• Michael Laxer

The Vancouver, Washington Soviet monument and street name and the story behind them



The city of Vancouver, Washington (now with a population of around 190,000) in the United States has a monument and major street dedicated to an historic Soviet aeronautic achievement that it was involved in. The honours were bestowed in 1975 and -- remarkably given the tone of the times -- they remain in place today.


The Chkalov flight monument and the city's Chkalov Dr. are in memory of the landing of the world's first transpolar flight in June, 1937. The 63 hour flight in a Tupolev ANT-25 airplane named "Stalin's Route" left Moscow June 18, 1937 and arrived in Vancouver June 20. It was piloted by Valery Chkalov with the crew being co-pilot Georgy Baidukov and navigator Alexander Belyakov. All were already Heroes of the Soviet Union due to previous flights across Siberia.


The plane was supposed to land in San Francisco so its arrival at Pearson Airfield in Vancouver was a surprise for the military personnel there. While the attempt was common knowledge and large crowds had gathered at various airfields in the hope that they would land there, no one anticipated the landing in Vancouver which came due to various conditions and mechanical issues after crossing over Canada. Fortunately this was before the Cold War and they were warmly welcomed.


"Ex -Sergeant Larry Turner was guarding the airfield that day when a long -winged aircraft suddenly came out of the fog , landed on the grass and taxied toward the hangars. Turner reported the incident to his superiors, and when the Russian pilot in a fur jacket and wool sweater jumped down from the plane's wing, Turner invited him to the sentry box and arranged a telephone call to the Soviet Ambassador. The tired, unshaven pilot was smoking a Russian cigarette, and Turner asked for one. "It was damned strong,” recalls the sergeant. The pilot (Valeri Chkalov) gave him the whole pack."


They even spent the night in the house of General George C. Marshall.


The monument itself has quotes from Soviet newspapers about the feat and also the Soviet and US flags.



In 1975 a series of events were held in Vancouver around the unveiling of the monument and Georgy Baidukov and Alexander Belyakov returned as part of the celebrations. Chkalov sadly died in 1938 during a test flight.


In September, 1975, Soviet Life Magazine published a Pravda account of the events in 1937 and 1975 that we republish here.


Text:


WE ARE WAITING in a crowd at the edge of a small sports airfield which once was a military airport. Thirty-eight years ago a single - engine ANT-25 [ The ANT - 25 used in the 1937 flight was a single-engine monoplane designed by Andrei Tupolev. It had a maximum speed of 165 miles an hour ] landed here after the world's first flight from Moscow to America across the North Pole. Many of the local residents remember that foggy, rainy day of June 20 , 1937. There are a number of older people in the crowd who have preserved souvenirs of that time almost 40 years ago when three Soviet pilots attracted the attention of the world with their daring exploit.


Ex -Sergeant Larry Turner was guarding the airfield that day when a long -winged aircraft suddenly came out of the fog , landed on the grass and taxied toward the hangars. Turner reported the incident to his superiors, and when the Russian pilot in a fur jacket and wool sweater jumped down from the plane's wing, Turner invited him to the sentry box and arranged a telephone call to the Soviet Ambassador. The tired, unshaven pilot was smoking a Russian cigarette, and Turner asked for one. "It was damned strong,” recalls the sergeant. Thepilot (Valeri Chkalov) gave him the whole pack.


Turner showed it to me - a crumpled red cardboard box with the trademark of the Moscow Dukat tobacco factory. The cigarettes were still there, though somewhat faded .


Robert Lowe, 70 , was a mechanic at the airfield in 1937. He has kept through the years two biscuits he asked copilot Georgi Baidukov to give him as a souvenir - biscuits that had flown across the North Pole.


Lowe was agitated: Would Baidukov remember him?


It is surprising how many reminders of the flight Vancouver residents have brought to this anniversary celebration . Among them are amateur photographs taken on that memorable morning, a waterproof bag for food with the inscription in Russian : "produkty ," a screwdriver with the trademark of a Moscow factory. Parents passed these relics on to their children. If they were all assembled, they would make quite an impressive collection.


In fact, the citizens of Vancouver have decided to establish a museum dedicated to the three Soviet fliers.


