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Newly-discovered documents identify tiny Elizabeth City, North Carolina, site of the largest Russian-U.S. military mission ever conducted on American soil

Circa 1943. Main Street, Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Why would President Franklin and Joseph Stalin decide to implement a complicated top-secret military mission in a small American town of 12,000 people?

From a military point of view, the town contained the largest dual-runway Coast Guard base in America, with huge hangars, storage and maintenance facilities. In other words, just the place to park 185 of the world’s largest amphibious warplanes produced up the road at the Naval Air Factory in Philadelphia. Then, fly 300 Soviet airmen, under the cover of night, to learn how to fly these planes at the base at the
outskirts of town.

From Roosevelt’s point of view, he had visited Elizabeth City during his 1940 election campaign and talked to the citizens. He was convinced the town’s welcoming patriotism and ability to keep a secret would one-day bode well. When Hitler destroyed 80 percent of the Soviet Air Force at the outset of
World War Two, the project t became a reality called Project Zebra.

In late 2012, Project Zebra was finally declassified by the US Navy. Two years later, critically acclaimed author M.G. Crisci, pieced together long-buried documents, interviews, and photographs and notes found in the basement of Zebra Commander Stanley Chernack, who died in 2003. Project Zebra. Stalin and Roosevelt’s Top-Secret Mission to Train 300 Soviet Airmen in America. (Orca Publishing USA, $32.95, hardcover, 354 pp + 200 photographs) is the first book ever about the mission, the town’s supportive relationship, and the lifetime friendships the Soviet and American Zebras would cultivate through the Cold War and beyond.

“I also had the extraordinary good fortune of finding the last remaining survivor of Zebra — Lieutenant Gregory Gagarin, the Russian-speaking MIT graduate, who was the glue that held the mission together through cultural misunderstandings and language barriers,” said Crisci.

Two respected Washington DC cross-cultural organizations, the Eurasia Center Worldwide and the American-Russian Cultural Foundation, call the book, “a lesson for future generations” and “an unknown heroic memoir in US-Soviet relations that serves as a historic signpost.”

Manhattan-born M.G. Crisci ( is the author of ten books based on true stories in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and romance. His most recent book, The Salad Oil King. An American Tale of Greed Gone Mad (Orca Publishing USA), has been hailed by critics as an
“American crime classic spun by a master story-teller.” Recently, Crisci, a 22-time selectee to Who’s Who in the World, received the Albert Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for his business, literary, and cultural contributions (

DATE: Jan.23.2018 | CATEGORY: | COMMENTS: 0