THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY LT. GENERAL CLAUDE KICKLIGHTER, USA (RET.); BRIGADIER GENERAL JACK MOUNTCASTLE, USA; COLONEL JOHN SULLIVAN, USA; LT. GENERAL ORWIN TALBOTT, USA (RET); MR. WOODROW CROCKETT AND MR. KEN BARGMANN
The Briefing Room
11:05 A.M. EDT
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: It's good to be back with you again. As you know, we had the opportunity to come over and talk to you as we prepared to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day. And now as we prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, we'd like to talk to you a little bit about what's going to happen as we move through this commemorative period. And as we do that, we'd like to set the stage as we begin this morning to have one of our historians come up and outline for you, kind of very quickly give you a review of the war that took place in Europe, and then bring you to Europe 50 years ago as V-E Day and the war came to an end, to kind of give you the background. And after he completes that 12 or 13-minute overview of what the world looked like 50 years ago, then we'd like to show you some film clippings to give you a little bit more feel of what was happening in Europe and throughout the world 50 years ago.
After we complete that, I'd like to introduce to you three people that helped make that history. We have three veterans with us this morning that lived through that war in Europe and they'll get up and share with you just a little bit about what they were doing as they fought the war in Europe and what they were doing when V-E Day occurred and what their thoughts were and where they were positioned at that point in time.
When they finish that, then we'd like to walk you through the events that are going to happen here in Washington during V-E Day as we commemorate that here in Washington. And then we'd like to walk you through the events that will be taking place in Europe, most of which we're invited to be spectators, along with other nations and heads of state. And we'll quickly walk you through that, hoping that we'll have about 15 or 20 minutes at the end of that so we'll take your questions.
In the event that we run out of time or we don't answer all the questions that you've asked us, we'll be glad to stay behind and answer questions individually, or we'll be glad to provide you any information that we might not have at hand. But we want to do everything we can to put in your hands the information that you'd like to have as we go into this commemorative period, V-E Day, the end of the war in Europe.
Before I introduce our first briefer I'd like to introduce Ed Murolda (ph) who is the historian for the Navy and Marine Corps. And Ed will be here to talk about the role the Navy played in the war in Europe and any questions you might have there.
Also we have Mr. Herman Walk (ph) from the Air Force. Herman will answer questions surrounding what the Air Force was doing. And then we have Brigadier General Jack Mountcastle who is the chief -- military history for the Army. And he will be our briefer as we begin this morning.
GENERAL MOUNTCASTLE: Thank you, sir, and thank you for the opportunity to join you this morning, ladies and gentlemen. The final year of this cataclysmic occasion that we now call World War II -- 15 million battle deaths, probably more than 38 million civilian casualties -- was going to be a year full of promise. A New Year Day dawned on the 1st of January, '45; there were any number of people who could look forward to what they hoped would be the last great struggle in Europe.
But this victory was not going to be secured easily. Hundreds of thousands are going to die, be wounded or displaced. Others simply vanish in the terrific confusion that characterized battle and its aftermath in Central Europe. The 1,000-year Reich promised by Adolf Hitler would end on May 8, 1945.
Now, this large map to my right is representation of one of the maps in the little packet that you'll find on the right side of your folder. There are five maps in a little script that we have put together at the Army Center of Military History, and I'll refer to those from time to time. But on the map that you have in your packet even more clearly than this, you'll note the color-coded tightening of the ring from west and east. The British, Americans, and French allies attacking from the west, through France and the low countries toward the barrier of the Rhine River, bouncing off of the German surprise attacks in the Ardennes in mid-December. And then, of course, great swatches of red in the east as the Soviet forces -- Russia and her allies -- attacked German strongholds along the eastern front, moving westward. Always westward towards Berlin, and then to what would later become known, obviously, as the Deutch Democratic Republic after World War II.
An urgent request from the Western allies in the midst of their Ardennes fight helped to launch a Soviet winter offensive earlier than planned. And it was begun on 15 January. On January 15, Russian forces, millions of men moved in the direction of Warsaw in an attempt to crush German forces from East Prussia all the way to the Carpathians. There was considerable dialogue leading up to the conference in Yalta that took place in February 1945, that began to describe the limits of advance, east and west, between the Soviet-led forces in the east and the Western allies, moving as they were in the direction of Berlin.
