MOSCOW — Nearly 20,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and cadets stood quiet and still in Red Square on Monday morning, waiting as the clock on the Kremlin tower moved toward 10, when a loudspeaker rumbled with a deep, imposing voice: The commemoration of the 66th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany had begun.
A vintage black limousine carried Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, standing ramrod straight in the front of the open car, through the square as he inspected the troops, some bearing the red flags with the hammer and sickle that the earlier generations had carried into battle.
President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stood at the center of the viewing stands, the Kremlin wall behind them, and declared this the most glorious of the nation’s holidays. “Urrah,” Medvedev called out — the Russian pronunciation of “hurrah.” “Urrah, urrah, urrah,” the thousands of voices answered.
No one had to be reminded that the Soviet Union lost more than 26 million people in that war. It seemed as if most of the citizens on the streets beyond were wearing the ribbon of St. George, three black stripes on an orange background, in memory of the decoration awarded to more than 15 million Soviet servicemen and women and partisans who had fought the Germans.
Then, as 1,500 military musicians, their lines dotted with 28 sousaphones, played on, the troops marched past the stands and out of the square. They were followed by about 100 vehicles, armored trucks, tanks and an assortment of missile launchers. A formation of five helicopters flew overhead.
Most of those who watched were the children and grandchildren of those who had fought, and Medvedev had urged them to carry the memory of the great war with them forever. In the stands, surviving veterans, their chests laden with medals, saluted. And so did a 4-year-old boy, the latest generation, so far removed from the Soviet Union, who touched his hand to his hat, a baseball cap from the Gap.