Vancouver itself has a heroic tradition, it was originally a fort built by American pioneers. Appropriately, the crew of the first transpolar flight from the USSR to the USA chose this city, now celebrating its 150th anniversary, as its destination. The people of Vancouver are proud of this fact.


Today, thanks to the study of Russian history and the Russian language, the city's schoolchildren know a good deal about our country. As she waits for the Soviet guests to arrive, schoolgirl Shirley Kelly whispers excitedly in Russian. Her Russian name, she tells us, is Sasha. Her sister Mary introduces herself as Masha. We ask Shirley what she is going to sayto the Soviet fliers .


"Welcome! We love you !" she replies in Russian.


A small propeller craft carrying Georgi Baidukov, navigator Alexander Belyakov and Valeri Chkalov's son Igor from Seattle to Vancouver is approaching the same air field where the Soviet plane touched down 38 years ago. The hangars are still there, and so are the embankment of the Columbia River and the huge fir trees the crew ad mired from the house of General George Marshall, then commander of the Vancouver garrison.


Baidukov and Belyakov have vivid memories of this white two- story house. Today it contains the offices of the local Red Cross, but the building's new occupants have preserved numerous reminders of the Soviet fliers. In the reception room is a large photo graph of Valeri Chkalov, Alexander Belyakov, former Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Alexander Troyanovsky and General George Marshall seated around a table. Baidukov and Belyakov are deeply moved as they enter this house again. Their friend Valeri Chkalov had died many years ago while testing a new aircraft.


Baidukov locates the room in which he slept. "There were maples in front of the window," he recalls. "Where are they ? Oh, there ! How tall they've grown ! " Tears glisten in his eyes as he sinks into a chair and writes in the visitors book : “I am a lieutenant general in the Soviet Army and an old man of 77 now. I recall with a feeling of deep gratitude that after our flight, when we needed rest badly, we received a cordial welcome to this house. The Soviet people want to live in friendship and harmony with the American people, and we have great hopes and faith that we shall do so."


Baidukov steps out onto the balcony and recalls that from here Valeri Chkalov addressed the citizens of Vancouver and Portland.


"There are two rivers," he told them, "the Columbia and the Volga, and though they are on different continents, have different characteristics and pass through different mountains and forests, they flow peace ably on the same planet and finally merge in the same world ocean. So, too, the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States of America should live in peace and join their efforts to make life better and more beautiful."


These words were repeated during the ceremony in which one of the city's future roads was named for Valeri Chkalov. The route still consists of green meadows covered with flowers. It is located in the south eastern suburbs, near the bank of the Columbia River where the city is now expanding. Thus Chkalov, a Russian born in the Volga area, has joined the distinguished Americans for whom Vancouver thorough fares are named. On a granite pedestal an obelisk has been erected, with a bas- relief in the center depicting the ANT-25 flying over the North Pole. On the other side of the obelisk are excerpts in Russian and English from Pravda and Izvestia reports of the flight.


The Vancouver monument is the first in the USA to commemorate an exploit of the Soviet people. It was built on the initiative of Vancouver residents with contributions ranging from five dollars to a thousand. The construction work was done by volunteers who were supplied with materials by local industrial enterprises. Governor Evans told us the project was an eloquent expression of Americans' feelings toward the Soviet people.

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The keynote of the ceremony dedicating the monument was that we must make the world

a place where both the present generation and future ones can live together in peaceful cooperation. Anatoli Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the United States; Daniel Evans, Governor of Washington; James Gallagher, Mayor of Vancouver, and the guests of honor from Moscow all emphasized this. The anthems of the USSR and the USA were played as low clouds scudded over the Columbia River, just as they had on that morning 38 years ago. The flags of the two countries were lifted by the wind, which also stirred the fresh foliage of the newly planted birch trees.


“We know that the birch is a symbol of Russia," we were told. Mayor Gallagher emphasized in an interview that the monument had been created not only to commemorate the past, but to strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation between our peoples.


On June 20, the day the monument was dedicated, the local newspaper The Columbian devoted 8 pages of its total 48 to the celebration. Its front page showed the Earth with the ANT-25 above it , surrounded by Soviet and American flags, and a banner headline in Russian: “ Vancouver Welcomes Soviet Heroes."


The newspaper said editorially that by honoring the Soviet fliers, Vancouver had made an important contribution to the cause of improved relations between our two peoples.









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