Last night a girl from Buffalo New York stood in Red Square, Moscow, Russia and watched the practice for the 2010 Victory Day Celebration. This year is a HUGE year for Russian World War II veterans (and indeed all WWII vets) as it’s the 65th Anniversary of the defeat of the Axis powers and the end of the war.
My husband came home and said we had a lucky opportunity to go view a practice of the Red Square ceremony last night, if we were willing to find our way around the shut-down streets and through the crowds lining the roads to see the practice. I couldn’t believe it and still am amazed that we got there and witnessed something that until now has only been a small blip on the news for me, with the famous shot of the Kremlin on Victory Day.
I’ll save you the devastating history lesson on WWII in Russia–it’s one I study almost daily as I research story ideas. You can find summaries of dates, battles, lives lost and other historical facts readily enough. But you won’t find what I’ve had the privilege of witnessing on the faces of the many Russian WWII vets I’ve had the honor to meet during our posting in Moscow. Whenever one of the veterans holds my hand and tells me a bit of their particular story, I feel as though I’m talking to someone from my family. Any boundaries of country or nationality drop when the discussion of WWII comes up, for we are all human and utterly vulnerable when it comes to war. In the Russian veteran faces I see strength, love of homeland, sorrow, and resilience. Just as with our own generation of WWII vets in the States, these vets saw and did deeds that the vast majority of us will only know snippets of from film and television. Thanks to their sacrifices you and I have lived to see this generation enjoy the greatest life has to offer.
As I sat and watched the thousands of troops marching, I marveled when I saw the US contingent stride by, along with other Russian WWII allies. When I was doing air raid drills in 2nd grade against the outside hallways of my school I never could have imagined I’d not only see Red Square in person, I’d live in Russia as a military spouse. So many emotions flooded through me as I listened to the incredible orchestra play the most complicated pieces, yet all in unison across the expanse of the square. The years I served during the Cold War. Our grandparents and parents who fought and/or lived through the war. The suffering of so many on all sides during WWII. The tireless diplomats who’ve worked to make sure this Yankee can indeed sit in Red Square in 2010. Then the recognition of Russia’s rich, at times incomprehensible history. All of the Tsars and Tsarinas. The peasants who provided merchants with food and cloth. The many centuries of people who’ve walked across Red Square, day or night, in all seasons, all states of being that a country endures–war, peace, uncertainty, victory.
I’m here because of my husband’s job but I am a writer and I see Moscow and Russia with my writer’s eyes and writer’s soul. I am so grateful to be able to absorb what I’m learning about Russia and her people not just through the television or a book. I’m living it, with each trip on the Metro, each walk through a wonderful museum, each taste of a pemeni or borscht. Last night I realized what a blessed Yankee I am.