European City that Thanks America

Written by  Chriss Street

Each year the citizens of Pilsen in the Czech Republic celebrate Liberation Festival to commemorate and say thank you to America who liberated the city in World War II.  After eight brutal years, the town of Pilsen revolted against the Nazis on May 5, 1945 and cleared the way for General George Patton and his United States Third Army to charge into Pilsen’s Republic Square on May 6, 1945.   

Before the Second World War, the nation of Czechoslovakia had been an independent and economically successful nation in Central Europe.  But in the 1930s, Germany and Russia threatened to take over the nation.  In 1938, Great Britain and France signed the Munich Treaty.  Pilsen and all of northwest Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland was transferred to the Nazis.  British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and German Chancellor Adolph Hitler were nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.  As the thousands of residents of Pilsen fell under military control, Chamberlain told Europeans, “I believe it is peace for our time ... Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."


In 1948, Czech attempts to join the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan postwar rebuilding were crushed by a coup d'état backed by the Soviet Union.  For the next 41 years, Pilsen would again be subjugated until the fall of the Fall of Communism in 1989.

Pilsen city fathers make tremendous efforts to impress upon today’s young people the meaning of the liberation has for them and what it means to their future to be free Czech citizens.  The festival has music, food and a grand parade to Republic Square, but the stars and stripes of the American flags blanket the city to remind the young of the sacrifices that American World War II veterans made to save their freedom. 

"It's been over 60 years and still they honor the American forces, and have a wonderful celebration," said Charles Noble, Jr., son of a World War II commander who led troops into Pilsen in May 1945.  The biggest show of community support happens during the convoy of liberty. Thousands literally line the streets here to check out the World War II veterans and the military vehicles.


Marion Kirkham is one of a handful of the American veterans who made it to this year's festival.  He served in World War II and has returned to Pilsen for several years in a row in honor of his brother who died fighting to help the Czech people.  He is always amazed at the ongoing outpouring of love and support he and the others receive.  
"They lost their freedom so they know what's it's like without freedom and now they want to preserve that freedom and they want their children to remember what freedom means.  It's amazing to me."  Kirkham and the others rode in World War II Jeeps and tanks restored to full combat functionality by the local Pilsen car clubs. 

Crash site and gravestone of Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham, shot down after volunteering to fly his 82nd mission.  Lt. Kirkham was 20-years-old when his P-47 Thunderbolt plane was shot down.  Lt. Kirkham volunteered for the mission over Pilsen that cost him his life.

Zdenka Sladkova at 14 years-old was over whelmed by his heroic  sacrifice for her town and family that she made a vow to care for him and his memory.

For 65 straight years, Zdenka, who is now 79-years-old, has taken on the honor and responsibility for the loving care of Virgil Kirkham's crash site and his memorial near her home in a forest just outside of Pilsen.

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