Published Tuesday, March 17, 1998
Len Krichko to celebrate the return of Hungarian royal crown
By Kim Curry
Herald Staff Writer
Near the end of War World II near the Austrian border, Leonard Krichko of Hermitage stood as an unofficial translator between his U.S. Army colonel and a surrendering Hungarian general.
What passed between the two sides, besides Slovak words, were a half dozen or so large black satchels.
Inside, Krichko understood, were the Hungarian crown jewels and other valuables which the general said he did not want to fall into the hands of the Russians.
On Wednesday the former Hermitage commissioner and school director will be in Washington to attend a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the U.S. government's return of the symbol of Hungarian statehood.
Roughly 200 of the 600 invited guests plan to attend, organizers said Monday.
``It's history in the making,'' Krichko said Monday night. ``It's very unusual. I feel very deeply honored by it.''
The Holy Crown of St. Stephen had belonged to the Hungarian monarchy, which reigned until 1917, and was given to American military authorities in Germany at the end of World War II. It was kept at Fort Knox for more than 25 years.
Its return to Hungary in January, 1978 marked a major turning point in relations between the two countries.
``This gracious gesture by the U.S. triggered an outburst of Hungarian pride and an acceleration of the enhanced relations between Hungary, still under a communist government then, and the West,'' Gyorgy Tabori of the Hungarian embassy wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to Krichko.
``No other object embodies and symbolizes so powerfully the 1,100-year-long proud and turbulent history of this small central European nation,'' wrote Congressman Tom Lantos (D-12), Calif., who is hosting the ceremony at the Capitol.
Hungarian officials will present an exact replica of the crown to be permanently housed in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, in Atlanta.
Krichko's parents emigrated from Czechoslovakia before he was born in Johnstown. He spoke German, Hungarian and Slovak as he grew up in what was then Hickory Township.
Fluent in Slovak, he was drafted as a 17-year-old in 1944 into Gen. George Patton's Third Army, 341st regiment, 86th division. The division was selected to spearhead the American drive into Austria.
The meeting with the Hungarian general, ``a gentleman in all respects,'' and his battalion occurred near Egglesberg on May 2, 1945, Krichko said. Five days later his unit received word that the war in Europe had ended.
Krichko was then transferred to the South Pacific.
From 1974-80 he served as a school director and as a commissioner from 1982-86. It was in 1982 that he made the motion that Hermitage should be a city, a process that took three years.
Last fall, the manufacturers consultant _ who also speaks Ukranian, Polish and understands Croatian _ met with U.S. Rep. Phil English, R-21st District.
They traded stories and Krichko commented on the exchange of the jewels. English asked for more details, which Krichko supplied in writing, and then contacted the Hungarian ambassador in December.
Also at the ceremony will be Hungarian President Arpad Goncz and Cyrus Vance, the former U.S. Secretary of State who headed the delegation which returned the crown.
``It's one of those things you never expect,'' Krichko said.
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Updated March 17, 1998
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