WW2 friendship survives against the odds

The battles of WW2 produced not only acts of heroism but also great friendships.   Russian soldiers  fought shoulder to shoulder with Americans. And in spite of the distance, some of them still keep contact with each other.

250 miles north of New York, a group called “veterans of foreign wars” pays tribute to those who risked their lives fighting against the Nazis.  

World War II veteran and Rutland resident, Richard Fitzsimonns, has memories of World War II which are closely related with Russia. In March 1945, Fitzsimmons was an 18-year-old soldier in America's fourth infantry division. Fighting near Stuttgart in Germany, he helped free hundreds imprisoned in concentration camps. 17-year old Vladimir Kuts was one of them. 

“The Russian teenager had been in the Nazi camp for three years, he may have been an emaciated teenager, but he was keen to help his American liberators, he told us of the Germans and what they were planning, so we went and checked it out and he was right,” he said. 

When the fighting was over, a grateful Kuts wanted to fight with the Americans. They were in need of a machine-gunner so he was given the job, an American uniform, a helmet and an American nickname. 

“We had no time to learn how to say his name, so we gave him the nickname: ”G.I. Willy“, the name he had kept for months until the Germans surrendered,” recalled Richard. 

The soldiers lost contact after the war, but Richard often wondered if his Russian friend made it home alive. He did, but fearing being dubbed a spy, for the next 40 years Kuts kept silent about the events he believes saved his life.   

Remembering those days Kurt said:  “I was hiding from everyone that I was in the U.S. army for some time. When I finally revealed it, they told me – oh you're so lucky, you wouldn't have been executed probably but would have been put to prison for 20-25 years at least. So God was really taking care of me, and 44 years later I finally saw my liberators again. I will not forget these guys until the end of my life.”  

Not until 1989, did he reveal how he had stayed alive. A veterans group helped the old Russian man travel to Vermont to see his pal Richard.

“Oh it was very emotional,”remembered Richard,“Willy is just a great guy, a true gentleman, that is why I care for him so much.”

 18 years after that meeting, this year, Willy wanted to deliver this message to his friend on Victory Day. A Russia Today correspondent brought a video message to Richard.  

“My dear Fitzsimmons, handsome Richard and pretty Elon, I still remember you, I still love you. Whenever America comes up in a conversation, we immediately recollect your wonderful family. I embrace and congratulate all those sturdy fellows who are still alive. I think you are as positive about my country, my nation and my family. I wish you all the very best,” said Kurt in the message. 

Richard was touched once again by memories of the past.