Editorial Note on Russian Fliers’ Visit

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Editorial Note on Russian Fliers’ Visit

June 20–21, 1937

Shortly after 5:00 P.M. (Pacific Standard Time) on June 17, 1937, three Russian fliers left Moscow to attempt the first non-stop flight to the United States by way of the North Pole. The single-engine monoplane headed for Oakland, California, carrying Pilot Valeri P. Chkalov, Co-pilot Georgi P. Baidukov, and Navigator Alexander V. Beliakov. Sixty-three hours later, the U.S. Army Signal Corps station at Seattle, Washington, received a message in international code that the craft had to make an emergency landing. Thus, on Sunday, June 20, at 8:22 A.M., under overcast skies, the plane set down on Pearson Field, Vancouver Barracks, having covered 5,288 miles. Inclement weather and poor visibility caused the premature stop, the pilot insisted, not a failing fuel pump. (Portland Oregonian, June 21, 1937; New York Times, June 21, 1937.)

The three weary fliers, unable to speak English, were met at the plane by a Russian-speaking Reserve officer and taken to Marshall’s house for baths, breakfast, and sleep. Marshall ordered guards posted around the plane, the house, and in front of the fliers’ bedroom doors. Meanwhile, reporters, photographers, news broadcasters, and various dignitaries were en route to the Marshall residence. Soviet Ambassador Alexander A. Troyanovsky arrived from Oakland, California, and that evening a radio broadcast was aired from Marshall’s living room.

The ambassador compared the flight to Charles A. Lindbergh’s, and the Soviet press asserted that the feat could have been accomplished only under a socialist regime. Telegrams and telephone calls from throughout the world poured into the Marshall residence. The local newspaper shouted in two-inch type: “Epochal Soviet Flight Ends." Complimentary references to Brigadier General and Mrs. Marshall were also printed. (Portland Oregonian, June 21, 1937.)

On Monday, the Vancouver Barracks garrison paid tribute to the airmen with a parade in their honor. In the afternoon Brigadier General Marshall, Ambassador Troyanovsky, and Governor Martin accompanied the Soviet heroes in a parade through Portland and to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, prior to the fliers’ departure for the east coast. (K. T. Marshall, Together, pp. 25–28; Portland Oregonian, June 22, 1937.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981– ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 545–546.

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