dukla pass veteran to be honored in slovakia
- Hello everyone,
thought that this was interesting and wanted to share the article found in
yesterday's New York Journal News, Westchester Putnam edition.
This is a printer friendly version of an article from the The Journal News.
To print this article open the file menu and choose Print.
Veteran honored for Eastern Front battle
By ROBERT MARCHANT
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: October 3, 2005)
Battle of Dukla Pass took heavy casualties
When: Sept. 8 until the end of October 1944, with further Soviet advances
continuing through November
Where: Southern Poland, Slovakia, eastern Ukraine
Casualties: 84,000 Soviets, 54,000 Germans and 6,000 in the Czechoslovak Army
Result: Nazi troops forced out of Slovakia; Red Army poised to take Prague in
Thursday is "Liberation Day" in the eastern European nation of Slovakia.
There will be speeches, toasts, proclamations and, for an 84-year-old veteran
from Eastchester, a particularly sweet moment.
John (Jan) Kulhan was one of those liberators who helped turn the tide
against the Third Reich and one of the handful of survivors of a ferocious battle in
the fall of 1944 that drove the Nazis from his homeland. The Battle of Dukla
Pass raged for a month between the Nazis and the Soviet Army and their allies
in the region bordered by Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine known as the Dukla
Pass, a section of the northern Carpathian mountains.
Kulhan, 83, a former Bronxville resident and retired engineer, will be
honored in a semi-official ceremony at the Military Museum in Suidnik, Slovakia, his
native land. He was a young artillery and transport officer in the old
Czechoslovak army allied with the Soviets, and he is the last known Slovakian to
have taken part in a battle that has a complex and enduring legacy in eastern
"We wanted to create our own country. I was fighting for my own freedom. It
didn't happen then; communism dominated everything," Kulhan recalled.
But the fight gave Slovakia a sense of its destiny as an autonomous nation,
which it finally became in 1993 after separating peacefully from the Czech
Republic. "When I was fighting, I was fighting for the idea that everybody should
be free, not a slave," he said.
His Czechoslovak army unit was pressed into service by the Germans against
the Soviets after the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia, but the unit later
switched sides and joined the fight against the German military machine.
Kulhan can recall the 1944 battle with sharp details as his clear, gray eyes
narrow with concentration — how German prisoners looked when they finally
surrendered after a murderous artillery barrage, the sound of a mortar shell on
its downward arc.
He tells many stories of his past — how he saved the future president of
Czechoslovakia, Gen. Ludvik Svoboda, by pushing him out of a bunker that was
targeted by Nazi artillery moments before it was destroyed, working with American
intelligence agents after the war, sneaking out of Slovakia with his wife and
children in a daring border-crossing to Austria.
"He never got the recognition he deserved," said Kulhan's son-in-law, Joseph
Kenney, a New Jersey immigration officer and an Army Reserve lieutenant
colonel. "When he turned against the Communists, they turned against him."
At the ceremony on Thursday, Kulhan will be honored for the first time by his
native Slovakia since it became an autonomous country.
Kulhan came to this country in 1950 and became a proud American, an admirer
of Ronald Reagan who can quote lines from his speeches. As for his native land,
he said he hoped his part in the campaign of 1944 will bring greater
attention to the cause for which he fought.
"I got enough medals. But I'd like recognition for the people who fought and
died for Slovakian independence," he said.
A father of five, he will be joined in his journey by his wife, Marta, to
whom he has been married for 59 years.
There are still animosities and political fissures in Slovakia, much of it
stemming from the World War II era and its aftermath under Soviet domination.
"People were caught up in the maelstrom, and they had to make hard choices,"
said Vladimir Baumgarten, a Florida scholar who has researched the battle of
Dukla Pass and runs a cultural organization promoting Slovak-American ties.
Speaking of the commemoration of the battle this week in which Kulhan will be
honored, Baumgarten said, "Hopefully, it will be a healing catharsis. It brings
together both sides of the Cold War."
It will also be a moment of family pride. The old soldier's daughter, Darline
Kulhan, was already bursting with pride before the trip started. "I got a new
digital camera, and I'm going to take so many pictures," she said in her
Eastchester home. "He put it on the line for freedom, and to get this recognition,
it will be a moment of joy."
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- Thanks for the post, Noreen. Two "improvements": the author places
Slovakia in Eastern Europe by mistake (it's in Central Europe), and
there's a slight error in "Thursday is 'Liberation Day' in Slovakia."
In what year and from what would Slovakia have been liberated on
October 6? Liberation Day is a pan-European holiday to commemorate
the end of World War II -- a national holiday in Slovakia on May 8.
October 6 is a "commemorative day" (not a day off work) -- Den obeti
Dukly, the "Day of the Victims of [the Battle of the] Dukla [Pass]."
That's the day they'll be commemorating in Svidnik (not Suidnik).
votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu