ENNIS – Five veterans were recognized with medals of honor from the country they helped in 1945. The recognition came during the opening ceremonies of the National Polka Festival on Saturday morning.

The five veterans, Willie Laza, Anton Rejcek, Charlie Tomek, Benjamin Zajicek, Hugo Gorgas and Benn Gleason, were individually recognized for their roles during the World War II campaign – whether in the liberation or in post-war efforts. Presenting the soldiers their medals were Karel Schwarzenberg, Czech Republic first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, and Czech Republic Military Attaché Brig. Gen. Premysl Skada.

Mayor Thomas Russell opened the ceremony, saying, “It’s a special day in Ennis. A special delegation from the Czech Republic has come here to visit and honor these veterans. We have helped their country and, in turn, they have helped ours through the years.”

“It is an honor to recognize these men for their contribution to Czechoslovakia. These men were a part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army that liberated Czechoslovakia in 1945. Thanks to the U.S for their help to liberate Europe,” Schwarzenberg said.

After giving the history of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany and telling how Patton liberated the country, Schwarzenberg, followed by Skada individually thanked the veterans and presented them the highest Czech Republic Military Medal.

During the ceremony, Thomas and polka festival director Danny Zapletal welcomed Schwarzenberg and the dignitaries who traveled to Ennis with him. Schwarzenberg is the highest ranking official of the Czech Republic have visited the city of Ennis during its National Polka Festival.

Thomas read a proclamation officially welcoming Schwarzenberg and making an honorary citizen of Ennis. Schwarzenberg was also recognized with a proclamation from the city announcing him as the festival’s parade grand marshal.

Besides Schwarzenberg, the other members the Czech Republic delegation were recognized and officially welcomed to the city, receiving a medallion and a welcoming proclamation.

Besides the Czech Republic delegation, Honorary Czech Republic Consulate Ray Snokhaus and U.S. House of Representative Joe Barton were in attendance. Both told the audience of their involvement in helping make the visit by the deputy prime minister a reality and each thanked the delegates for being a part of the Ennis Czech heritage.