U.S. Army Plays Tribute in Moscow Streets

By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times

News story photo
U.S. Army Europe Band performs yesterday on Tverskaya Street, Moscow's main thoroughfare, during celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany
MOSCOW — When someone called to strike up a stirring military march for a parade through central Moscow, hardly anyone imagined it would be "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Or that the Stars and Stripes itself, hoisted by an Army sergeant, would lead the U.S. Army Europe Band up the Russian capital's main thoroughfare, past cheering crowds, to greet a train full of Russian war veterans.

"I've met every president. I've met hundreds of kings and queens. But marching through Moscow behind three of my soldiers carrying the American flag is pretty much the highlight of my career," said Lt. Col. Thomas Palmatier, commander of the Army band, which came here with President Bush and other U.S. officials to help mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

"We played inside the Kremlin walls. We played 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' on the streets of Moscow. It was a pretty emotional experience," Palmatier said.

Military bands from France, Britain and Russia also marched in yesterday's opening parade, part of an international celebration that couldn't help but be dominated by the stirring martial music Russians have always linked with their nation's stature as a global power.

With the arrival of more than 50 world leaders, there are military bands outfitted in dress greens and marching caps on major street corners and parks.

Today marks the keynote performance of the Moscow International Festival of Brass Music, featuring orchestras from the Russian, U.S., British and French armies, navies and air forces.

"Military music is incredibly important for Russians, because military music is a component of the Russian army, and the army has always played a crucially important role in protecting Russia's great statehood and in making it a powerful nation," said Col. Valery Khalilov, chief military conductor of Russia.

There is a Russian military band associated with nearly every major national endeavor, more than 300 in all, including the Exemplary Orchestra of the Border Troops of the Federal Security Service; the Military Brass Orchestra of the Baikonur Spacedrome of the Space Troops; and a band whose name may be as long as some of its pieces: the Military Orchestra of the Hero of the Soviet Union S.K. Timoshenko Military University of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense.

Yesterday, though, it was the U.S. Army that was the big crowd-pleaser in central Moscow.

Although it wasn't the first performance by a U.S. military band in Russia, it marked the first time such an ensemble has played inside the Kremlin or marched down the streets of Moscow behind the American flag.

Enthusiastic onlookers applauded, hung over balconies and stopped members of the band to take photos.

"The crowd seemed overjoyed to see us," said Sgt. Daniel Halsey, 32, a New York native who carried the flag. "People in the street were coming up to us. I personally had over 100 pictures taken of me with the flag, by everybody from vets to young children."

Spec. Yevgeny Levin is a Moscow-area native who emigrated to the United States in 1994, became an American citizen, joined the Army and came back playing American marching tunes on the streets of his hometown. He said he still is stirred by the sounds of the old Russian martial music, such as Vasily Agapkin's lush and melodic "Farewell to Slavyanka," which will be played by all the bands as a finale tonight.

"Of course, I enjoyed playing music I have known from my childhood. It's so much more natural to play something you've known your entire life," Levin said. "And 15 years ago, I wouldn't imagine I would be in a parade in an American uniform, marching down Tverskaya Street and performing inside the Kremlin."

The U.S. Army band plans to perform an excerpt from Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and a medley of American big-band tunes, including "Take the A Train," and "In the Mood."

"There certainly is a very different style between the American bands and the Russian bands," Palmatier said. "The sounds of the bands reflect their societies and their culture. With the Americans, it's very much a reflection of our melting pot. You hear the jazz influence. ... With the Russians, just overwhelmingly, it's the Slavic might."

Elsewhere, the European war's end was commemorated in gatherings from London to Poland and beyond. Major event sites included Prague; the former Mauthausen death camp in Austria; and Birmingham, England, where people brought food and drinks for a street party, evoking memories of the massive street celebrations that broke out across Britain on May 8, 1945, the day the Berlin armistice was signed.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and German President Horst Koehler attended a cathedral service in Berlin ahead of a wreath-laying ceremony at a memorial to victims of Nazism and war.

Most Germans consider Hitler's defeat to have liberated them as well as the rest of Europe from the terrors of Nazism.

But about 3,000 extreme-right supporters rallied in Berlin to protest the "cult of guilt" they say was imposed on the nation after Germany's surrender.

A protest march planned by the group was scrapped when thousands of counter-demonstrators blocked the route.

At the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac re-lit the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, watched by troops from the many nations that united to crush Hitler. They included Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and the United States.

Jets flew over the graceful tree-lined Avenue des Champs-Elysees, streaking the sky with red, white and blue smoke — the colors of the French flag.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Article provided courtesy of The Seattle Times

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