Czechs Celebrate 1945--and Freedom to Celebrate
Thousands of Czechoslovaks joined U.S. veterans Saturday for a sun-kissed streetfest in the first celebration ever of the liberation of this beer-brewing city by American troops in World War II.
Pubs were turned into imitations of Wild West saloons and youths with U.S. Army paraphernalia rode the streets on vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles inherited from their parents.
Up to 150,000 visitors are expected to descend on Pilsen, a city of 130,000, today, including President Vaclav Havel and U.S. Ambassador Shirley Temple Black.
Gen. George C. Patton’s 3rd Army liberated Pilsen on May 6, 1945, just three days before World War II ended in Prague.
By agreement with the Soviets, American troops came to a halt at a demarcation line cutting southwest through Czechoslovak territory, leaving the Red Army to conquer the capital.
The Communists barred any commemoration of the U.S. liberation of about 3,600 square miles of Czechoslovak territory and marked May 5 as a day of liberation by Soviet troops.
Six months after Czechoslovakia’s peaceful revolution in December, however, the atmosphere in this grim industrial city had changed remarkably.
American flags adorned the former bastions of Communist officials, and scores of U.S. veterans were in town for the celebration. Tens of thousands of people turned out Saturday morning to see the ceremonial inauguration of a monument to the 2nd Infantry Division on Pilsen’s downtown Republic Square.
Those who lived long enough to see the return of Patton’s men still remember the postwar atmosphere.
“It felt so right that our town was freed from the Nazis by a Western army,” Frantisek Kotva, a pensioner, mused over a mug of the city’s famous beer. “We all loved the GIs, but then we had to forget about them for a long time,” he said.