War on Terrorism

Monday, September 13, 2010

USS Taylor Concludes Historic Visit to Murmansk, Russia

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Edward Kessler, USS Taylor Public Affairs

MURMANSK, Russia (NNS) -- USS Taylor (FFG 50) departed Murmansk, Russia, after a three-day port visit where they celebrated the close World War II alliance between Russia and the U.S., and honored veterans in both countries on the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, Sep. 9.

Taylor's visit marked the first time since the end of World War II that a U.S. Naval warship has visited the port of Murmansk.

"It was an honor to be the first warship to visit the port since 1945 and celebrate our relationship with the Russian people," said Cmdr. Lyle Hall, Taylor's commanding officer. "I hope this visit is the start of many more from the U.S. Navy to Murmansk."

During the port visit, Taylor's crewmembers participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Alyosha World War II monument to honor fallen Russian sailors and soldiers that lost their lives defending the Soviet Union from Nazi Germany.

"It was very significant to represent the U.S. during the wreath laying ceremony," said Boatswain's Mate Seaman Henry Wells. "The Russian soldiers were very nice and I enjoyed talking to them as we prepared for the event."

After the ceremony, Hall and Sheila Gwaltney, the U.S. Consul General to St. Petersburg, stopped briefly at the Kursk memorial to pay respects to the Russian sailors who lost their lives aboard submarine Kursk.

Hall and Gwaltney also visited the U.S. Monument at the International World War II Polar Convoy Cemetery. The cemetery was particularly significant for Taylor's crewmembers because three American Merchant Marines that perished supporting the Polar Convoys rest there.

"It was a humbling experience to pay tribute to three American Sailors buried in Russia," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Justin Sanders. "It was an eye-opening experience to interact with our friends from Russia; it is something I will never forget."

Members of Taylor's crew were hosted by both the Russian navy and the veterans of the polar convoy for an at-sea wreath laying. The wreath laying occurred in the location where the liberty ship S.S. Thomas Donaldson was sunk by a German U-boat just off the shores of Kildin Island, near the entrance to the port of Murmansk.

Ensign Lynn Bovard and Senior Chief Sonar Technician (Surface) Robert Parker represented the United States as they placed a wreath in the waters over the Thomas Donaldson in honor of those Sailors who lost their lives during the "Murmansk Run."

"It was an honor to pay respect to the service and sacrifice of Sailors from both of our countries," said Parker. "I have met some of the most wonderful people in Russia and seen a part of the world I never thought I would see. I only wish I could do more to repay the people of Murmansk for their hospitality."

In addition to the ceremonies and reception, 14 of Taylor's crew took part in a community relations (COMREL) project at a local orphanage. Sailors planted trees and played a friendly game of soccer before eating lunch with the children.

"Few American Sailors get the opportunity to visit Russia," said Ship's Serviceman Seaman Carlos Olivagalindo. "It felt great to get to know some of the children and share who we are as Americans with them."

Taylor, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, is homeported in Mayport, Fla., and is on a schedule deployment to the 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

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