Posted by: Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt
Earlier this week, I had the honor of visiting Ukraine’s National Military History Museum to take part in a very special, and somewhat unusual, ceremony. I presented the US Distinguished Flying Cross for Colonel Mykhaylo Ivanovich Smil’skiy to Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Petro Mekhed (on Smil’skiy’s behalf). I was also thrilled that our departing Defense Attaché, Colonel Joe Hickox, who is retiring from his own distinguished career as an air force pilot, was able to take part in the ceremony. The Distinguished Flying Cross is in honor of Smil’skiy’s extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight in Eastern Europe—in 1944.
Though Colonel Smil’skiy was presented with a certificate during his lifetime, he never received the Distinguished Flying Cross itself. To correct this historic injustice, representatives of the United States and Ukraine came together on Tuesday to honor a man who had served on the frontlines of our shared fight for freedom and for liberty, who served proudly and heroically as the United States and the Soviet Union fought together to defeat Nazi Germany.
The Distinguished Flying Cross was created after World War I to recognize the courage, endurance, and gallantry of pilots. It is awarded to any officer or enlisted person of the Armed Forces of the United States who has distinguished him or herself in actual combat by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. During wartime, it may also be awarded to the members of the Armed Forces of friendly foreign nations serving with the United States. The medal itself deeply symbolic: the cross represents sacrifice, the propellers stand for flight, and the ribbon reflects the national colors of the United States.
Myhailo Ivanovych Smylskii was an extraordinary individual. Born in 1920 in Kyiv, by the end of World War II, he had flown approximately 200 combat flights. Smylskii was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin (twice), Order of the Red Banner (3 times), and the Order of Suvorov of 3rd degree.
Smil’skiy’s accomplishments and courage are echoed by the service and sacrifice of those on the front lines in Ukraine today—by the heroism and valor of the brave Ukrainians fighting to secure Ukraine’s freedom for future generations. Just as we did in the 1940s, the United States stands with Ukraine, as a partner, as a friend, and as a country deeply vested in Ukraine’s future, just as we were when Mikhaylo Smil’skiy took bravely to the skies in his country’s defense some 70 years ago.