Grandpa’s WWII Stories

I’d known my grandfather Vladimir Konstantinovich Terletsky to be a soft-spoken and kind man. He’s the reason why I’d developed impeccable borsch-cooking skills in early adolescence: he had to have borsch every single day for lunch, and it just wasn’t good enough unless it was prepared by my mother or myself or my sister.

He also loved to play cards: a habit that had stayed with him throughout his lifetime, probably picked up during his service days in the times of WWII. (And his clever borsch-loving habit ensured that he always had card-playing mates for a few rounds, while the borsch was simmering away on the stovetop.)

Gramps fought in the War from the very first day it started on Ukrainian (then—Soviet) territory, in June 1941, until full liberation in May 1945. He participated in the 900-day blockade and subsequent liberation of Leningrad (now—St. Petersberg), then the liberation of Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, chasing Hitler’s troops all the way to the Rügen Island in Germany. When asked where and when had he ever gone abroad, he would, with complete seriousness say, “twice: on holiday to the US in 1995, and to Germany during the war in 1945.” He had always spoken about the war calmly, as if it were simply an event in his life, not a tragedy that had taken the lives of millions, dozens of them—his friends and comrades. He had told us stories about the war—mostly happy or funny ones—glossing over the details of the times he was wounded (twice: once by a sniper and once by a grenade shelling, both times coming back to the frontlines following a brief recovery period) or the times when he lost his comrades in battle (unknown number of times.) Perhaps he was being kind protecting us kids from the horrors of war, but I’d like to think he really did experience it that way: with the glass half full rather than half empty; remembering the glory of victory rather than the everyday pain and suffering of war.

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