By Henry Sakaida
I remember the day well. It was in January 2000. A friend phoned me to say that he had just purchased a Gold Star medal belonging to an Uzbek Hero. This was his first big venture into the arena of Soviet orders and medals collecting. He never does things in a small way. However, he is a "coin collector" type who never ventures beyond what he has in his hands.
The Hero Star was in nice condition and came with a small red order booklet. The name inside the book was "Mookhudin Umurdinov." I went home and thumbed through my two volume encyclopedia of Heroes of the Soviet Union. There, on page 625, was a small photo of the Hero. His biography reads:
"Mookhudin Umurdinov was born on April 10, 1912 in the kishlak Boyiston of the Kuvinski territory of the Fergana Region in the family of an Uzbek peasant. He finished secondary school and a special school. He worked as head of the fire guard in Derbent (a small town in Dagestan, Caucasus). He served in the Army from 1937 to 1939. Since 1942 he was at the front."
"On August 4, 1943 in the area of the village Pleshcheyevo (the Oryol region, the platoon commander assistant of the 1022nd Rifle Regiment (269th Rifle Division, 3rd Army, Belorussian Front), Sergeant Umurdinov was the first to raise his platoon to attack. In the hand-to-hand fighting his platoon eliminated 20 Fascists. On August 14th, in the area of the village Krivoshein, he headed a paratrooper group and they successfully attacked the enemy. The title of Hero of the Soviet Union was bestowed upon him on June 4, 1944."
Fast forward to April 28th, 2000. My friend and I were at the Great Western Military Show in Las Vegas. During set up day, I went from table to table, looking at what was available. Then I came to a dealer specializing in Soviet militaria. He had three photo albums crammed with old photographs and official portraits of Heroes of the Soviet Union. As I thumbed through the pages, one photo stopped me in my tracks. The Hero in the photo looked so familiar. I had seen that handsome face before! When I took the photo out of the album and flipped it over, there was Russian cyrillic writing on it with the man's name. It looked like "Umurdinov" but I wasn't certain.
I took the photo over to the seller and asked if he could translate the name. Without hestitation, he said "Umurdinov Mookhudin." He saw the excitement in my face and asked, "Do you know him?" And I said, "Yes! Yes!" I bought the photo for $20.00 (this is the photo at the top of the article). For the rest of the day, I walked around in a daze. Of over 11,000 Soviet Heroes, what were my chances of finding this Hero's photo in Las Vegas? You know how bad the odds are in Las Vegas! I was convinced that this was a great omen! My friend was flabbergasted. I immediately asked him if he would sell me the medal, but he hestitated. Then he replied, "Let me think about it."
I was determined to make the medal tell its story. Through a Soviet medals dealer, I was able to get my hands on a copy of Umurdinov's award citation. On the card was an old address. He was residing in a very small village in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan. On February 6, 2001, I mailed a letter to Mr. Umurdinov. (cont.)

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