US veteran calls Washington’s decision to drop Elbe Day celebrations with Russia ‘dumb’

WASHINGTON: The US decision to drop celebrations of the 1945 meeting of American and Soviet soldiers at the Elbe River in Germany was a mist...


WASHINGTON: The US decision to drop celebrations of the 1945 meeting of American and Soviet soldiers at the Elbe River in Germany was a mistake, Frank Cohn, an American WWII veteran who participated in the encounter, said.

"That's the big mistake that we're dropping this celebration of the 25th of April. Because in some sense, that was the last good link that we had. And it's a real shame that this thing is falling apart. I wish they (US officials - TASS) could regurgitate that one," Cohn, 98, pointed out, commenting on Washington’s decision and the previous tradition of joint memorial ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Cohn noted that joint wreath-laying ceremonies at the Spirit of the Elbe plaque at Arlington National Cemetery had been canceled first due to the coronavirus pandemic and later because of an unprecedented rise in tensions between the US and Russia following the onset of Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine. "So the 25th April celebrations were lost. And that's a shame, really," said Cohn, a retired US Army Colonel.

Call for reviving tradition

When asked what advice he would give to politicians in the US and Russia to prevent the crisis in bilateral relations from escalating further, the war veteran called for reviving the tradition of celebrations at the Spirit of the Elbe plaque at Arlington National Cemetery.

"Well, maybe the simple thing is, hey, let's have an April 25 get-together again. And let's do it. And our side has to be convinced too because telling the Russian Ambassador that he shouldn't go on to Arlington Cemetery was not the right decision, I don't think. I think that was a dumb decision," Cohn noted.

"I think we can find some military people who would be willing to remember World War Two days," he said. "They were not part of it. But they have studied history. And they understand that we were at those times allies. And I think that can be repaired, more easily than the relations. And that might be a good first step," Cohn emphasized.

He also lamented that sometimes, the US government had not even spent money on wreaths for the ceremonies held at the Spirit of the Elbe memorial. The war veteran said it was why he had decided to buy wreaths himself.

"They carried us around"

During the war, Frank Cohn served as an intelligence agent in the 12th US Army Group commanded by General Omar Bradley. According to Cohn, in April 1945, he was part of a big unit hunting Nazi war criminals, collecting evidence to bring them to trial and seizing buildings that could be of use to the American occupying force.

The war veteran confessed with a smile that he had tried to get out of the mission to establish contact with Soviet troops that his captain had been tasked with. "The captain was looking for a Russian speaker, couldn't find one. So he turns to me, he says, Cohn, you're my interpreter, come with me. I'm trying to get out of this. I said, Captain, I don't speak any Russian, I know one word ‘tovarisch,’ that's it, no more. He said, I don't care, carry the map," Cohn said, laughing.

This small group of US service members met with Russian troops after crossing the Elbe, near Magdeburg. "You cannot imagine the reception we received. I mean, they hugged us, they kissed us, they carried us around," Cohn, who was 19 at the time, recalled.

This was the first time he ever tried vodka, "I had some cigarettes and I was able to reciprocate," the veteran said. He added that American and Soviet troops invited each other to come over after the war.

In 2005 and 2010, Frank Cohn visited Moscow to attend Victory Day celebrations at the Russian government’s invitation. In 2010, he was awarded the Medal "65 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War," and in 2015, he was invited to the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the meeting on the Elbe. In 2020, Russian diplomats presented the Medal "For Strengthening Military Cooperation" to the American veteran.

The meeting between Soviet and American forces took place on the Elbe River on April 25, 1945, as units of the First US Army and the Soviet First Ukrainian Front linked up near the German town of Torgau.


-News Feed

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Local Glob: US veteran calls Washington’s decision to drop Elbe Day celebrations with Russia ‘dumb’
US veteran calls Washington’s decision to drop Elbe Day celebrations with Russia ‘dumb’
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