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The Hill of Crosses–A personal reflection (2013)

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The Hill of Crosses--a Lithuanian landmark and attraction that gained immense significance in the lives of Lithuanians during the Soviet era as a sign of resistance.

The Hill of Crosses–a Lithuanian landmark and attraction that gained immense significance in the lives of Lithuanians during the Soviet era as a sign of resistance.

By Cadet Moriah Wallace:
Oklahoma State University 2015

“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”- Napoléon Bonaparte.

As the shackles of religious percussion, political injustice and racial intolerance fell upon Lithuania it would truly prove to be their faith that would unite them. Today (6-21-2013) the Lithuanian Team-2 CULP Cadets had the opportunity to witness the most visible display of Soviet defiance in Lithuanian history, the Hill of Crosses.

From the moment you see the Hill and start to walk through the labyrinth of crosses you are unequivocally moved. You are moved not by a simple shove, but by a wave of humility that could capsize the most steadfast of ships. When walking on to grounds of such note it is easy to carry with you your own opinion on what you expect to see, especially after seeing dozens of pictures and hearing several briefs that note its grandeur.

When looking closer you will notice that there are numerous rosaries accented on each of the crosses

When looking closer you will notice that there are numerous rosaries accented on each of the crosses

Pictures may be worth a thousand words but no amount of photos can capture the speechlessness caused by your first view the Hill.

When looking closer you will notice that there are numerous rosaries accented on each of the crosses. While there are rich Catholic undertones to the Hill it by no means taints the experience for the people of other faiths in the group. Being a non-denominational Christian myself, I can say, without hesitation, that it was very exciting to be so immersed in another cultures undying faith and hope for their religious and political independence.

Their faith and outward expression of it would prove to be strong enough to attract the attention of Pope John Paul II. In 1993 John Paul visited the Hill of Crosses and left on it an inscribed plate stating “Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land.”hill of crosses8

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CULP Cadets visit Lithuania Liberation Movement Bunker–(2013)

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Cadet Roessler made his way down into the resistance bunker in Ariogalos  to see the dimensions and living quarters of those who hid within it before being compromised.

Cadet Roessler made his way down into the resistance bunker in Ariogalos to see the dimensions and living quarters of those who hid within it before being compromised.

By Cadet Michael Cosenza
During our travel from Vilnius to Klaipeda Lithuania, we (Army ROTC Cadets participating in the Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency program) visited a local school and toured an old soviet-era, partisan bunker in Ariogalos, a small town in Lithuania.
Partisans are like guerilla warfare groups, or part of the resistance movement within Europe during WWII.

While there, we learned about the history of this bunker and about the Lithuanian resistance to the Soviet Union forces. We were also given a chance to meet with senior students at the school and learn about life as a Lithuanian teenager by engaging in one on one conversation. This opportunity gave us a chance to integrate with, and experience, Lithuanian culture from the perspective of native Lithuanians.

Once arriving in Ariogalos we toured the site of the bunker. While traveling to the forest where the hiding place had been built, we were briefed about the history of the partisan movement and specifically about the history of the bunker. It was constructed in 1948 during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Lithuania, becoming only known to few outside of the six resistance fighters who occupied its small quarters–six men had to cram inside and live shoulder to shoulder to make it work.

The bunkers in Lithuania were used to hide from the Soviet Army during the 1940s and 50s. The security of the bunker in Ariogalos was unfortunately compromised in 1950 by word of mouth from a member of the town. A Soviet supporter living in the city sold the location of the bunker to the Soviets, which led to the discovery and deaths of the partisans that were hiding there. Five of the six men were killed, while the sixth was taken into captivity and tortured for information which eventually led to his death. Following the assault on the men living within the bunker, it was destroyed.

A marker was placed by the local Lithuanians at the site of the Ariogalos resistance bunker to remember the ones whose lives were lost when the hiding place was compromised in 1950.

