“Remember! Through centuries, through years – remember,” said Russian poet Robert Rozhdestvensky in his Requiem devoted to victims of World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Russia and former Soviet Union Republics. Memory unites one generation with another, independently from the place of birth, nationality, race, place of residence and political views. Those, who don’t remember their past, don’t have a future. Those, who honor their grandparents, veterans of World War II and the Great Patriotic War, have hope and a future. This is the only way to live – by keeping alive the memory of those who saved this world from fascism.
On May 7, the Chicago Russian speaking community organized an unprecedented event called Immortal Regiment that took place at Lake Park on Lee Street in Des Plaines, Illinois. The meaning of this action is simple, yet significant – to honor veterans of the Great Patriotic War not in general, but by mentioning each of them individually. Immortal Regiment marched through Chicagoland for the first time; however, every year this action becomes more and more popular. In 2016, more than two million people in fifty countries around the world joined the Immortal Regiment.
This movement, where descendants of veterans and victims of the Great Patriotic War march together carrying portraits of their family members, who participated or died in the Great Patriotic War, started in 2012 in Tomsk, Russia. People print out portraits of their grandparents, great grandparents and other relatives, who participated in the war, make banners with their portraits in a special format, and march together honoring their veterans. This way, the march becomes particularly deep and touching for each individual participant because he is honoring not just veterans in general, but his own relatives, whom he loves and whom he remembers. Dead and alive march together, connecting past and future and representing their mutual strength and adamant spirit.
New York and Toronto, Washington D.C. and Paris, Rome and Pekin, Athens and Seattle, Donetsk and Denver, Mexico and Houston, Sevastopol and Prague, Orlando and Milan, Warsaw and Sophia, Berlin and Riga, even Kiev and of course Moscow – these are just a few names of the cities that took part in the Immortal Regiment. Not only Russian speaking people, but also people of many different nationalities whose grandparents participated in World War II join Russians in this peaceful action honoring their veterans.
During this action, people carry portraits of their relatives and with tears in their eyes tell about their heroism during World War II. They wear Saint George’s Ribbons, a widely recognized military and patriotic symbol in Russia. They unite together in this memory about World War II, a memory that erases borders and differences and gives hope that together we can build a peaceful future for new generations.
The date of this movement is closely related to the Russian Victory Day. In 2016, we celebrate the 71st anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany in 1945. It was the Allied victory in World War II. In Russia, Victory Day is celebrated on May 9, and the Immortal Regiment marches on the same day. This is a National holiday in Russia when people don’t work and have peaceful parades, marches and celebrations. However, it is not a National holiday in other countries, and they have to organize the Immortal Regiment on the closest weekend. Therefore, the Chicago Russian speaking community, which organized this event for the first time, did it on Saturday, May 7.
However, even great ideas need support from local officials. That support was provided by the understanding and friendly representatives of the Des Plaines Park District, particularly from Mary Ann Troxell who received the Dedicated to Excellence Award in April, 2015. Once again, Ms. Troxell proved that she is a highly skilled professional by doing an excellent job such as giving guidelines and coordinating activities and paperwork that helped the initiators of the Chicago Immortal Regiment to have a well-organized and safe event.
The event gathered more than one hundred people and had a very touching atmosphere. The participants, accompanied by the Great Patriotic War songs, marched with the portraits of their relatives from the parking lot next to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to the Lake Park Memorial Pavilion on Lee Street in Des Plaines. When the procession stopped next to the Memorial, the participants and the organizers of the event gave touching speeches honoring their veterans. People also sang World War II songs and danced with the portraits of their veterans in their hands.
James Brookman, Alderman from the City of Des Plaines, joined the event and gave a powerful speech. People greeted his words with applause, realizing that just as many years ago, during World War II, Russians and Americans think and act alike. The support, provided by Mr. Brookman, is greatly appreciated by the Russian speaking community and gives hope to grow into a successful collaboration in the future.
The most touching moment of the event was at the very end during the minute of silence when a popular Russian World War II song called “Cranes” was playing. People had white balloons in their hands and during this song they let the balloons go into the sky. This song is devoted to soldiers who died during World War II saying that their souls turned into beautiful birds – cranes. White balloons represent cranes and the souls of the dead veterans, and when everyone let the balloons go, it meant that the souls of their relatives flew to the sky. Our veterans died, but they are still alive in our hearts.
Now, after this first experience, the initiators of the Immortal Regiment of Chicago hope to organize this action every year and to involve more and more people from Chicago and the suburbs in this peaceful global movement. If you have relatives who participated in World War II, please join us next time. Honor your grandparents and great grandparents, remember their act of bravery, and deliver this memory to your children and grandchildren. And remember – the only way to live is to keep the memory of those who saved this world from fascism alive.
If you want to join the Immortal Regiment next year or have questions, please go to: https://www.facebook.com/%D0%91%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%82%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B9-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BA-%D0%A7%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%BE-228094610868869/?fref=ts
May 6, 2017 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Lake Park, 1015 Howard Ave., Des Plaines, IL 60018
(close to Lake Park Sailing and Boating; we will walk down the lake parallel to Lee Str.)
Please, arrive early (at about 12:30 p.m.) to form a column. To order banners with the portraits of your veterans, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make and bring them to the event. Please, provide your veterans’ names and dates of birth/death. We will also have a little celebration after the walk. Please, come and honor WWII veterans with us!
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