is my great honor to return this medal
USMC General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff
and the second highest ranking military officer in the US Armed Forces.
In his hand, he held a velvet-lined jewelry case holding the Gold
Star Hero of the Soviet Union Medal, No. 3902. It had been awarded
to Sgt Mookhudin Umurdinov (see Digest Issue #9, Dec. 31, 2001). The
setting was the Uzbek National Military Museum in the capital city
of Tashkent. On hand to receive his father's medal was Mr. Rakhmatzon
Umurdinov, the 3rd son.
Gold Star Medal and accompanying booklet purchased by the author
in December of 1997. Unknown to the author, it had been stolen
only a few months earlier. The Umurdinov family had been evacuated
from their home because of a terrible flood. When they returned,
they discovered amongst other things, the awards of their father
had been stolen. Note slight water damage on the inside of the
award booklet, which corroborates the story.
The medal's return culminated a five year journey, from the Hero's
home in the small village of Boyiston in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan,
and back again. The story started in May 1997 when the village flooded
during a violent rain storm. The Umurdinovs vacated their home. When
they returned three days later, someone had broken in and ransacked
the house. Among the missing items were the Gold Star Medal and the
accompany award booklet.
The medal and booklet was smuggled out of Uzbekistan and eventually
found its way to a German medals dealer. In December 1997, I was in
the market to purchase a Hero Star and wanted to buy one awarded to
an ethnic minority. I contacted the dealer, who responded by FAX:
"I have for you right now a Hero of the Soviet Union with order
book, which was given to an Uzbek, Nr. 3902." He explained that
he had just obtained it and offered it at X dollars.
Then strange things started to happen. When I FAXed back a response
saying that I wanted it, it arrived in my mailbox even before I could
send the money! I had never done business with this gentleman. It
had been registered, but the postman simply stuck the package in my
mailbox without getting my signature!
On May 28, 2000, I attended the Great Western Military Show in Las
Vegas. I went there on setup day with a friend and was looking around
when I came across a dealer selling Soviet military items. He had
three large photo albums crammed full of official portraits of Heroes
of the Soviet Union. Out of curiosity, I started thumbing through
the pages until I came to a certain photo. I had seen that handsome
guy before, but couldn't remember who he was. On the back of the photo
in pencil was Cyrillic script which I couldn't read well. So I asked
the dealer to read the name for me. He said, "Umurdinov Mookhudin!"
I was flabbergasted! And the dealer said jokingly, "What, you
know this guy? Then, for you, $25.00!" I purchased the photo
and walked around in a daze. Now,
what are the odds of finding an official portrait of a Hero whose
medal I possessed, in Las Vegas, of all places! The odds must have
been one in a billion! I felt as though I had hit a jackpot! At
the show, I ran into Paul McDaniel, author of The Comprehensive Guide
to Soviet Orders and Medals. This was the first time I had ever met
him, and he turned out to be a very knowledgeable and friendly guy.