Being With The People — A Diary by Kirk Edwards: Leningrad 1989 — Monday, June 26, 1989


For The Madera Tribune

The U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle. A U.S. Coast Guard Band musician is in the foreground. There is a Russian Cadet honor guard waiting to receive Eagle as it arrives and one can see the bow of the ship in front of the Russian Cadets.

 

In 1989, Kirk Edwards, a 1973 MHS graduate, had an experience unique to Madera natives. He traveled as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Band to the Soviet Union — the first U.S. Band to do so. Throughout his stay, he kept a diary, an abridged copy of which is here published, in serial form, for the first time.


Facing the horrors of war

I was more motivated than ever to run this morning. It was my last opportunity to jog down the bustling Nevsky Prospect before returning to the U.S. I experienced some deeply ambivalent feelings as I darted through the crowed sidewalks. I ran past the subway station, the people who swept the street, the people who formed the lines at the stores, and then turned around at the Hermitage Museum for one last time.


It was difficult to conceive of leaving this beautiful and intriguing city and the friends that we had met. Our positive, life-changing experiences and the friends that we met greatly outweighed any adverse conditions that we faced. But, the greatest lesson and the most profound experiences were yet to come.


I was surprised when Tom Briggs and Al Lyman called out to me from a side street. There seemed to be an unspoken, underlying significance to the three of us coming together to jog the last mile together down the Nevsky Prospect. The next item on our itinerary was a visit to the Piskarevskoye Cemetery.


It is a tradition that visiting military units present a wreath at the memorial commemorating those who so gallantly gave their lives during the Siege of Leningrad at the Piskarevskoye Cemetery. So, it was determined that we would present a wreath as a military unit, without our musical instruments. We did not understand that the ceremony at the Piskarevskoye Cemetery would be the highlight of our visit to Leningrad.


A tour guide from the cemetery greeted us, as we stepped off of the bus. Nicolai, Locia, and several members of the Leningrad Band also welcomed us. As we reflected on our experiences in Leningrad and recounted the events we had learned about the Siege en route to the cemetery, this ceremony assumed a more profound meaning.


After Nicolai, Mr. Buckley, the cemetery liaison, and Suzanne worked out the details of the ceremony, a Russian honor guard approached us. They escorted us down a 480-meter path toward the memorial to those who died during the Nazi Siege.


The officer-in-charge of the honor guard, with his sword in its sheath was centered and positioned two steps ahead of the other four members of the honor guard. He carried our wreath and led us down the corridor.


A marble plate indicated that from September 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944, 107,158 air bombs were dropped on the city; 148,478 shells were fired, 16,744 men died, 33,782 were wounded and 641,803 died of starvation.


Our tour guide said that Leningrad was besieged for nine hundred days, from Sept. 8, 1941 until Jan. 27, 1944.


Our guide told us that the roses that lined the promenade were symbolic of the bloodshed of an estimated six hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand Leningraders who perished from the cold, starvation, or at the Nazi’s hands.


One hundred-and-eighty six mass graves that measured approximately ten yards by fifty yards, marked with the Hammer and the Sickle or stars, and the year 1942 formed a perpendicular grid branching out from the corridor on both sides.


I fought back tears as Chopin’s Funeral March was softly broadcast over a public address system. The loudspeakers must have been sizable because I felt encompassed by the sound of the solemn music.


Our tour guide told us that five hundred thousand people were buried here at the Piskarevskoye Cemetery in mass graves. This shocking reality brought home the point of the barbarism of war. This re-enforced my notion that the arms race and the militaristic aggression between our nations should end.


At that moment, I believed that we should re-evaluate our theories regarding peace through strength and be more adamant about achieving peace through negotiations. Additionally, I thought that we should stop developing and stockpiling nuclear weapons and Star Wars technology, and fashion our weapons of mass destruction into harvesting implements to feed the world. I know that is an idealistic stance, but, witnessing the reality of the consequences of war made me dream of a more humane and peaceful solution.


We have not witnessed a conflict of this magnitude on U.S. soil. I thought that it was ironic that our Russian hosts were taking the initiative to impress the point of the adverse consequences of “man’s inhumanity against man” on us in such a gracious manner. At this very moment, I became determined to be an ambassador for peace. I endeavored to spread the message of peace and the manner in which we came to appreciate it in the Soviet Union.


At the end of the path, the honor guard led the band up several steps to the statue of Mother Russia with her outspread arms. Mother Russia was depicted in a long dress with her outstretched hands holding a long garland. After we reached the statue, LCDR Lewis Buckley and Musician Senior Chief Gerald Levine, who’s Dad was born in Minsk, laid the wreath at the statue of Mother Russia, our procession slowly retraced our steps back down the corridor.


Leningraders and the people of the Soviet Union find it difficult to fathom that their former German allies launched a surprise attack from the West at the onset of the siege.