There was cooperation between east and west -- not only the lend-lease cooperation that we provided in the form of equipment, but also allied air attacks requested by the Soviets, conducted by the British and Americans -- air attacks on largely population centers as it turned out to attack civilian morale. You are, of course, familiar with the raids on places like Berlin, Munich, Leipzig, and of course, Dresden, in the early days of 1945.
The Soviets fought battles of tremendous ferocity. In doing so, they succeeded in destroying German forces in Pomerania and drove the remnants of those German forces across the Oder. If those of you that are looking at your maps -- Map 2 would demonstrate the tremendous depth of the Soviet attacks as they drove westward.
The divisions of the Russian 3rd Byelorussian front -- and a front was nearly a million men -- pounded their way into the German stronghold of Konigsberg and smashed the northern flank of the German defenders along the Baltic. Further south, the Red Army cleared -- and surrounded the fortress city of Breslau which managed to hold out a bit longer, but eventually fell itself. And in Bohemia, the fourth Ukrainian front had enormous difficulty pushing back the German army group's center, but nevertheless, finally succeeded despite very, very stiff German defenses because, in fact, the Germans felt that that would be the area of the Russian key offensive.
While this bitter fighting was taking place throughout February, March and April in the east, in the west General Eisenhower pushed his field commanders -- Field Marshal Montgomery in the north with largely British forces, assisted by some Americans; and General Bradley in the center; French forces to the south -- to press on, press on toward the Rhine, looking for a chance to leap that great water barrier.
The chance came, finally, on March 7th through a fluke of good fortune. A bridge -- the Ludendorf bridge at the old river town of Remagen -- rigged for explosives, failed to actually destroy the bridge on March 7th when German engineers attempted to. And the heroic actions of a platoon of American infantry, a small group of 40 men under the leadership of Lt. Carl Timmerman raced across the bridge, pulling the wires as they ran that led to the explosives, and captured the far end of the bridge. Soon thereafter, other troops of the 9th Army Division crossed rapidly to set up a bridge head on the far side.
Within the next several weeks, additional crossing would be made across the Rhine -- Patton's Third Army crossing vicinity of Oppenheim on the night of 22nd to the 23rd of March, and then to the North of Remagen Field Marshal Montgomery's forces, assisted by the U.S. 9th Army would seize crossings. And, in addition, we would conduct the last great airborne operation in Europe -- Operation Varsity -- involving all three divisions of the 18th Airborne Corps and the British 6th Airborne Division.
In fact, on the 24th of March, over 21,000 paratroopers and glidermen crossed the Rhine near Wesel and seized the ground to the east of the Rhine River. Once again, rapidly followed by engineers laying in bridge work so that the heavy forces could follow across.
General Eisenhower, looking at the success of those Rhine crossings, made a significant change in his plans for the attack on Germany in March. Rather than press forward along the straightest distance the north German and the German capital of Berlin -- an area that afforded the German defenders quite a few defendable river courses and some constrictive maneuver, General Eisenhower determined to take advantage, full advantage of the crossings and shifted his primary attack with most of its supplies, most of its artillery and air support to the central German plain,the area that is depicted on Map 3 in your packet.
And if you'll look at Map 3, you can see the attack arrows moving from west to east from the vicinity of the Rhine Valley in the direction of German central cities -- Leipzig, Magdeburg, Wurzburg, Frankfurt, Nuremberg. And advanced by Bradley in the center, Eisenhower concluded, would be expected to link up more quickly with the Soviet forces then driving westward. If Leipzig, a major manufacturing center, not yet knocked out by air bombardment, could be captured, then German war manufacturing efforts could be dealt a very serious blow.
Finally, the terrain favored the attack. There was open, rolling terrain through the central German plain and the armored forces of the British, French and AMericans could take full advantage of that.
Another influence on his decision at the time came through intelligence reports that diehard Nazi forces may attempt to set up what was known as a national readout in the Alpine passes of Northern Italy, Austria and Southern Germany. If, in fact, this proved to be true, this could represent quite a bit of problem for the allies as they drove eastward. However, if you put sufficient forces in the central part of Germany, he could respond effectively to such an occasion should it come about.
