My son, Allan, met the ghost of Marshall Zhukov on his recent visit to Moscow.
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If there is any one military commander from the Second World War who deserves the title of indespensible man it would be the Russian General Georgi Zhukov. Not only was he in charge in the critical times as the Germans were stopped before Leningrad and in the winter of 1941 before Moscow and later in the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, he also in 1939 was in command of the Russian armies that defeated the Japanese in Siberia at Khalkhin Gol.
This is a little understood and appreciated battle fought before the Second World War began.
In hindsight there is only one way that Hitler could have beaten Russia and that was if Japan had attacked from the east as the Germans were advancing from the west. This would have tied down many thousands of Siberian troops that were rushed to the defense of Moscow. The experience of Khalkhin Gol deferred the Japanese.
Allan was invited by an artist friend, Vladimir Latyntsev to visit one of his elderly patrons in her Moscow apartment. She was the widow of a Marshall of World War II days. He was head of artillery and rocket forces and his name was Constantine Petrovich Kazakov.
Allan and his friend sat in her living room and the conversation turned to World War II. The widow said to Allan, "Oh, Allan, you're sitting in the chair that Marshall Zhukov liked when he visited."
It seemed suddenly a frisson of breezes from the past rustled in the room.
Also on this trip in November 2006, Allan was invited to speak before both the Moscow and the St. Petersburg branches of the Russian Geographical Society. He talked about his research on the Bering/Cherikov expedition to Alaska in 1741, and his recent book on "Yakobi Island, the Lost Tlingit Village of Apolosova, and the Fate of the Cherikov Expedition." During the meeting he was given the honor of becoming a member of the Russian Geographical Society of Moscow.
He also spoke at a 200-year anniversary of the Russian American flag. Other speakers included former Ambassador to the United States Yuri Dubinin and Historian Svetlana Federova.
There is a stark monument on the outskirts of Moscow. It is of tremendous size and made of twisted steel beams. It is almost grotesque. Its function was a tank trap or obstacle. It signifies now and for years, perhaps even for centuries, that this is as far as the Germans came.
Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.