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Friendship Flight : Tony Circles the Globe : For Boy Pilot, Family It's a Red-Letter Day in Red Square

June 29, 1989|JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Tony Aliengena of San Juan Capistrano upstaged Lenin on Wednesday, drawing hundreds of Soviets out of the line to the communist leader's tomb as Tony and his family unfurled a 1,000-foot friendship scroll in the middle of Red Square.

The event represented a dramatic climax to a day in which the 11-year-old aviator and his family met with top Soviet officials in the Kremlin, though not with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. They presented the scroll and a sackful of 75,000 pen-pal letters as good-will gestures from children in the United States to their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

The boy pilot left John Wayne Airport on June 5, beginning a 17,000-mile around-the-world journey that is scheduled to bring him back to Orange County on July 21. After leaving Moscow, he will fly across the Soviet Union through Siberia and on to Alaska, where he will then head south over Canada and along the U.S. coast.

The scroll, signed by more than 250,000 U.S. schoolchildren, originally was to be unfurled Thursday but, buoyed by the praise heaped upon them by Soviet officials in the Kremlin meeting, Tony's father, Gary Aliengena, suggested that the scroll be unveiled immediately.

So the Aliengena delegation, dressed in their Sunday best and flanked by an entourage of a dozen people, marched directly out into Red Square, set up the scroll on a stand and began unfolding it slowly as bystanders gazed in puzzlement.

Hundreds of people standing in line to view Lenin's tomb, one of the more popular attractions in Moscow, directed their attention toward the Americans who were stretching the scroll across the square under a Wednesday afternoon canopy of threatening clouds.

At one point, while struggling to hold the scroll still against gusts of winds, Gary Aliengena frantically called out to bystanders to help.

"You Soviets, please help us," he said.

First a few bystanders knelt to help hold the scroll and then dozens more pitched in, forming the leading edge of a line that in some places was 10 people deep.

Striding the length of the scroll after it had been unfurled, Aliengena recounted the names and places on the scroll, which was signed by schoolchildren when Tony flew across the United States on the first leg of his around-the-world flight.

"This is the best one. . . . Look, thumbprints," Aliengena said to Gennady Alferenko, director of the Soviet agency sponsoring Tony's trip through that country, as he pointed proudly to where Indiana elementary school students had drawn faces on their thumbprints.

"And look at this one," he added, gesturing at where seven smiling students from Montana were shown on a photograph. "This is the whole school."

Aliengena seemed on the verge of tears as he recounted the cities where the signatures had been gathered and reminisced over the months in which he and his wife, Susan, had stayed up nights putting together pieces of the scroll that had been mailed in from schools all over the United States.

Alferenko, director of the Soviet Foundation for Social Inventions, a non-government agency, also appeared moved by the display.

"Unbelievable," he said.

The Soviet citizens who crowded around the scroll at first did not know what it was about, but upon seeing the thousands of signatures in awkward child-like scrawl, they quickly caught on.

"By children, yes?" a grizzled old man asked Aliengena, who nodded.

A younger man in the crowd asked a Times reporter: "You are American reporter? Tell the people in the United States we want peace."

Even the threatening sky failed to dampen the spirits of Aliengena and his son. With raindrops falling intermittently, Aliengena ordered that the scroll be let out another 20 feet to its very last inch.

Tony, dressed in a gray pinstripe suit, ran back and forth along the length of the scroll checking it out.

The public display lasted only 20 minutes. Alferenko explained that Red Square security officials had instructed that the scroll be rolled back up within that time. But Alferenko added that it was highly unusual for the security officials to have granted permission for such a spontaneous display in Red Square where public events normally require lengthy advance approval.

The overwhelming show of support in Red Square softened the disappointment that the Aliengenas experienced in not being able to meet with Gorbachev, who was reported to be busy elsewhere in the Kremlin presiding over the new Supreme Soviet.

Gorbachev instead dispatched the man in charge of Soviet youth affairs and three other officials to formally receive Tony, his family and selected members of his entourage in a lavishly appointed reception room used by the Soviet president to meet foreign dignitaries.

The meeting with Valery Tsybukh, president of Gorbachev's Parliamentary Committee for Youth, lasted 40 minutes and included good-will speeches by both the Soviets and the Americans, facing each other summit-style across a long conference table.

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