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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Sailors Join In the Festivities

For MTTerry Woodcock and World War II veteran Eduard Kuleshov in Vladivostok.
VLADIVOSTOK -- The officers and crew of the U.S. Navy's guided missile destroyer John S. McCain joined their Russian colleagues here Wednesday to celebrate Victory Day.

"It is a great honor to participate in such a memorable event for the Russian people," said Command Master Chief Terry Woodcock. "We were invited to take part in the parade by the [Russian] Pacific Fleet command. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to represent America in an event like this in Russia."

During World War II, Vladivostok was a major conduit for U.S. Lend-Lease aid, which provided 18 million tons of materiel that was worth more than $11 billion at the time, a portion of which was later repaid. Half of the aid passed through Vladivostok.

"Friendship helped us to fight the fascists during World War II. I think it's great to have American officers in the city for Victory Day," said veteran Vladimir Kartashov.

The USS John S. McCain is part of the U.S. 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan. The destroyer docked in Vladivostok harbor on Monday.

The U.S. sailors said the hardest part of preparing for Wednesday's parade was trying to learn the Russian goose-step march. In the end, they gave up and marched as they normally do.

Some 10,000 people converged on Vladivostok's World War II memorials and attended the celebrations on the 62nd anniversary of Victory Day. A wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to sailors who died in the war was followed by a military parade on Korabelnaya Naberezhnaya.

Ethan Heben, a gunnery officer on the USS John S. McCain, said he enjoyed the festivities. "It's our common victory over fascism," he said. "Everyone smiles and celebrates today no matter where they're from. We're here to represent our ancestors, and [the Russians] are here to commemorate theirs."

A display of World War II-era vehicles followed the parade, and an orchestra played tunes from the war years. The festive nature of the proceedings surprised some of the U.S. sailors.

"We have Memorial Day at the end of May to commemorate American men and women who died in military service, but we don't have a tradition of singing in the streets and drinking so much," one sailor said.

Although Vladivostok benefited from U.S. aid, the city's residents experienced their share of hardships during the war.

Boris Yakubovich, 92, served as a radio officer in a Soviet counterintelligence unit in Vladivostok during the war. He recalls that the city lived in constant fear of a Japanese attack.

Nina Petrukhina / For MT
Sailors from the USS John S. McCain talking with a Vladivostok woman during Victory Day celebrations Wednesday.
"We didn't starve in Vladivostok, since we received U.S. aid. But I couldn't say that our lives were more comfortable than in other places during the war," Yakubovich said.

"We all observed the nighttime blackouts, and we were always prepared to be evacuated. We followed the news from Stalingrad intently because we knew that if Stalingrad fell, Japan would attack in the Far East," he said. "When the Soviet Union celebrated victory over Germany, we had to continue following the wartime regime for several months."

In the closing days of the war, Soviet troops seized four islands -- Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai -- that remain a point of contention between Russia and Japan to this day. Both countries claim the islands, called the Southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan. The dispute has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty that would formally bring hostilities to a close.