“We were full of Soviet patriotism,” says Boris Smirnov, who saw many of his comrades die during the conflict Russians call the Great Patriotic War. On one occasion, Smirnov’s platoon was building a bridge over the Neman River when their commander was struck by a bullet, possibly from an enemy sniper.
“As I tried to help him, there was another soldier next to me,” Smirnov recalls. “He said, ‘Hey doctor, you help him, and I’ll cover you.’ ” As the medic bandaged the fallen officer, a shot rang out from the opposite bank, instantly killing the soldier standing watch over him. “He fell quietly,” says Smirnov, still grieved by his protector’s death.
More traumatic was the day in October 1944 when Smirnov’s platoon was surrounded and callously gunned down. “I saw the laughing German soldiers who were sitting some 50 to 60 meters from us,” Smirnov says. “We were rushing at them screaming; they were laughing and waving their hats. My friends were falling down all around me.”