Greg Melikian posing for a picture in the room that the surrender of WWII took place at Musée de la Reddition in Reims, France, 2018 (© The Greatest Generation Foundation / Greg Melikian)

Melikian Joins US President to Commemorate 75th Anniversary End of World War II Despite COVID-19

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WASHINGTON (Arizona Republic, Guardian, Washington Post, NYT, US Department of Defense) – Gregory Melikian was one of seven World War II veterans, ages 96 to 100, who joined President Donald Trump at a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Memorial on Friday, May 8, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (for a video, go here). The ceremony took place only a day after a personal valet to the president was reported to be infected with COVID-19. On that same Friday, it was also disclosed that Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, also tested positive for the virus.

The 96-year-old Melikian was selected in 1945 while in Reims, France, by General Dwight Eisenhower as the youngest of three radio operators to send the coded message announcing Germany’s unconditional surrenders.  Melikian said that Eisenhower declared, “I want Melikian to send this coded message and talk about it for the rest of his life.”

To see a video of Melikian describing “how I ended World war II,” go to https://vimeo.com/416500845.

Melikian was flown on May 7 in a empty plane, wearing a mask and protective clothing, from Phoenix, Arizona where he lives to Washington with the help of the Greatest Generation Foundation, a veterans’ charity.

His wife, Emma Melikian, 87, of Phoenix, told the Arizona Republic on May 8 that it was very important to her husband that he attend the commemoration, “virus or no virus.”

Granddaughter Alex Melikian, on the other hand, declared to the New York Times, “I think it’s very irresponsible to have the last remaining World War II veterans travel across the country to take a photograph during a global pandemic.” Worried about her grandfather, and also her grandmother when the latter returns home, she added: “People over the age of 80 have the highest chance of passing away from this. If he gets it, this could be the end…I know it’s his choice to go, but it’s irresponsible to even have an event like this in the first place.”

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At the ceremony, President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie did not wear masks, nor did the seven veterans. While Trump greeted the veterans from a distance of several feet, Esper did not always keep his distance. The Vietnam Veterans of America, a veterans advocacy group, criticized the lack of masks by officials as risky.

Director of the Greatest Generation Foundation Timothy Davis told the Washington Post, “They understand the stakes and the risks involved. All we did was pave the way, and they just delivered. They’re proud to be a voice of history and for those who are no longer with us.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere similarly declared in a statement: “As young men, these heroes stared evil in the eyes and liberated nations — no pandemic stopped them from joining their Commander-in-Chief for this momentous occasion.” He said they were “choosing nation over self” by attending the ceremony.

Emma Melikian said to the Arizona Republic that while she was sorry to read of her granddaughter’s comments, she understood, and exclaimed, “She has love for her grandparents. We’re very lucky that our grandchildren honor and respect and love us.”

A real estate developer and lawyer, Gregory Melikian and his wife Emma are the owners of the historic Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix and are well known for their philanthropy in Arizona. Among other things, they endowed the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at Arizona State University, which includes Armenian language instruction in its purvey.

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