ST. PETERSBURG (AP).- An exhibit opened in Russia on Thursday on the life of an American veteran believed to be one the few soldiers to fight for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union in World War II.
The Russian Museum exhibit, titled "Joseph R. Beyrle A Hero of Two Nations," presents 260 artifacts from Beyrle's life and military career, including a collection of his medals, uniform and photographs.
His son, U.S. ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, attended the exhibit opening and said that though his father was called a hero by both nations he never considered himself one.
"He always used to say that real heroes were those who never came back from the war," Beyrle said in fluent Russian.
Beyrle said his father "all his life was extremely grateful to the Russians, who saved him." He said his father's experience was a symbol of the strong relationship between the two countries.
The ambassador said Russian soldiers were grateful for billions' worth of Allied military aid sent to the Soviet Union during the war including U.S. Studebaker trucks.
He said he and his sister asked their father if he ever drank vodka with the Russians. "'Yes, we drank vodka,' he would reply. And here is a toast we had: To Roosevelt, To Stalin, To Studebaker!'"
Anatoly Tabunshchikov, 81, Russian war veteran who attended the opening event, said the exhibition "underlines the importance of the Soviet, American and British coalition that broke the back of Hitler's machine."
The highly decorated Staff Sgt. Beyrle parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and was captured by the Germans. He escaped and joined a Soviet tank battalion before he was wounded near Berlin and sent home through Moscow. He died in 2004.
The Muskegon, Michigan, native said he raised his hands and shouted the only two words of Russian he knew when he met Soviet troops after his escape from a German POW camp in January 1945. "Amerikansky tovarishch," he called, American comrade.
Beyrle joined Soviet troops and was wounded as his unit approached Berlin. He was treated in a field hospital before being sent back to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, a mission his son now leads.
After the war, Beyrle returned to Russia several times. He was awarded numerous decorations by the U.S., the Soviet Union and, later, Russia.
Beyrle's son became a Russia specialist with the U.S. State Department. John Beyrle served as U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria from 2005 to 2008, before being named to the top diplomatic post in Moscow in July 2008.
Among the artifacts in the St. Petersburg exhibition are telegrams notifying Joseph Beyrle's parents of his capture, his uniform and boots from WWI. The exhibition comes to Moscow on May 6.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.