A Naperville resident remembers her grandfather, a World War II veteran

On the Elbe river, American and Russian officers danced together in celebration of the defeat of the Nazi Germany.

For many people the word “fascism” is a word that represents something scary, horrible and dangerous. I am scared of it too, and I respect and appreciate those who fought against fascists during World War II. We are all alive today thanks to our veterans. Russians and Americans were allies and fought for peace in the world together. The 70th anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany in 1945 is a great date that has to be remembered by everyone. It was the Allied victory in the World War II. In Russia, it is celebrated on the 9th of May.

Veterans, who fought in World War II, or in the Great Patriotic War, are called “frontovics” in Russia. It was really a GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR for Russia. Our grandparents defended their Motherland, defended it with great patriotism from the fascist invaders, who attacked Russian land on the 22nd of June, in 1941. Many of them were only eighteen year old kids when they had to go to fight in the war and when they were sent to the front. From the word “front” a new word appeared – “frontovic”. I would like to tell you what this word means personally to me. And I am happy to use the example of my grandfather, whom I proudly call frontovic, too.

He lost his parents at the age of three, and since then his aunt raised him and his two younger brothers. They all lived in a small village in the southern part of Russia next to the city of Rostov. They didn’t have a lot of money and my grandfather had to work hard since he was young, but he always liked to study and tried to find time for reading books and studying math, history and other subjects.

When the Great Patriotic War started, he was only 17 years old. Many young men of different nationalities who lived in the former Soviet Union went to fight in that war even younger than that age, that’s why he had to make a decision to stay home and help the family or to go to fight in the war. Several months later he decided to serve in the war and was sent to the front. As many other front fighters he was injured, had a concussion and saw the faces of his enemies. I know that for the rest of his life he had nightmares about that war but was proud that Germany failed and the Soviet Union cleared its land from the Nazi invaders.

Even after that horrible war my grandfather, as well as all other veterans, kept his fighting spirit, but used it in a peaceful way. The country had to be rebuilt and people had to be strong to fight with the afterwar disaster. The Soviet Union lost twenty million people’s lives and a lot of money. The infrastructure was destroyed. The country was hungry, with no clothes or shoes, no food and with ruined cities, but its people had a strong spirit of victory and happiness that they won over the fascists. Veterans who survived in that war returned home and started building a new peaceful life. They raised their children and told them about that terrible war, created songs and poetry about it, kept memories about it but still tried to move on and be happy.

My grandfather had the pain of this war in his soul for the rest of his life, but he tried to be happy anyway. At age twenty two he married my grandmother and they had two children. He was proud to see his wife and children happy and free, because he knew that it was a result of his efforts and the efforts of other veterans who fought in World War II.

My grandfather taught himself to play bayan (an instrument that looks almost like an accordion) and played it very often just for himself or for his friends and family. I remember him sitting in his room with a bayan in his hands, playing an old World War II song, with thoughtful face and sadness in his eyes. He was very kind, my grandfather, and he was a very good person.

In 1990 he died. I remember my grandfather frontovic, or veteran, and will love him forever. Not many of the World War II veterans are still alive today. Our veterans, American and Russian, won over fascists and deserve to be remembered forever. When I see them with their white hair, barely walking but still having pride and strength in their eyes, I want to cry. But these tears are tears of happiness and pride; pride for our veterans, their spirit, and for my grandfather, one of them.

Natalia Dagenhart