe. "The lines of troops seemed to extend forever."

The other veterans in the U.S. contingent were Bernard Zaffern, Ralph George, Daniel Grow, Jessie Raybourn, Bernard Cohn and two Soviet veterans -- Semyon Vaidman and Alexander Turetsky, who emigrated to the United States after the war.

After the parade, the group was invited along with other veterans to the Kremlin Palace for a celebratory banquet lunch with Putin and his wife, Lyudmilla.

Raybourn, a Newark, Delaware, resident who was a radio operator who flew on 51 bombing raids across Europe from his base in Italy, described the meeting with Putin as just perfect, though he was able to understand Putin's 20-minute speech only after receiving a translated English transcript.

"He covered most of the highlights of the war," Raybourn said.

After the lunch ended at 2 p.m., the veterans went back to the Soyuz hotel in southwest Moscow before being shuttled by U.S. Embassy cars to the embassy for a short meeting with Bush and his wife, Laura.

"It was short and sweet," said Belousovitch, a former State Department officer who lives in the Washington area. "He and Mrs. Bush greeted all of us personally and made agreeable comments. I told him that as a Russian-American, I never expected to live long enough to witness such an event."

"He told us how much he appreciated us," Raybourn said of Bush, who also met with Soviet veterans invited to the embassy.

Next up on the schedule was the gala event on Red Square at 8 p.m., with the fireworks show to follow.

Several of the veterans, however, said they were too exhausted to attend.

"I watched it on television," Belousovitch said late that night. "Luckily, I could see the fireworks from my hotel window."