It was twenty years ago today that the citizens of Berlin celebrated “Mauerfall”, the Fall of the [Berlin] Wall. After almost three decades, East Germany had opened its borders, and the people in the streets took out hammers and started chipping away at the wall that had been erected in 1961. Within a year, there would be no more East Germany, and as my friend Tim had so often drawn illustrations of, Germany would at last be reunited.
As luck would have it, yours’ truly was a young soldier stationed in Baumholder West Germany during that time. I was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, 8th Infantry Division “Pathfinders” and was an Assistant Gunner for an M60 Machine Gun Crew in Bravo Company. I and my fellow brothers-in-arms were riding in the back of a 2 1/2T truck returning from a 45-day field exercise. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of riding in the back of a “Deuce and a half” in Germany in November, let me tell you, it’s loud, cold and windy, but mostly cold. Military convoys in Germany, travel at speeds of about 45mph on the highway and the trip from Hoensfels to Baumholder lasts about 12 hours. We spend most of our time wrapped in our poncho liners trying to keep the wind out and the “warm” in, but not on that day.
As we entered the highway, my buddy Tony Metsala exclaimed, “look at all the East German cars! – they are everywhere!” – he was right. Normally, we might see one or two East German vehicles the entire trip, today, we saw twenty or thirty in the first few minutes, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. By the time we had rounded the corner to Baumholder Wall almost 12 hours later, we had seen hundreds, if not thousands. I should explain, that as the world was hearing of the wall coming down, we were locked in a fictitious battle with the “enemy” – and had no contact with the outside world for the last 45-days. Oh, I am sure our command, and the “higher ups” were aware; however, that information had not made its way down to us.
That night back in Baumholder, we were treated to a spectacle, the likes of which I have never seen, the entire city was filled with East German nationals, and it was like Fourth of July and Mardi Gras rolled up into one! – I will never forget that day, as long as live!
Later that month, I would travel to Berlin and get my “piece of the wall” – I would take that very innocent looking piece of concrete and mount it to a block of wood, and place on it a brass plaque with the inscription:
The Berliner Mauer “Berlin Wall”
August 15th, 1961 to November 9th, 1989
From one soldier to another
Upon returning to the U.S. I would give it to my step-father Tom, who had been a young soldier stationed with the 1st Infantry Division in Germany in 1961, and just like me, had been forever-changed by the events of the time.
me too, I have a piece of the berlin wall
Thank you for the comments Libby. Some of the credit for understanding the importance of the event goes to my step-father Tom (may he rest in peace) for it was he who, when I was a teenager, told of how the event had changed him.
You were fortunate to be a witness to that piece of history in the making, Jimr. And I see you were wise enough to recognize the relevance of the event when it actually occurred. Unusual in a young soldier in his 20s. I enjoyed reading your eye witness account.
A friend in Germany sent me a piece of that wall.