By April 1, fighting through this region, the U.S. 89th Army in the north, and the U.S. 1st Army under Courtney Hodges to the south, had snapped the pinches closed around 400,000 German troops that were surrendered after their defense of the Ruhr Pocket, as it came to be called. And so in the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany, by the 1st of April, great numbers of defenders were out of the war.
Throughout April, American GIs and their British counterparts met varying degrees of resistance as they drove east; tough fighting for the most part. Cities like Kassel, Hameln, Nuremberg, Witzberg. But in other cases, a stroke of luck. Magdeburg, for instance, fell in only two days to the 2nd Armored Division and our 30th Infantry.
Finally, toward the end of April, after enduring colossal attacks, fire attacks by over a thousand German anti- aircraft guns that were leveled and firing as artillery directly at the American troops attacking them, the 2nd Armored Division and the 69th Infantry Division secured the city of Leipzig. And soon thereafter, on April 25, troops of the American 69th Infantry Division shook hands with Soviet troops in the little town of Torgau on the Elbe River. This led up to the final act in this great campaign in Central Europe, the campaign for Berlin -- Map 4.
The battle of Berlin was, in essence, the closing act of the war in Europe. Although the city had been softened for over a year by allied air attacks, the Soviets considered the starting date of the battle to be April 16, because that's when they put three Army fronts, nearly two million men, in motion toward Berlin -- 41,000 artillery pieces, over 6,000 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces, 7,000 aircraft attacked the German defenders of Berlin.
Even at this stage of the war Berlin meant so much to the German defenders that, war-weary they may be, the Germans scraped together nearly a million defenders of Berlin and its area, surrounding area, over 10,000 artillery pieces, and somehow, nearly 3,000 aircraft.
Russian General Marshal Zhukov -- Georgi Zhukov -- led the main Soviet attack against the city itself, as commander of the 1st Byelorussian front. He launched his attacks at night with powerful search lights shooting their beams into the eyes of the German defenders. There were heavy casualties on both sides. The desperate Germans employed members of the Hitler Youth, factory workers and elderly men in the last-ditch defense of Berlin. Equipped with hand-held anti-tank rockets, the 13-to-15-year-olds and their comrades destroyed a significant number of Soviet tanks.
The Soviets responded to this German resistance with concentrated artillery fire fired in volleys into the city. By April 25, the city had been completely surrounded on all sides by Russian troops. On April 30. the Reichstag was stormed by Soviet troops and captured, and then Hitler took his life.
Overall, the Soviets captured some 480,000 German troops, inflicted over one million casualties, and suffered over 300,000 casualties of their own in this campaign.
After Hitler's death German forces in the field began to surrender in fairly rapid succession. All German troops in Northern Italy surrendered on May 2, 1945, the same day that Berlin finally fell -- the last holdouts. In Europe, Admiral Doenitz, Karl Doenitz, of the German Navy, assumed control of German after Hitler committed suicide and attempted to prolong the inevitable by suggesting to the Western allies that Germany conclude a separate peace with the British, French and Americans, thereby holding off what he, I think, he felt certain to come, a unconditional surrender to the allies in toto. They were unsuccessful in this. General Eisenhower rejected that attempt, and in fact, remained very firm on unconditional surrender.
And so, early on the morning of May 7th, a German General, Jodl, signed a surrender agreement with U.S., British, French and Soviet representatives at Rheims in France, cease-fire to be effective the following day, May 8th. The treaty was ratified at Soviet headquarters at Berlin just before midnight on May 8th.
This surrender was supposed to be kept secret. Confusion, though, at allied headquarters resulted in the news being broken by AP Bureau Chief Edward Kennedy traveling with the U.S. forces in the West, and soon, the word had spread throughout the Western world.
And what was the meaning of this V-E Day, this 8 May? Well, it was different to different people. In England, the victory celebration erupted spontaneously. Churchill gave the official broadcast, and then British Army buglers sounded the bugle call for cease-firing. People left their jobs in the factories, took the streets, flocked to streets and parks, and soon had a massive traffic jam in London.
In Paris, the Parisians were not certain that this was on the level. In fact, it might just be another rumor. Once the rumor was confirmed, however, Paris broke out in wild celebration. In fact, an eyewitness account remembers best the fact that they turned the fountains back on in Paris. They had not been running for some time. Soon, large formations of allied aircraft buzzed the Champs Elysee.
Q This is 5/8 still?
