This weekend marks the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and as someone who lived in “West Germany” during the Cold War, and who sat on the border of “East Germany” as a young soldier in the U.S. Army, I felt compelled to post this reminder of just how significant that single event was in modern human history. It doesn’t happen very often these days that conversations take place about this subject, and it is an indication of progress in a way, since there are no such barriers in Eastern Europe these days, but it should also serve as a warning to anyone who cherishes Liberty and Freedom that we cannot forget just how terrible it was to live as the East Germans did after Soviets built the wall in 1961. The repressive East German regime, backed by Soviet tanks and soldiers, were responsible for the deaths of some 140 individuals while they attempted to escape; some were killed, some died accidentally in the process, and some committed suicide trying to cross over the border between 1961 and 1989. The last person to die attempting to escape was in “an improvised balloon aircraft,” died on March 8, 1989, just eight months before the wall fell for good.
My own assignment to the East German border occurred 44 years ago, and the photo above was taken by me in one of the many little border towns along that line, and as a young intelligence analyst it was my job to monitor the network of military assets of both East Germany and the Soviet Union at the time. In those days, our specific strengths and capabilities as an intelligence gathering presence in these regions was a closely guarded secret, and our awareness of the existential threat posed by Soviet tanks and troops along this border was keen. I was able to spend several months at a time, living amongst the citizens of border villages, who knew all too well the dangers that lurked just on the other side of that wall. My own presence there was documented secretly by a German friend who brought me to the sight.
As a young schoolboy, I was educated about the border wall in history class, and I remember well my father talking about President Kennedy’s famous speech there, explaining how fortunate we were to live in America, where such things did not occur. As a soldier in language training in California, the native German speakers who taught me were adamant about the urgency of our mission, and knew well about the suppression of the East German citizens, the separation of families, and the desire for reunification, even then. As American soldiers actively engaged in this mission, we were held in high esteem, especially by the West German people who lived close enough to see the wall everyday. I was well aware of the history and the legacy of the wall when I was there, and proudly served my country as a guardian of freedom in the American tradition, and grew to love and admire the German people. I made friends wherever I served, and lived with a German family for months in the early days of my assignment, honing my skills with the language, and learned great respect for those who served as West German border guards, many of whom wanted me to tell them all about life in America. In those days, America was a staunch ally of NATO, and the circumstances were mutually beneficial.
Much to my surprise, I saw this advertisement in the Wall Street Journal this morning, and it gave me a real lift to know that in spite of the circumstances in international relations these days, this ad reaffirms the genuine friendship shared by America and a United Germany, and makes all of my struggles and many difficult deployments in the winter months in Germany feel more than worth the effort. If you would like to read a little more about my experiences along the border, you can visit this link:
Thank you, Germany, for giving attention to this celebration and sharing with our American citizens and soldiers a much deserved expression of gratitude.