Ar, should al­ways be the last op­tion to re­solve in­ter­na­tional dis­putes. War, is a costly and ugly en­ter­prise which brings mis­ery to the guilt­less. War, is pol­i­tics with blood­shed, and pol­i­tics is war de­void of blood­shed.

The Covington News - - A VETERAN'S STORY - Pete Mecca is a Viet­nam vet­eran, colum­nist and free­lance writer. You can reach him at avet­er­ansstory@gmail. com or avet­er­ansstory.us.

Im­po­tent in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy sends young sol­diers to fight and die for failed lead­er­ship. Dur­ing the 1930s, the fail­ure of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties’ fee­ble re­sponse to Nazi Ger­many’s ma­nip­u­la­tions of the WWI Treaty of Ver­sailles led di­rectly to WWII. The global bat­tle would cost the lives of over 407,000 Amer­i­cans.

One of our al­lies dur­ing WWII, Soviet Rus­sia, un­der­went ca­su­al­ties on a mind­bog­gling scale. For many years the death toll of ap­prox­i­mately 20 mil­lion Rus­sians was ac­cepted as a rea­son­able guessti­mate. How­ever, in 1993 the Rus­sian Academy of Sciences sug­gested the cor­rect fig­ure hov­ered around 26.6 mil­lion. Other scholars have spec­u­lated the real death toll, both mil­i­tary and civil­ian, to be more re­al­is­tic at 40 mil­lion. Rus­sian Colonel Khanon Zaret­sky fought for Mother Rus­sia and braved the hor­rors of WWII. This is his story. And many thanks to Day Health Co­or­di­na­tor and in­ter­preter, Yuriy Gluz­man.

Stu­dents of Rus­sian Stud­ies from the Univer­sity of North Ge­or­gia jam-packed the Rus­sian Mu­seum of Ca­ma­raderie in Sandy Springs.…young, spir­ited, well-man­nered, and so brainy they were scary. Their lan­guage in­struc­tor, Ta­tiana Maslova, is from Rus­sia and speaks French, Rus­sian, and per­fect English. Tanya Dakake from Latvia speaks Rus­sian, Lat­vian, and per­fect English. Anas­ta­sia Sku­tar, the daugh­ter of an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, was born and raised in Ukraine. She speaks flu­ent Ukrainian, Rus­sian, some Ger­man, and per­fect English. She re­tains a law de­gree from Ukraine and will soon grad­u­ate with an ac­count­ing de­gree from UNG.

Colonel Zaret­sky briefed the stu­dents then later in­ter­viewed with yours truly. He is the founder of the Rus­sian Mu­seum of Ca­ma­raderie at the MedSide Healthcare fa­cil­ity in Sandy Springs. Talk­a­tive and sharp as a tack, 91 year old Colonel Zaret­sky has wit­nessed the worst of man yet har­bors in­de­struc­tible op­ti­mism for mankind.

Born in Bo­bruisk, Be­larus in 1924, Colonel Zaret­sky was in the 9th grade at the dawn of WWII. Be­larus did not fare well in WWII, los­ing over 1/3 of its pop­u­la­tion. Luck­ily, the Zaret­sky fam­ily re­lo­cated to Kaza­khstan. The Colonel re­called, “I stud­ied trac­tors, the me­chan­ics of many things, but ended up be­ing sent to the war academy then to of­fi­cers school for com­mu­ni­ca­tions. I stud­ied hard and grad­u­ated in the top of the class. They said I was near ge­nius; I’ll agree with that,” he said, grin­ning. “So in­stead of go­ing to the front I was or­dered to Moscow.” My in­ter­preter wres­tled with the trans­la­tion but ev­i­dently Colonel Zaret­sky de­vel­oped into one of Moscow’s premier ‘in­no­va­tors’ or ‘in­ven­tors’. The Colonel con­tin­ued, “We were al­ways up­grad­ing things, tweak­ing this and that, try­ing to im­prove on the old or in­vent the new to help the war ef­fort.”

Alas, the ro­man­ti­cism of war for an 18 year old is dif­fi­cult to re­sist. He re­called, “I asked for a com­bat post­ing, I wanted to par­tic­i­pate in the war, but I wasn’t an­tic­i­pat­ing para­chute school. It was very dan­ger­ous but also very ex­cit­ing. Our jump plat­form was the Tupolev TB-3.” Note to read­ers: Amer­i­cans ‘jumped’ out of air­planes; the Rus­sians ‘slid’ off air­planes. How­ever, the Tupolev TB-3 was in­deed a ‘plat­form’. Rus­sian para­troop­ers ei­ther ‘scooted’ or ‘slid’ off the wings, some­times hang­ing on for the en­tire flight by grasp- ing a ca­ble at­tached to the up­per part of the wing. Colonel Zaret­sky re­vealed another prob­lem: “Our para­chutes were poorly made. Usu­ally 1 out of 10 para­chutes failed caus­ing many deaths. We fi­nally re­ceived Amer­i­can para­chutes. They opened! Our ca­su­al­ties de­creased con­sid­er­ably.”

Re­flect­ing on war at 18: “It was dan­ger­ous, yet ro­man­tic in a way. I was 18 years old, no fear, fight­ing for Mother Rus­sia. Ac­tu­ally, I walked into com­bat the first time, I wasn’t re­quired to para­chute. As com­man­der of a com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit, I had about 30 peo­ple un­der my com­mand. Our first com­bat mis­sion was at night. We came to a small city, it was on fire, ev­ery­thing burn­ing, but we didn’t panic, we were all calm. Our job was to pro­vide com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and that’s what we did.” Paus­ing for a mo­ment, Colonel Zaret­sky stated, “……I could tell you a thou­sand sto­ries.”