GENERAL MOUNTCASTLE: That's correct. May the 8th. In the United States, half a million people crammed into New York's Times Square chanting, "It's over. It's over." In fact, in Washington -- more subdued day. Federal employees worked throughout the day and President Truman, in his radio speech that night, reminded Americans that if I could give you a single watch word for the coming months, that word is "work." "Work and more work. We must work to finish this war because our victory is only half done."
Indeed, there was a lot of truth to what the President said because in the Pacific, even as this final act took place in Europe, there was tremendous battle raging in Okinawa. Your final map in our little packet, Map 5, would show you what the Pacific areas looked like in 1945. You may recall that Ernie Pyle the most popular of all war correspondents had just been killed in the battle at Okinawa. Offshore, U.S. ships supporting the Okinawa fighting were being subjected to deadly attacks by Japanese kamikaze aircraft, and vicious fighting was still taking place in the Philippines.
While all this was going on, American war planners were preparing for what promised to be the most costly campaign of the war -- the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
While most celebrations occurred in the West on May 8th, the Soviet celebration in Moscow did not occur until May 10th for some German forces in the east had not been told and were still fighting. When word of surrender finally reached the Soviet capital, however, Muscovites began streaming into the streets without any official sanction and no encouragement from the officials. They formed huge crowds in front of the U.S. and British embassies. And that evening, the Soviet Union marked the end of the great patriotic war with 30 artillery volleys fired by 1,000 guns.
Of course, in Berlin there were no celebrations. The last message sent by Trans-Ocean was in French, and it said simply, "Sauve qui peut" -- "Let those who are able, save themselves." Thousands of Berliners heeded this advice and funneled out of Berlin across the bridges leading westward. Others huddled in the basements of their shell-pocked, bombed-out buildings.
The fighting in Europe certainly had not fizzled out after the great Battle of the Bulge in December '44. In the five months leading to Hitler's defeat, the Western allies suffered more than 260,00 battle casualties. Soviet losses were astronomical -- over a million with half of a million of those killed in action. In fact, in the final analysis, it was the Soviet soldiers that bore the great brunt in numbers of the casualties in Europe. The Germans lost more than 750,000 killed, and another -- more than a million wounded in the final battles of the war in Europe.
The total of human life, of course, in Europe was tremendous. Remember, the Germans had tried over the last four years to completely alter the demographics of Europe. Millions had been slaughtered in the process and uprooted. Enormous numbers of displaced persons had to be moved after the war in the immediate aftermath of V-E Day. Many Eastern Europeans had fled the fighting in that area and now were homeless. An estimated 11 million displaced persons thronged the areas of Western force occupation. Thousands of concentration camp victims had to be relocated and many of them, terribly weakened from the ordeal in the camps, would die in the process.
So, in short and in conclusion, while the fighting stopped in Europe on May 8th, the suffering would continue for years to come.
(A film is shown.)
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Before we introduce our veterans, we've talked about those who recorded history. We're going to now let you talk to those who made history 50 years ago. Before we do that, though, we'd like to show you one very short film clip of President -- or General Eisenhower at the time -- comments about who the heroes of that war were.
(Film is shown.)
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Now, it's a great privilege for me to introduce to you three of those heroes that helped win that war. And they're going to talk to you a little bit about what they did in Europe and where they were when V-E Day occurred.
First is Ken Bargmann. Ken Bargmann was a 20-year-old Ranger who scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. And two days after he'd been on those cliffs, in a counterattack he was taken prisoner of war. With that, I'd like to introduce Ken Bargmann.
MR. BARGMANN: Good morning. After I was captured -- I made the assault on Pointe du Hoc on the cliffs -- I was a member of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. After I was captured I was confined to Camp 3-C. You heard General Mountcastle talk about the Russian offensive, and I was on the Oder River just 90 miles east of Berlin and 90 miles south of Stettin on the Baltic.
The Russian offensive in spring of '45 released me. We had to walk from Aldruitz (ph), which is the German name of the town near our camp, to Wutz, Poland (ph), which is about 120 miles. And from there, we were taken to Warsaw. And incidentally, I should tell you that the stories that you may have heard about women in combat were true with the Russians; there were numerous women in combat. In fact, the relief brigade that freed us was a tank battalion commanded by a woman.
