Remember the past for prosperous future

Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band receive a tour of the Khatyn Memorial in Belarus, June 20, 2016. The USAFE band is in Belarus to perform and commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band receive a tour of the Khatyn Memorial in Belarus, June 20, 2016. The USAFE band is in Belarus to perform and commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band salute after placing flowers at the “Unbowed Man” statue June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band salute after placing flowers at the “Unbowed Man” statue June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band bring flowers to the site of the “Unbowed Man” statue June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band bring flowers to the site of the “Unbowed Man” statue June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, talks with Vladimir Yarygin, a former submariner for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, talks with Vladimir Yarygin, a former submariner for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, places a silver oak leaf on Vladimir Yarygin, a former submariner for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed at events in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, places a silver oak leaf on Vladimir Yarygin, a former submariner for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed at events in Minsk and surrounding communities to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, receives a commemorative pin from Vladimir Yarygin, a former submariner for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. Yarygin said he was overwhelmed with happiness and had given Mench the pin to thank him for visiting the memorial. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed at events in Minsk and surrounding communities. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, receives a commemorative pin from Vladimir Yarygin, a former submariner for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. Yarygin said he was overwhelmed with happiness and had given Mench the pin to thank him for visiting the memorial. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed at events in Minsk and surrounding communities. The United States, Belarus, and other ally and partner nations continue to remember and honor shared World War II sacrifices. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, talks with Grigory, former air force wing commander for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. Grigory talked with Mench about his service in the military and thanked him for coming to Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed at events in Minsk and surrounding communities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Lt. Col. Mike Mench, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander, talks with Grigory, former air force wing commander for the Soviet Union, June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. Grigory talked with Mench about his service in the military and thanked him for coming to Belarus. While in Belarus, 13 bandsmen performed at events in Minsk and surrounding communities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

From left, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Vladimir Tchekan, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band’s trombone player; U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Dell, USAFE Band trumpet player; Vladimir Yarygin, former submariner for the Soviet Union; Lt. Col. Mike Mench, USAFE Band commander; Grigory, former Air Force wing commander for the Soviet Union; and Chief Master Sgt. Mark Burditt, USAFE Band chief enlisted manager, stand for a photograph in front of the “Unbowed Man” statue June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

From left, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Vladimir Tchekan, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band’s trombone player; U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Dell, USAFE Band trumpet player; Vladimir Yarygin, former submariner for the Soviet Union; Lt. Col. Mike Mench, USAFE Band commander; Grigory, former Air Force wing commander for the Soviet Union; and Chief Master Sgt. Mark Burditt, USAFE Band chief enlisted manager, stand for a photograph in front of the “Unbowed Man” statue June 20, 2016, in Khatyn Memorial, Belarus. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sgt. Paul Villanueva II)

Khatyn Memorial, BELARUS -- The U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band’s Ambassadors Jazz Ensemble traveled to the Khatyn Memorial outside Minsk, Belarus, to pay respect for the lives that were lost here during the Great Patriotic War. 

 

The bandsmen toured the memorial and placed flowers at the feet of the Unbowed Man statue that depicts the only adult survivor of the Khatyn massacre, Yuzif Kaminsky, holding his dead son.

 

The statue was constructed where a barn once stood, in which 149 of the villagers were gathered and burned to death on March 22, 1943. There were 26 homes that were also destroyed, leaving nothing to stand.

 

On their way to lay flowers, the bandsmen were approached by Grigory and Vladimir Yarygin from Moscow-Oblast, Russia, former service members with the Soviet Union that had fought in WWII.

 

Curious as to why the U.S. Air Force would be at the memorial, or even in Belarus, Grigory, a retired colonel and air force wing commander for the Soviet Union, spoke with Lt. Col. Michael Mench, USAFE Band commander. With the help of a translator, Mench replied “We are from the USAFE Band and we are here to pay respect to the lives lost in the massacre that happened here during the Great Patriotic War. We have also played concerts in Minsk and Mogilev to commemorate the alliance that ended the greatest conflict of the 20th Century.”

 

With gratitude, Grigory thanked the bandsmen for paying their respects to the many lives that were lost, while adding “I’m sorry I don’t have my medals on, I did not think we would see anybody here.”

 

Mench placed his hand on his shoulder and said “Don’t be sorry, I can see the medals in your eyes.” Grigory smiled happily and embraced Mench for the sincere words.

 

As stories continued to be exchanged, Yargin, a former submariner with the Soviet Union, pulled Mench to the side and handed him a comparative pin as a sign of friendship and to thank him for remembering the shared effort of their nations. The colonel returned the generosity and took one of his own silver oak leaves and placed it on the lapel of Yargin’s jacket.

 

Yarygin smiled and shook the hands of all the bandsmen and said, “We need to not be afraid of the shadows and become friends to make peace. Our younger generation need to find a way to continue to get along and preserve peace for a prosperous future.”

 

As the time came to say good-bye to their news friends, Grigory concluded “I will tell my story from today. I will tell my family and friends. Thank you for remembering. It is a good thing. I remember we were allies, partners.”