With ca­su­al­ties of such hor­rific scale, the Colonel lost many of his men to the Ger­man in­vaders. His unit saw ac­tion in Cze­choslo­vakia, Aus­tria, Hungary, and Ger­many. He re­called an in­ci­dent in Ger­many, “We were in a small Ger­man town when a woman ap­proached me, fright­ened and cry­ing. ‘You are an of­fi­cer,’ she said. ‘One of your men stole my watch.’ My re­ply was, ‘So what?’ She ex­plained it wasn’t just a watch, but had been a gift with spe­cial mean­ing. I be­lieved her. I asked my men, ‘Who took the watch?’ No re­ply, so I warned them, ‘Ei­ther re­turn the watch, or if I find out later who did this, I will have you shot.’ A soldier stepped for­ward and re­turned her watch. Later he asked me, ‘You re­ally would have shot me over a watch?’ And I told him, ‘We are not like Ger­mans, we fight for a dif­fer­ent rea­son.’”

While vis­it­ing Ger­many with his wife in 1996, the Colonel was walk­ing his dog one morn­ing when he met a Ger­man gen­tle­man who was also walk­ing a dog. Re­call­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, the Colonel said, “We talked about the war. Why and how did it hap­pen? The man wanted to learn about me and the Rus­sian peo­ple. The next morn­ing he was wait­ing for me, want­ing to un­der­stand more. He couldn’t com­pre­hend why he and I were once en­e­mies.”

In another in­ci­dent, the Colonel and his wife re­al­ized they had be­come lost en route to the air­port. They asked a Ger­man lady for di­rec­tions. “We were sur­prised that she was so help­ful and so friendly,” he said. “The woman was truth­fully con­cerned. We couldn’t be­lieve it.” Our in­ter­preter, Yuriy, ex­plained the rea­son Colonel Zaret­sky and his wife were shocked by the lady’s cour­tesy. “You see, in Rus­sia, if you ask for di­rec­tions, peo­ple look at you like, ‘are you stupid or some­thing? Go find your­self a map.’ It is dif­fi­cult for Amer­i­cans to un­der­stand. Very dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude in Rus­sia.”

Colonel Zaret­sky has lived in Amer­ica since May of 1990. He has three diplo­mas, one awarded for the stud­ies of Com­mu­nism while un­der the iron fist reign of Joseph Stalin. He re­called, “Un­der Stalin you could not say what you thought. Very dan­ger­ous to speak truth. Com­mu­nism is im­pos­si­ble. Marx and Lenin, they say reg­u­lar peo­ple should rule. That is wrong. They are not ready to rule a county. You need smart peo­ple to run a coun­try, to make the proper de­ci­sions. You can­not have lower class peo­ple run­ning a coun­try. Stalin would pull ed­u­cated peo­ple out of im­por­tant po­si­tions then re­place them with il­lit­er­ate peo­ple. A man could be a la­borer one day, a man­ager the next day, with­out train­ing, with­out school­ing. Gov­ern­ment does not work that way.”

“Carl Marx said a coun­try must be ruled by reg­u­lar peo­ple. How is that pos­si­ble? You need train­ing; you need ed­u­ca­tion. I never agreed with Com­mu­nism. Com­mu­nism is not utopia. The Com­mu­nist ideal of how to rule a coun­try is flawed, the coun­try will not sur­vive.”

When asked if the Rus­sian peo­ple are bet­ter off af­ter the fall of Soviet Rus­sia, Colonel Zaret­sky replied, “Even af­ter Stalin’s death, the Rus­sian econ­omy started to im­prove. And af­ter com­mu­nism failed, the peo­ple could travel, leave the coun­try. The econ­omy re­ally got bet­ter.”

Why did the Colonel come to Amer­ica? “My chil­dren are here,” he said, grin­ning. Does he en­joy Amer­ica? “Amer­ica has it right. You built your county the right way. If you re­ally want some­thing in Amer­ica you have to study for it, work for it, but you can go for it. Free­dom, is good.”

Among his fi­nal com­ments. “A world war is no good now, no­body win; ev­ery­one die. Our mis­sion is to be sure war does not hap­pen. We need peace­ful talk to avoid war. Peace is bet­ter than war.”

“Now Rus­sian history books say Stalin and Hitler wanted to rule world, to­gether. Stalin thought he was smarter than Hitler, but Hitler smarter than Stalin. Stalin’s mil­i­tary think­ing stuck back in World War One, no new tanks, no mod­ern equip­ment. Pol­i­tics fail, peo­ple die.”

As the in­ter­view con­cluded, Colonel Zar­it­sky said, “We go have lunch now. I apol­o­gize my English not so good.” I replied, “I also apol­o­gize, Colonel….nei­ther is my Rus­sian.”

The Rus­sians served lunch, start­ing with pickle soup. But that’s another story.

The Rus­sian Mu­seum of Co­maradaire is open ev­ery day but Satur­day. The mu­seum is lo­cated in the MedSide Healthcare Build­ing, 1120 Hope Road in Sandy Springs. MedSide Healthcare CEO, Dr. Vic­tor Vaysman, his lovely wife, Yuiya Kora­bel­nikova, and their zeal­ous staff are plan­ning to ex­pand the mu­seum to in­cor­po­rate more in­for­ma­tion on Amer­i­can vet­er­ans and to dis­play more Amer­i­can ar­ti­facts from WWII. To in­quire how you may be of as­sis­tance, call 404-633-7433.

Front row, left to right, John Ko­vack, ad­ju­tant of WWII Round Ta­ble - 4th from left, Colonel Zaret­sky - 8th from left, Ta­tiana Maslova - 9th from left, Tanya Dakake - 10th from left, Pete Mecca - far right, Anas­ta­sia Sku­tar


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