Having reached Warsaw, we went under direct control of the Russians. That's the first time we were taken care of. We went out through Odessa, Russia, eventually, and I was returned to American control in Naples, Italy. And from Naples, I came back to the States where I was hospitalized over here at Fort Myer for treatment of wounds. And I was discharged from the hospital on an out-patient basis approximately one -- as memory serves me -- approximately one week before V-E Day.
I was assigned then to the 3rd Infantry at the Cemetery. And on V-E Day, as General Mountcastle said, this very subdued here in Washington -- the celebration really didn't take place until the evening of May 8. Parenthetically, I should say that I am a native Washingtonian. I was born here; my family has lived here and I have lived here all my life. So that I was visiting my family that day when we got the news, and that evening, on my way back to Fort Myer, I came into Washington, and that's when the real celebration started here. And I didn't get back to Fort Myer for quite some time. (Laughter.)
But my thoughts regarding V-E Day: It relieved me in the sense that I had a guilt complex because I had been captured. I shouldn't have -- my idea was I shouldn't be captured, but I was. I debated seriously about going to the Pacific. I had been asked to go to the Pacific. With the advent of V-E Day -- I don't know whether this was a conscious policy of the military, or not, but I was advised that I wouldn't need to go to the Pacific. So, in essence, V-E Day made up my mind for me. So I didn't have to go to the Pacific. Obviously, I was relieved. I didn't care to go through that again. That's basically my opinion here.
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Next I'd like to introduce Colonel Woody Crockett. Colonel Woody Crockett started his career as a young cannoneer in a field artillery battalion and he was selected to go to flight candidate school and became a Tuskeegee Airman. And if you flew 50 combat missions you were eligible to come home, and he has got just a wonderful story.
Colonel Crockett, please.
COLONEL CROCKETT: I spent two years in the 349th Field Artillery at Fort -- Oklahoma. I must say that was the blacks' first field artillery in the regular Army, from 1940-'42. Due to economic reasons -- all black outfit -- white officers, a lieutenant's pay was $125 a month, and a private's pay was $21 a month. The Army Air Corps put up a sign in the room that said be a pilot bombardier or navigator and earn $245 per month. Ladies and gentlemen, that got my attention.
I applied for the aviation program, was accepted, went to Tuskeegee. I didn't know about the big fight they had that blacks could not get in the Army Aviation Corps. They finally agreed to have one squadron, the 99th Pursuit Squadron that you hear a lot of. A student, Yancy Williams, that attended Howard University, sued the War Department to allow blacks to get into the Army Aviation Corps.
We only wanted an opportunity to show what we could do. We could do anything that anyone else could do. I was in the 12th class. All the blacks attended school at Tuskeegee. The airfield was just about nine miles from Tuskeegee Institute. The primary phase was with black instructors, and then we went back to the air base for basic and advanced training.
They graduated over 900 black pilots from that school. I'm number 79. I was in the class 43-C, the 12th class. -- four of the cadets were in the 1st class; graduated on the 7th of March 1942. We trained in Tuskeegee, but most of the training was done at -- Field. The 99th went to North Africa the month after I finished flying school, which was in March 19943. They left in April and went to North Africa. Weren't received very well by a unit. They switched units and they did well.
The 332nd trained during the entire year of 1943 in -- Michigan, flying the P-40, P-39, used the P-47 Thunderbolt for high altitude target work. Arrived in Naples in late January. I'd expected to spend 30 days in orientation and then to come back, but the relieving unit could not go home until they checked us out. The fourth day after I got off the boat I flew my first mission.
As the General said, 50 missions was a tour of duty. In four months I flew 107 missions in Naples in a P-39. We knew the Tuskeegee Airmen was an experiment and we were going to make it work. We continued to fly.
The best thing that happened to us was that the 15th Air Force, General -- needed long-range escort to protect his 15th Air Force bombers, the B-24s and B-17s. German fighters were having a field day on the 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force because our fighters had insufficient range to accompany the bombers to the target. So the P-51s solved that problem because it had 275-gallon external tanks. And that was my dream airplane. We were known as the Red Tails. Everyone had distinctive tail markings.
Accomplishments by the 332nd -- the 99th finally joined us in July 1944, and we made a first squadron group. Normally, you only had three squadrons in the group. Things that we accomplished: The 99th shot down about 16 airplanes over Anzio in a few days just before we arrived. We also sank or destroyed flying the P-47 in Triesta Harbor with machine gun fire only. We also strafed the radar sites in Southern France, I think it was on the 12th of August, supposedly two days before General Patton invaded Southern France with the 7th Army.
