Monday, November 2, 2009

The "Fall of the Wall." Has it really been twenty years?!

Along with Veteran’s Day, November brings another day of remembrance with a great deal of significance to Cold War Veterans. November 9th marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While many remember the Berlin Wall from popular media, few non-veterans realize that the “iron curtain” was also represented by the inner German border that separated East from West Germany and West Germany from Czechoslovakia. Few who did not serve in Europe understood the threat that was posed by Warsaw Pact forces and the number of troops we maintained in West Germany for decades.

I remember that day in 1989. I watched on television with amazement at the people crawling all over the wall. I had returned to the United States exactly one year prior to that date after spending a three-year tour in Fulda, Germany patrolling the East German border with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. When I left the Blackhorse in 1988 there were no indications that only one year later the Wall (or the "Fence" as we called it) would come down and the two Germanys would reunify only one year after that. For me, and the army, the “Fall of the Wall” changed our mindset forever and ushered in a new post Cold War era.

While what would become NATO forces had faced off with Soviet armies since the close of World War II, the border fence and the Berlin Wall was not constructed until 1961. Before its construction, approximately 3.5 million East Germans had fled to the West. Approximately 5000 people tried to escape the East during its existence. Estimates of those killed vary widely between 98 and 200. I know from my own experience that between 30 to 50 people each year would escape across the border in our sector during the years I was serving with the 11th ACR.

In November of 1989, after only a few weeks of unrest in East Germany, the government announced that it would ease travel restrictions to the West. When asked at a news conference on the morning of November 9th when that law would take effect, a government official said that he assumed immediately. Spontaneously, thousands of East and West German citizens crossed the border and climbed on the wall, and activity that would have gotten them shot only hours before. A mass celebration erupted that quickly ushered in the reunification of the two Germanys and the dissolving of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Now those Cold War days are all but forgotten. However, those times changed a lot of us. Everyone who served from WWII through the 1990s had a part in winning the Cold War and defeating the Soviet Block. To honor that service, I asked Sheila to create a graphic commemorating the date for our store Military Vet Shop. There is a generic version as well as a patch version that is currently made with 11th ACR and 2nd ACR patches. If you’d like your unit patch placed on that design, just let us know. Remember the day.

No comments: