View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 27, 1994
                           The Rose Garden   

3:26 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Yeltsin, Mrs. Yeltsin, members of the Russian and American delegations. We say a special word of welcome to the Red Star Red Army Band that has come all the way from Russia to be with our Marine Band today. (Applause.) To the members of Congress who are here, honored veterans, distinguished guests: We welcome you all to the White House.

We gather to celebrate the bonds between the Russian people and the American people forged during World War II. And we gather to pledge that the opportunity we lost five decades ago to build a better world will not be lost again.

A half century ago, half a world away, brave men and women from our nations fought as allies for a common cause and an uncommon sacrifice. In April, 1945, as the greatest war of this century drew to a close, they embraced on the banks of the Elbe River. Their meeting held the promise not only of the war's end, but also of an enduring peace that sadly was deferred for decades. Today, we honor the Russian and American veterans who risked their lives -- and sometimes gave their lives -- to defeat that tyranny.

We are deeply honored to have some of those veterans here with us at the White House. Theirs was a partnership on land, air and sea, but also in heart, mind and spirit.

To our children, their stories sound like the stuff of novels and movies; but they are real. Some American heroes helped win the war not by fighting on the front lines, but by ferrying tons of supplies to Russia; everything from boots to locomotives. It was very dangerous work. Fifty years ago this week, the Liberty Ship, SS Edward H. Crockett, carrying 68 members of the Merchant Marine and the Naval Armed Guard, left the Russian Port of Archangel to return home. Fifty years ago to the day on Thursday, it was torpedoed by the enemy and sank in the icy Barents Sea. Miraculously, most of the crew survived. Six of those survivors are here with us today, and we welcome them. (Applause.)

In the deserts of Iran, thousands of American soldiers delivered gasoline and munitions to Russian units. Many, like Robert Patterson drove in heat so intense that the steering wheels of their trucks burned their bare hands. And American nurses, like Anna Connelly Wilson, tended to the wounded in primitive field hospitals with no blankets or running water.

In 1944, Joseph Beyrle parachuted into France with the 101st Airborne Division only to be captured and taken to a prison camp in Germany. But he escaped, joined advancing Russian troops, and fought as a member of a Russian army unit as it drove toward Berlin.

While manning a Russian tank gun, Joseph Beyrle was wounded, but Russian doctors saved his life. I'm especially grateful to them because Joseph survived the war and went on to have a son. His son, John Beyrle, works here at the White House as one of my advisors on Russian affairs.

I'd like to ask them both to stand and be recognized here -- the Beyrles. Thank you, Mr. Beyrle, thank you. (Applause.)

We're also joined today by Russian veterans of the war, including Alexsandr Olshansky. Then a young corporal, he was one of the Russians who went, who met American troops at the Elbe River. Now, he is a Major General in the Russian army. In a few minutes, I will be honored to present to Major General Olshansky -- as the Russian veterans' representative -- a medal commemorating our wartime partnership.

Let us now pause for a moment to applaud all the Russian and American veterans of World War II who are here today. (Applause.) Each of their stories, in different ways, teaches the same lesson. Once before, Russians and Americans shared a just cause and prevailed. Today we are partners in peace, not war. Now we have a responsibility to work together for our own good and for the good of the world beyond our borders.

Two men symbolize the renewed bond between Russians and Americans: Ambassador Malcolm Toon and General Dimitri Volkogonov. World War II veterans both, they are the cochairmen of the U.S.- Russian Joint Commission on POWs/MIAs. They spent the last two and one half years on a mission to account for U.S. servicemen missing from the Second World War, the Cold War and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam and for Russian soldiers missing in Afghanistan.

President Yeltsin, you first proposed this commission. It has become an important part of our bilateral relationship. The recent repatriation of the remains of U.S. Air Force Captain John Dunham is an example of your commitment to this commission's work.

Our feelings today are perhaps best expressed by the great Russian poet Yevtushenko. He wrote with great emotion in words that many Russian citizens know by heart: "We remember those who joined us in battle. Who embraced us at the Elbe River. And we are faithful to this memory."

To the veterans of our two great nations, we say thank you for the inspiration of your example. We will learn from it, from your courage and your sacrifice. And we vow, finally, to redeem the promise of that embrace at the Elbe.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT YELTSIN: Dear World War II veterans; Dear Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen: It is with special trepidation and a special feeling that I come to this meeting. And now that I've heard the statement by President Clinton, I'm sure he shares these sentiments.

Almost half a century has passed since the day of the great victory. It was a terrible price that had to be paid for this victory. Millions of our compatriots have not come back from the war. And forever -- the V-Day -- the victory day, shall remain, as the great Russian song says, "a holiday with tears in your eyes."

Then, in that fight with the common enemy, our countries pursued the same goal. And the soldiers of the victory fought for the same cause on the fronts extending from the Polish circle to North Africa; from the Arctic ice to the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

Both the history and the people keep in their memory our joint military operations which got us to the victorious May of 1945. Those were the shuttle bombing raids by American fliers who bombed the Nazi positions, and whose aircraft refueled in Poltava. Those were the Northern Sea convoy whose international crews delivered assistance to Russia under the Lend-Lease Agreement.

One of the American sailors who then helped our country, Charles Daniel Shaffer, will be awarded today the Jubilee Medal for the victory in the great patriotic war.

There were many such examples of combat camaraderie. And it is you, the veterans, that have preserved this feeling of friendship between our two peoples and have kept it despite the ideological confrontation and the mistrust of the recent post-war years. And it is by your personal example that you have proved that, at sharpest turns of history, Russia and America should be together.

As the President of Russia, I want to address the veteran compatriots who are present here and who have found a second home on American soil. (Applause.)

Many of you suffered terrible injustice when you went abroad. And I am referring while those people are from whom they are -- second war decorations were taken away. And I really feel shamed and pained to recall this disgrace. The other day I made a decision to establish a special commission which would address this issue and resolve it in a fair manner. The decorations, the war decorations will be returned. (Applause.)

And I also know that, no matter what, your links with our home have never been severed. I also know about your sincere feeling of involvement in the events which are taking place in the Russia of today. And the new Russia does not distinguish between ours and theirs -- wherever the veterans reside -- either in Russia, in the "near abroad," or in the farthest abroad.

Dear friends: Today, President Clinton and I can tell you, can tell the veterans of Russia and America that our countries are constructing fundamentally new relations of partnership which are worthy of the great peoples, worthy of the great, heroic deed accomplished by you in the war years. And I believe that Russia and America will do everything in their power so that our children, the succeeding generations, will never suffer what befell your lot. (Applause.) I wish to all of you a decent and long life and a lot of well-being. Thank you.

Let me also tell you that at the Elbe, one of our photographers made a rare picture which has somehow gone -- those are the Americans, those are the Russians. I would suggest that President Clinton and I affix the signatures to the two copies of these pictures and that we give each of the copies to American and Russian veterans.

Who should I give it to?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: To the ones we honor.

PRESIDENT YELTSIN: To the chairman of the commissions?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: General, designate someone to come up here and receive this here -- come along -- that's good.

END3:50 P.M. EDT