Pictured above is the first-edition headline from the Chicago Daily News of 40 years ago today -- a headline replaced in later editions by the one-day premature but accurate Associated Press report that Germany had surrendered.
Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s 3rd Army did indeed capture Pilsen, as the headline proclaims. It was the last prize in the drive that had begun 11 months earlier, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
One current Washingtonian remembers the episode well. Sgt. Kimon Gregory, now a CBS Radio news producer and announcer, rode 40 years ago in a jeep with Lt. Col. Henry H. Kilpatrick, the intelligence officer of the 97th Infantry Division, from the divisional command post in the village of Konstantinovy Lazny into Pilsen, perhaps 20 miles distant.
There, Kim Gregory recalls, there was no resistance from the retreating German army and the city fathers offered the city's surrender to the 97th. The colonel and the sergeant returned to Konstantinovy Lazny, called 3rd Army headquarters with the glad news, and were told to hold their division's current position.
According to Patton's own memoirs, "War as I Knew It," another unit of the 3rd Army, the 16th Armored Division, which had seen only one day of combat, "entered Pilsen" and led to the headline pictured above.
Let me confess, I'm no bystander. The 97th was my division, too, and that of retired major general Frank H. Partridge of Arlington, then the assistant division commander.
Somehow there's a hollow feeling, even 40 years later, from being deprived of the last big prize -- but, forgetting glory, there was no bigger prize than the end of the fighting and the liberation of Czechoslovakia.
Ten years ago, I visited Prague and met with officials well attached to the Communist apparatus.
"Have you ever visited our country before?" my chief greeter asked.
"Yes," I said, smiling. "I was in the United States Army that helped liberate your country from the Nazis."
"Sir, you must be mistaken," my Czech host responded icily. "Our country was liberated by the . . . Soviet Red Army."