Kathleen Lemmons Hoffman remembers her father, who liberated the western Bohemia.

The Liberation Festival Pilsen remains the celebration of the liberation of Pilsen by allied troops, celebration of freedom and hope. Memories of those, who liberated Pilsen in May 1945, will be brought by their descendents. Kathleen Lemmons Hoffman, the daughter of Charles Robert Lemmons is a regular guest of the festival.

Interview questions:

Could you please introduce your dad, Charles R. Lemmons, to us? We would like to ask you what he did before the war, was he drafted/enlisted and wen, how he got to Pilsen (West Bohemia) and what he did after returning from World War II?

My father Charles Robert Lemmons was born Marrch 1st, 1914 in Norwood, Ohio.  He had an older sister and younger brother.  When he was five or six, the family moved to a farm in Grayville, Illinois.  My father loved the farm but by high school, they had moved to Covington, KY where he spent the rest of his life.  He played football in high school and always had some little job to help with family expenses.  After high school, he worked for a Sign Company and also General Electric.  With the war in Europe, he decided to join the Covington Kentucky Police Department on March 1, 1943.  He liked solving problems and helping people so being a Police Officer was perfect for him.

His mother often said that of her three children, my father was the one she could always count on.

He and my mother had married on August 3rd, 1940 and my older brother, Bobby was born in April, 1943.    Daddy was drafted in July 1943 and began basic training at Camp Chaffee, Fort Smith, Arkansas on October 7th, 1943.  From his first day in the Army, his papers were stamped “Military Police” so he served his entire army stint as a MP and he was very happy with those orders.  It was work he understood.  The Covington Police Chief said he was going to write a letter to keep Daddy from being drafted but Daddy said No.  He felt that if he was called, he was no better than anyone else and he would do what he had to do for his country.

When he was discharged from the Army on March 31st, 1946, he returned to work on the Covington Police Department.  He became a Detective on April 30th, 1964 and retired on March 1st, 1979 having completed 36 years without missing one day of work other than his time in the Army.  He retired with the rank of Lieutenant.

He also had two more children – both girls, me and my younger sister, Carol.

Did he tell you about what he experienced in Europe, in Western Bohemia and Pilsen? How did he remember Europe and Bohemia?

My father often talked about his time in the army but it was rarely about the horrible things he had witnessed.  He talked about the entire experience from basic training, the ocean liner trip to Europe and the unbelievable devastation in Europe.  His stories were usually about the other MPs many of whom became lifelong friends and little children that he met.  When they were in France for several days, a little blond boy became his friend after Daddy shared an orange with him.  His mother would even allow the little boy to walk around the town with my father.  I’m sure the little guy reminded Daddy of his own son.

He also often talked about their arrival in Plzen and the welcome they received.  As others have said, the citizens were so happy.  My Dad wrote that girls were kissing the soldiers but he was sad to say that “he didn’t get a kiss” and everyone was joyful and celebrating until the snipers started at Republic Sq. on May 6th.

He helped with that situation by climbing atop a tank and taking over an unmanned gun.  A photographer took his photo and somehow got the photo to him.  I didn’t know anything about this until I read his letters and found the photo he had sent to my mother but every year, Mickey and I take a photo in that exact spot on Republic Sq.  After leaving Plzen, some of the MPs, including my Dad were stationed in Plana.  The MPs were billeted in the town hall building.  My husband and I have been in that building many times and in the room that was my father’s in 1945.  It’s an emotional feeling to be there.

Your dad is connected to Planá, where he stayed for several months after the war before returning to the US. A few years ago, you read from the letters he sent from Planá back home. Can you tell us who the letters were intended for and what the content was? Alternatively, what was the most interesting for you to find in?

All the letters that I found after my father died were written to my mother.  I only wish I had read them before he died.  Some questions could have been answered.  By this time, of course, the war was over and he wrote more about what he was doing – investigating accidents, going on raids with the Czech police hunting for Nazis, and lots of patrol duty.

One of my favorite stories happened in Plana.  There was going to be a USO show in Marienbad but he could not go as he had to do traffic duty.  A large convoy of tanks, trucks, jeeps was coming through Plana.  As usual a large crowd of people were on both sides of the street watching as the convoy passed.  Suddenly a little girl decided to run between tanks to get to the other side.  Daddy heard women scream. He turned and only saw long blond hair. He ran, reached out and grabbed the little girl by her hair and saved her.  He said he thought he was going to jerk her little head off.  The guys in the tank never saw her.  He eventually took her over to the women and everyone was crying.  Daddy said he was glad that he had not been able to attend the USO show that day as there might have been a different outcome.

Another story from Plana.  One evening Daddy and another MP, Fred Nugent were in their room when they heard someone running up the stairs yelling in German “sister sick.”  They went to see what the problem was and this girl said her sister had taken poison because she had just heard that her husband, a German soldier had been killed. To add to her trouble, she was pregnant.  The MPs went to their house and transported the sick woman to the American doctors.  They saved her and her unborn child.  In appreciation, the family invited the MPs to dinner at their home.  When Daddy and the other MP, Fred Nugent arrived, the family said they should sit down and eat first and the family would eat later.  Maybe this was the custom, but Daddy and Fred said “No, we all eat together or we are leaving.”   The family sat down with the MPs.  Once the family started eating the food, Daddy and Fred did too.  The young woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy and this family and my father wrote letters for many years. They were relocated back to Germany at some time but I actually remember letters arriving from Germany and Daddy reading them.  Eventually, contact was lost but Daddy saved the letters.

