American and Soviet veterans came together on Saturday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the two sides' meeting at the Elbe River in Germany in the final days of World War II.
The Long Island commemoration, held at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, brought together veterans who met at various spots along the river, which became a symbol of Nazi Germany's collapse weeks before the war's end.
"These were fighting troops meeting fighting troops," said Irving Greger, 96, of Plainview, one of the GIs who met their Soviet counterparts along the Elbe. "So we hugged and shook hands . . . and [I was] thinking, 'Hey the war is over.' "
Leonid Rosenberg, who was born in Ukraine and was in a Soviet army unit that met U.S. soldiers at the Elbe, said he was proud of the friendship he had with U.S. veterans.
"We are grateful to the American people for food, which they sent to the front, and it sped up our victory," said Rosenberg, who lives in Brooklyn and is president of the American Association of Invalids and Veterans of World War II from the Former U.S.S.R.
"That linkup at the river Elbe told every American, every Brit, every Russian, every German that . . . this terrible war was almost over," said Jack Hayne, who served in the U.S. Army in Europe during the Cold War, after the United States and the Soviet Union had become enemies. "As we look back on 70 years, let us all hope that we embrace the spirit of the Elbe in finding a path to peace."
Col. Maxim V. Bykov, the Russian Federation's acting military attaché in Washington, D.C., described the meeting at the Elbe in detail and said tensions between Russia and the United States make it hard to imagine a similar meeting.
"Our nations will always remember the handshake that made the history of Elbe, which became one of the most vivid symbols that our countries were comrades in arms and fighting together against Nazi tyranny, oppression and aggression." Bykov said. "I'd like to stress that despite all obstacles, the Russian Federation is ready for interaction with the Unites States in the face of common global threats."
The indoor ceremony at Old Bethpage included a re-enactment of the meeting with two armored vehicles, an American Greyhound and a Soviet Scout Car draped with a red flag that read in Russian "Death to the Fascist Toad."
The veterans and other officials exchanged gifts, including flowers, trophies and vodka.