The theory was that we could damage the radar sites, the General Patton could go aboard with many less casualties. We lost six pilots on that mission, but we think it was very successful.
Also, we escorted the bombers on the 24th of March. And I heard some mention of that a minute ago. We escorted the bombers, B-17s, to Berlin. General -- Commander General of the 15th Air Force, wanted to let everyone know that he could hit Berlin from the south. We picked up the bombers 600 miles from base, escorted them to Berlin. One of the units to relieve us was late arriving. We had reequipped the airplanes from 110-gallon external tanks to 110-gallon tanks (?) so we had lots of fuel. We shot down three ME-262s over Berlin flying Mustangs when the German twin-engine jet 262 had 125, or 50-mile speed advantage on us.
After spending an extra 30 minutes over Berlin we retired and came all the way back, 800 miles, back to Italy. The group contributed 1,578 missions. We flew 15,553 sorties -- that's one pilot, one aircraft flying a combat mission. So that was our contribution, I think, to the war effort.
Where was I on V-E Day? I was on the high seas. I ended up flying 149 missions. The squadron commander finally let me come home, and the thing that I remember is looking at the map. If you kept up with the news, you could see that Germany had North Africa, all of Europe under their control to see that whole thing shrink, and on V-E Day, why, it went to nothing. That I remember most about V-E Day. I was on the high seas and came back stateside.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Our next veteran, Lt. Gen. Orwin Talbott, was a young captain off the coast of Normandy -- to the land when his ship was sunk out from under him. And with that, I'll let him pick up the story and tell us what he did and where he was.
GENERAL TALBOTT: First, I'd like to say its a privilege to appear on a platform with Colonel Crockett, a distinguished representative of the Tuskeegee Airmen. So it's a privilege to be with you.
The boat that General Kicklighter refers to U.S.S. Susan B. Anthony, had disappeared like the Susan B. Anthony dollar. (Laughter.) It hit a mine. I live in Annapolis, and being a soldier in Annapolis is an interesting experience sometimes. The Navy tries to give me a hard time, and actually, they are marvelous to us. But, so, I get teased, you know. I say the U.S. Navy got me halfway across the Channel because His Majesty's Royal Navy took me the rest of the way. I got off on a British destroyer. I was an ancient 25- year-old company commander -- rifle company commander at the time. We were part of the invasion force for Utah Beach. And, of course, arrived late as a result, but when through the -- in terms of our campaign, the bloodiest campaign of our -- in terms of losses of our people, the Normandy campaign through the breakout. And immediately joined Patton's army and stayed for the rest of the war which became operational at noon on the 1st day of August, '44
And when -- what we called -- gap was closed, Patton and Montgomery's forces made a pincher and captured the bulk of the German 7th Army with my battalion --I was the number two man in this battalion at the time -- contacted the Polish armored forces at the actual closing of the north and south where I was not personally present. I was in the hospital at the time collecting another Purple Heart.
And we went on past France up to the German border through the Bulge. We got into the Bulge late, not until the 9th of January. By this time, I was a battalion commander, and I recall vividly when we finally closed the Bulge and came back to where the jeeps were, the 106th Division. That was the outfit that was hit first and badly shattered and left the jeeps there inside of the Seigfried line.
That one started a chase across Germany. The German forces really just melted away almost -- scattered resistance everywhere but no solid resistance anywhere in terms of our experience. We went up north of the Moselle to near Cologne, turned south across the Moselle, went down around -- and captured Mainz. Had been told for months and months the Mainz was going to be another landing as tough as Normandy invasion. The Navy, because it was a large river had landing sea-type, landing craft to cross the Rhine with, etc. They hardly get there in time, and we could see ourselves biting bullets as we crossed the Rhine. My division went behind the 5th Division 24 hours after it crossed and I had led my battalion with the -- trucks behind. The first troops of the battalion. It was that easy at that moment. But, of course, there was a lot of fighting on the other side.