A marker was placed by the local Lithuanians at the site of the Ariogalos resistance bunker to remember the ones whose lives were lost when the hiding place was compromised in 1950. Although dirt shows the exact location of where the bunker could be found today, when it was built the location would have greatly concealed its location.

But after the fall of the Soviet Union, a monument dedicated to the partisans who died was erected and in 2010 the bunker was excavated and rebuilt by local citizens of Ariogalos. The bunker is located approximately four hundred meters into the woods. We were granted the opportunity to climb inside to take a look at the conditions in which the partisans had to live. While inside we experienced the cramped quarters the resistance fighters had to contend with while hiding from the Soviet Army.

Cadet Hoffman takes off during the relay race, between the Cadets and students at Ariogalos Gimnazija, while the national 100 meter sprint record setter in Lithuania (left) reaches for his team's baton.

Cadet Hoffman takes off during the relay race, between the Cadets and students at Ariogalos Gimnazija, while the national 100 meter sprint record setter in Lithuania (left) reaches for his team’s baton.

Following the tour of the bunker we traveled back to town where we visited the school, Ariogalos Gimnazija. We answering questions about life in the United States and asking questions about life in Lithuania—an experience that enhanced each countries cadets and students grasp a better understanding of each culture. A short time later we moved outside to the school’s athletic field or “stadium” and participated in several activities with the students that included competition firing pellet guns, followed by running a 4×400 meter relay race against the schools runners.

Over the course of our trip we were able to broaden our mindset of other cultures because of the opportunity to integrate with the Lithuanians, and also by being taught the history and struggle for independence that Lithuania has seen.

Cadets visit Brigada Paracaidista–lessons in culture and language (2013)

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Our hard earned Airborne wings.

Our hard earned Airborne wings.

Eight Army ROTC Cadets from around the U.S. landed in Madrid, Spain June 1 with the missions of teaching Spanish soldiers tactical English, gaining a better understanding of Spanish culture, and earning our Spanish Airborne wings. These goals were achieved through countless hours in the classroom, various training environments, and visits to various cities in Spain.

Shortly after arriving we were plunged headlong into Spanish culture by enjoying a traditional lunch followed by a visit to the Sofia Renia Museum.

We visited several musuems to learn about Spanish history.

We visited several musuems to learn about Spanish history.

A few days later we were introduced to the soldiers we would accompany for the next few weeks. These Spanish paratroopers are part of the elite Brigada Paracaidista (BRIPAC) of the Spanish Army. The unit has been in existence since 1953 and has seen combat in multiple theaters such as Kosovo, Bosnia, and also as a quick reaction force (QRF) in Afghanistan.

We trained to the Spanish Army’s schedule beginning with a five to seven mile run in the mornings, followed by teaching English to the Spanish soldiers, and then either military training or a chance to experience the culture by traveling to nearby towns. On the weekends we travelled to Spanish cities accompanied by a few of the Spanish soldiers who acted as guides. These trips included visits to the Infantry Academy and the Army Museum in Toledo, the Artillery Academy and the Military Archives in Segovia, and to the unit museum on the base. Other visits included the historical cities of Madrid, Sevilla, and Barcelona.

Teaching our counterparts conversational English

Teaching our counterparts conversational English

Throughout the three weeks that we were with Spanish soldiers, we felt like we formed a brotherhood. Every day that we were together we began to grow closer to each other. One day in particular we jumped with the Spanish paratroopers, earning our Spanish Airborne wings, called Rokiski. The Spanish airborne soldiers also earned their U.S. Army Airborne wings. This day we put our lives in the hands of each other as we helped each other rig our parachutes in preparation for the jump. It was a great bonding experience. After we completed the jump we celebrated with an afternoon out to lunch. 

At the end of the mission we said our farewells and traded gifts with our new brothers-in-arms knowing that the wisdom we all gained on this once-in-a-lifetime mission gave us the cultural knowledge that we may someday need to complete a multi-national mission.

Our new friends

Our new friends