Did your father’s participation in World War II affect him in any way? Or did it affect you too – as his child? For example, in the fact that you showed love for the army, for freedom, for the determination to fight for freedom and your homeland? Did any of his descendants choose a career in the military?

I am sure the War affected him in some way but I really can’t say.  He always told us that we are only on this earth to help one another.  He lived a life of service to others.  Being part of the army was part of his life of service.  Also, he told us that he always felt like he would make it through the war and come home to his wife and son.  All the time he was gone, he felt like he would be ok.

None of his children served in the military but he and my mother instilled in us a love of our country, respect for men and women who are currently serving and for those who have served.

You continue the legacy of your father and his fellow soldiers yourself being the secretary of the 16th Armored Division Association. How did you become the secretary? What does it mean to you?

My mother died in 1966 and it was a few years later that we encouraged Daddy to attend the annual reunion of the 16th Armored Division Assn. He did that in 1972 and in 1977, he asked me to go with him.  I had been reading his 16th ADA newsletters for years so I went with him.  As our family took summer vacations, we met many of his MP buddies and their families so I already knew some of the MPs.  When Mickey and I married, he came to the reunions also.  We loved being with my father and meeting so many of the veterans, not just the MPs.  Over all these years, Mickey and I have only missed two – 1993 and 2001 when my father died.  At the 2013 reunion, the Secretary/Treasurer resigned due to his age and health and someone nominated me to take over the job.  I was unanimously approved and I became the new Secretary/ Treasurer.  It was another way for me to honor my father and to help keep their legacy alive.  I handle the 16th ADA funds and work to encourage veterans and family members to join the Association.   At our annual reunion, I lead the business meeting and keep the records.

In 2017, the editor for our newsletter, The Sixteener resigned so I took that over also.  With help, I learned how to create and publish it.  The newsletter is the lifeblood of the association and is how the group stays together.   We have lost so many veterans this last year but many family members have joined and again, we work hard to continue to honor our fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, etc.  When I became the editor, I immediately sent out requests for photos, bios and stories, and now I have a very nice collection.  I love this work.  My goal is always to make my father proud of me and honor his memory.

A few years ago, you shared photos of American soldiers found in Planá in western Bohemia on Facebook. You wanted to find out their identity. Did you succeed? Did people say that they recognized their fathers or grandfathers in them? What interesting things did you learn about the men whose footage was from 1945?

Yes, some years ago, glass negatives were found near Plana.  Some were damaged but others could be developed.  The lady who found them, Mrs. Novotna knew that a friend of hers, Alena Havelkova had a contact with the 16th Armored Division.  Luckily, I was the contact and received the photos.  Out of a total of 46 photos, all 16th Armored Division GIs, only four have been identified.   It is still a work in progress.

The only interesting story is that a lady found the 16th ADA face book page and was casually looking through it as her father had served in the 16th.  She came across all the unidentified photos that I had posted and surprisingly found her father.  She contacted me and I was so excited.  Her father was Avery Waldman, Division Trains, Special Services.  Sadly, he died in 1995 but his daughter, Judy is now a member of the 16th ADA.

An odd thing with these photos is that two of them are 16th AD MPs and I have not been able to identify them.   We believe that all the photos were taken by a Dr. Bergmann.

Since when have you been attending The Liberation Festival Pilsen? What does this festival mean to you? What should be the message of the festival even for the Young generation?

Mickey and I first attended the Liberation Festival in 2005.  George Thompson, Gene Eike and Clyde Kessen, all 16th AD veterans encouraged us to make the trip.  We are so glad that we did.  Return trips were in 2010, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022, 2023 and this year.  Covid kept us away in 2020 and 2021.

We come here to honor my father’s memory and all those who served.  Each trip we are so humbled by the celebration.  My father always talked about wanting to return but sadly, he never did so we come for him.  It is an amazing experience.  My brother asked why we keep going back to Plzen and my answer was, “the people.  They are so grateful to the American soldier even after all these years.”   I told him if he ever went over for the Liberation Festival that he would understand why we return but he has never made the trip.

In my opinion, the message for the young generation is what we see all over Plzen, “Never forget” and “Thank you Boys.”   Continue to educate the young people about the past and tell them the stories of all these young men who came from far away to help save the world.

In 2005, George Thompson said if we kept coming over, we would make friends.  We did not think that would happen but thankfully, it did.  We are blessed with so many Czech citizens that we can proudly say are our friends and we truly love their friendship.

What do you like about Pilsen?

We love many things about Plzen –first and foremost the people, the memorials to our soldiers, the respect the Czech people have for our veterans, the way we are treated because of our fathers and/ or grandfathers having been there, and the beer is good too.

Mickey and I want to thank everyone who is involved with the Liberation Festival.  You make us feel like we are home!