We headed northeast from there, going near Frankfurt, up across what later became the East German border and then went parallel to the border towards Czechoslovakia for many weeks. I thought I was going to be the first man to cross Germany in the war because we were right at that tiny strip that sticks out of Czechoslovakia, but because was concerned about the collision with the Russians, didn't want any accidental runnings in, he halted us on a line of autobahn that ran from Munich to Berlin about 10 miles short.
After staying there a day or two, we moved south along the Czechoslovakian border, but in Germany, and then started back towards the border of Czechoslovakia when the German 11th Panzer Division contacted the American troops and asked to surrender as a unit. What they really were doing is surrendering to us rather than being captured by the Russians that were coming up fast on the other side, but that was sent up the line through General Patton who approved it. And my battalion took half the division's surrender, and another battalion took the other half -- and an interesting experience, some 15,000 troops with the tanks and everything else coming in under German control.
And, finally, V-E Day came around. At this time, my command post was at a little isolated farmhouse in Czechoslovakia. No men around -- a lady, I suppose she was about 50 or so, was the farm lady there, and I tried to tell her when we got the word that this was V-E Day. Well, her English and my poor French, she couldn't understand. I spoke absolutely no Czech, practically no German. But, finally, I came up with "Der Krieg is kaput." (Applause.) And with that, she leaped across the room with a huge smile, grabbed me around the neck and gave me a big kiss to the huge laughter of all my troops standing around there. She got the idea immediately because it was such a joyous occasion.
That's it. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
GENERAL TALBOTT: The last item on the agenda is to quickly walk you through the events that are going to take place here in Washington, and also the national events that are going to take place in Europe. In addition, in the events that you will see, there are hundreds of events taking place in American communities around America and are also, at least, 36 events where we're supporting groups of our veterans going back to Europe which you will not see, but it's in your folder.
With that, I'd like to hand off to Colonel John Sullivan who is our director of operations. Colonel Sullivan.
COLONEL SULLIVAN: Thank you, sir. Michael, if I could have that first chart there, please. This shows Washington, D.C., and I'd just like to emphasize if I may, like General Kicklighter said, there are over 6,000 commemorative communities throughout the United States right now and many of these communities are having events on the 8th of May. But let me talk about Washington, D.C. on the first chart, and then I'll talk about --
Q Sir, what do you mean by commemorative community?
COLONEL SULLIVAN: They are local organizations, or cities or states who have agreed to host three events in honor of the veterans of the 50th anniversary. And there's over 6,000 -- and it's growing every day. But let me talk about what's going to happen in Washington on the 8th of May. You see here at 7:30 in the morning, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense will host a ceremony where the President will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. It's a private, reflective moment for the President. He'll have just a small handful of veterans representing each of the services. It will last about 30 minutes.
And then at 9:00 in the morning, you can see the Holocaust Memorial Museum. We'll have an event, and the Secretary of Defense, along with other folks, will be speakers there at that event. Then at 11:00 in the morning, at Ft. Myers, on Summerall Field, we'll have a full honor ceremony with -- all the services will be represented, and it will be a full pass and review to include veterans who will actually troop the line and inspect the troops with the President. We're anticipating about 2,000 veterans to attend and a total audience in excess of 5,000 people.
And then you can see at 1400 in the afternoon, the French 2nd Armored Division is holding a ceremony in Arlington Cemetery themselves. There are about 350 -- maybe as many as 400 that are coming here with their family members to thank and honor the U.S. veterans with whom they served in France.
Then later in the day at 1900 -- that's 7:00 p.m., we'll have a concert on the Mall, and the U.S. Navy Band will serve host, and we also expect to have a Russian ensemble -- The Alexandrov Ensemble to participate with them. That will last about two yours.
At the end of that event that night, we'll illuminate two search lights in the form of a "V", of course, to signify V-E Day, and we're doing that because it's being done in Europe also in many other capitals and to signify the Allies working together again.
Are there any questions about this. I'll move to Europe.
This chart shows the events that will happen 6 through 9 May, and I'll start from left to right if I may. Saturday on the 6th of May in England, you see the Cambridge-American Cemetery. This is a U.S.-hosted, U.S.-sponsored event -- very similar to what we did in Normandy. We're anticipating about 5,000 people will attend, and the Vice President will represent the President as the host of that event.
Then you see in the evening a dinner with the Queen The Vice President representing the President again will attend that at Buckingham Palace. There will be many veterans in the United Kingdom who will participate in events that are sponsored by Great Britain. In Hyde Park there will be concerts and ceremonies of those type also.
