Chilling Date, August
New Zealand Pete
thought I'd mention what a chill the date 13 August gives me.
13 August 1961 the day the East German government started cutting
Berlin in half.
I was stationed in Germany for 18 months in the beginning of the
sixties and along with a buddy
we took our last travel leave before discharge. We drove my old
V-dub up to Norway and Sweden
visiting my rellies in April and on the return leg we drove into Berlin
to stay a couple of days with his
older brother, wife and two kids.
He was a buck sergeant in the Military Police and saw the divisions in
East and West Berlin up close.
At that time the tension level was only moderate but we still had the
worry of being hassled by the Vopos
on the 110 Km autobahn route through East Germany into the city.
"US Forces in Germany" plates were
a tempting target. A flat tire could be the cause of a day's
questioning as to why you stopped—
"You know it is forbidden to stop". We got through without mishap
and found his apt, "on the economy",
not the barracks-living we suffered (sic). We traded stories as
to how living in Berlin was so regulated
whereas Munich was easy, especially on our small air base in the
suburbs where we had no guard duty,
German KP's and 5PM to 7AM automatic passes. Easy duty--- keep
the helicopters flying just like a day job.
We sat down to a home-cooked meal and the conversation came around to,
"This can't go on you know?"
Geeze we just got here, have we overstayed our welcome already?
What. What can't go on? "Ulbricht can't
let this haemorrhage continue". Eh ? "We're processing up
to a thousand refugees a day! Not manual workers,
but his educated, middle and professional classes". At that time
the U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains could be used freely.
Whole families were bailing out of the worsening conditions in the
Socialist Democracy. He said that they were
on Yellow Alert and had clothes and food in a foot locker at the door
to be ready to go with one hour's notice.
They even had their pre-allocated place in one of the tank-lead convoy
which were planned to extricate dependents,
back out the route we had just come in on, "if the balloon goes
up". Cripes I was glad to get back to Munich and
start the process of clearing post.
My mother and my two sisters were traveling in Europe and marvelled at
how un-crowded everything was.
She could get good seats at the opera without the hassle of long
queues. Of course there are no queues the
tourists are staying away in droves because of the "coming war over
Berlin". "Mother, get the hell out this
could get serious." We waved goodbye as I got on the train to
Bremerhaven to catch the troopship to New York
while my family stayed on enjoying the European summer free of the
crush of other tourists. Fearless.
Because we docked in NY two weeks before my three-year enlistment was
up it didn't make sense (even to the
Army sometimes) to keep me at Ft Dix picking up cigarette buts on the
airfield so I was discharged 14 days early.
I took the train home. Opened up all the windows, got the family
Chevy out and running and started living
the good life without anyone telling me when to get up and when to
eat. Chased all over the old haunts,
looked up old girlfriends who hadn't married while I was gone.
Sweet. It lasted nine days.
13 August I awoke with the radio alarming me with the news of the East
Germans stringing barbed wire across
the city with the populous staring on in disbelief. The first
shootings started as they reinforced this abomination.
All of my buddies were extended for one year save those already aboard
the troopships home. One of my roommates
got pulled off the train and sent back to the airfield. I would
have been suicidal had that been me. I never thought
I would live long enough to see that monstrosity come down. Who
The third world war didn't happen but I still felt that I had dodged
the bullet. I thought that Kennedy made
a major mistake in not relenting on the year extension of tours and
standing down the guard after it became
apparent that war was, in fact, not at hand. The bitterness over
that ultimately unwarranted year's disruption
I believe sowed the animosity which carried on into Viet Nam and the
subsequent fragging, the cynicism and
the general break down of discipline.
Consequently, at university, while all of my colleagues were sweating
the draft, I was immune having done
my "obligation". It took me thirty years to get to Viet Nam but
then on my terms. But, that's another story.
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