Soviet Veteran on Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
It's been almost 70 years since the end of World War II.
Thinking back on the war holds many memories for Alex Farfel, 85, who on Tuesday joined a group of 80 other World War II veterans at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport for a special trip.
Honor Flight West Central Florida regularly takes veterans on an all-expenses-paid, one-day flight to Washington, D.C.
The veterans visited Arlington National Cemetery and memorials built to honor their service during the war.
Unlike other veterans on the flight, Farfel's story is different. A native of Moldova in the former Soviet Union, Farfel and his family fled during the Nazi invasion to the Ukraine. His parents were killed when Farfel was 12. He was given two options: join an orphanage or join the Red army.
He became a 'Son of the Battalion," where a group of Soviet soldiers would take in orphaned children and raise them. Young Farfel eventually rose through the ranks and became a colonel in the Soviet Army.
This entire time, no one knew that Farfel was Jewish.
"He wouldn't have gotten the military awards that he got, or into the academy that he got into, if he would have disclosed that he was a Jew," Farfel's interpreter said.
In 1985, Farfel retired from the military and within a few years, the Soviet Union fell apart. He eventually moved to Florida to be with his daughter in Orlando.
This week's honor flight out of Clearwater is the first time the group has had a Soviet veteran attending.
"There was nothing (that) indicated that it has to be a American veteran, it's World War II veteran. Bingo, we have a World War II veteran here that was fighting on the Ukrainian front," said Zhenya Nichols, coordinator for the Russian-American Community Center of Florida.
"He qualifies, he lives in America, he's an American citizen, and you know he was fighting,"
Because Farfel is not an United States military veteran, Nichols said her group paid his way to Washington, D.C. Nichols hopes events like this will heal the current tensions between Russians and Americans.
Nichols points to a famous moment that marked the end of the war. Russian and American troops shook hands at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. It was the first time both sides met on the battlefield.
Farfel was not in Germany at the meeting on the Elbe River. But it still carries a special meaning, he said.
Farfel’s son Mikhail, said doctors were hesitant about the honor flight. Farfel’s doctors said he should not fly with his medical conditions, his son said.
"He said, thank you doctor, now I know, but I will fly," said Mikhail Farfel. "Because it's very honorable and I know I can do it. I wasn't afraid to be (a) little soldier at the age of 12, I'm not afraid to fly now."