Moving to Sunday, the 7th of May, there will be a memorial service at St. Paul's Cathedral which will last about an hour and a half, and many of the heads of state that are invited by the U.K. will participate in that. And then, of course, there will be a luncheon at Buckingham Palace for the heads of state later that day.
On Monday the 8th of May, there's the French National Ceremony that will take place in Paris. Many heads of state have been invited, and Vice President Gore will attend and participate and represent us there.
The German National Ceremony takes place in Berlin that evening at about 6:00 p.m., and again, the Vice President will attend that.
You can see on here the Czech National Ceremony that takes place on the 8th of May. The Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Togo West who is the executive agent for World War II 50th Anniversary Commemorations, he will attend that and represent the U.S. there.
Moving then to the 9th, that's the day that the President will be in Moscow, you can see a series of events that will take place that day -- the wreath-laying at the Russian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin early in the morning, then it's followed by a Russian Veterans Parade, and the Russians have asked that our veterans who are there are welcome to participate in that parade if they like.
And then later in the day, there will be the dedication of the Russian War Memorial Museum that will take place, I believe right know, it's scheduled for 1:00 p.m. And then later that night, there will be a state dinner for all the heads of state. This covers what's happening here in the United States and in Europe.
Are there any questions?
Q Was it a mistake for Eisenhower to hold Patton back from going into Berlin? And did we ever think of dropping the atomic bomb on Europe?
COLONEL SULLIVAN: Ma'am, let me give these questions to a historian, if I may.
Q Was it a mistake for Eisenhower to hold Patton back from going and taking all of Berlin before the Russians came in in view of what happened in the aftermath of the Cold War and so forth? And did we ever think of dropping the atomic bomb on Europe?
GENERAL MOUNTCASTLE: May I answer your second question first? I'm not aware of any plans to expend an atomic demolition of any sort in Europe. As regards restricting General Patton's movement with his 3rd Army, the 3rd Army's area of operations was considerably to the south. It would have been very difficult for Patton, or for that matter, the U.S. 1st Army farther north to drive directly on Berlin.
I think we all need to remember that, based on agreements at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 -- that conference there in the Crimean Peninsula there on the Black Sea -- the allied powers had determined what areas, what territory in Europe would be controlled subsequent to the conclusion of that war. And there was, of course, the very distinct possibility that we would expend a great number of U.S. troops, suffer any number of casualties to achieve territorial gains that would then, subsequently, be turned over to the Soviet Union.
I don't have the definitive word on General Eisenhower's weighing of these various possibilities, but certainly one of the reasons that he elected to attack from the west on a broad front as opposed to a narrow focus, thrust directly toward Berlin, is that by doing so he freed ever so many more civilians in Belgium, France, and in Holland, all throughout Western Europe, by moving across a broad front.
Q General, I know you're an historian, but could you put in perspective the effect of what the Russians call the great patriotic war on the psyche of today's Russia and perhaps the Russian leadership that's in power today?
GENERAL MOUNTCASTLE: Based on my personal experience as an American soldier in Germany during three tours of duty, and the opportunity then to visit what was then occupied Berlin, and seeing there Russian visitors arrive at the large Russian military cemetery on the eastern outskirts of Berlin, the very genuine -- no question about it -- genuine reverence with which young Russians, old veterans, parents and children paid to those martyrs, in their eyes, for Mother Russia, it is clear to me that it has affected their national psyche since in a profound way.
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Unfortunately, we've run out of time. But all of us will be glad to stay around and answer question individually or retrieve information. But before we go I'd like to remind you, the purpose of this program is to help a grateful nation to remember and thank this very special generation, this World War II generation, who, 50 years ago, literally saved the world. And I'd ask you to join me as we thank these three veterans who we honor and who have honored us to be with us today and talk to you.
Would you please stand. (Applause.)
COLONEL CROCKETT: I'd like to make one more comment about the 332nd Fighter Group Red Tails. (Laughter.) In that the Air Force gave us credit for escorting the heavy bombers over 200 missions, and we never lost a bomber to enemy fighters that we were escorting.
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Right. Nobody has that record.
COLONEL CROCKETT: No one else can claim that record. (Applause.)
GENERAL KICKLIGHTER: Thank you very much.
END12:07 P.M. EDT