Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Experience 50 Years Ago That Lives Each Independence Day

American Flags at Rockefeller Center, Viewing of Inauguration of President Barack Obama, Rockefeller Center
Since October 1962 each Independence Day reminds me of the few hours in East Berlin where I lost my freedom to the Communists. Later, that frightening evening I stood guard in a lookout tower with West German Military at the Brandenburg Gate. They shared the horrible stories of people trying to escape to freedom through huge rolls of barbed wire lit by flood lights, most only to be shot to death. Then we traveled around the wall separating East and West Berlin trying to visualize an event we had just missed, a young woman jumping from a building to awaiting relatives holding on to a blanket like a trampoline.

Ours was a voluntary loss and what happened wasn't expected. There were three of us, just released from our two year church mission to England. We had arranged to take a tour of Europe on our way home, Berlin being one of our stops. In checking into our Hotel in Berlin the desk clerk asked if we would like to take a free tour to East Berlin.  He explained that East Berlin was being rebuilt and they wanted to show it off to Americans. Young and daring,we quickly agreed and our visit was set. The rude awakening came after we crossed through Checkpoint Charlie the next morning.

We joined with about 20 others on a medium size bus. Leaving the west German side we went into the East side into a maze built of walls and sandbags. The space to drive was so small that the bus could barely turn left or right through the maze.

As we exited the maze the bus came to a stop and was boarded by East German Soldiers flashing machine guns in a threatening manner. They took our passports and wallets. They counted our money and returned only our wallets with the threat, "if you don't return with this amount of money you will not be allowed to return. Oops, what had we done? Not returning never crossed our minds. At this point I was ready to turn around, but that was now not an option. This was serious and we knew it.

We later learned their concern was that we would give money to East Berlin citizens, which they would us to buy their freedom.

They shouldn't have offered us this tour. No positive P R took place. We could even tell that some of the areas they wanted to show off were only like movie sets.

I remember they took us to a Russian Memorial. It was basically a cemetary with many large headsontes and monuments, along with numerous graves. That was to be an important part of our visit. They assigned a guide to us. Another mistake. Our guide was a sweet young woman in her early 20's. Her story was a sad one. She was visiting friends when the wall went up. She was separated from her family by the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She told us that she was able to receive an occasional letter and a rare package from her family, no more. It was hard to imagine.

The Russian memorial offered no inspiration, just sadness and a gratitude for our America.

Treptower Park Soviet War Memorial, East Berlin, June 1964
Russian Memorial
A few hours later we returned sullen and humble to Checkpoint Charlie, with our wallets, our passports, and our hope we would be able to return to the West. We had made sure that we did bring back all of our money.

That night, stunned by our experience behind the iron curtain we took a taxi to the Brandenburg  Gate. This was where the main thoroughfare between East and West had been cut off. We just wanted a ride to the wall and ponder. The wall at this place was an area that focused on about 1000 feet of land, part of the main. It now was covered with huge rolls of thick barbed wire. The rolls were about as high and round as a truck in size extending into the dark area we could not see. I am remembering there were 7 of these rolls with about 45 feet of empty space between each. It was hard to imagine driving a car through any one of these rolls, let alone 7 of them, but that is what many tried to do, with a rare few making it.

Our taxi driver told us it would be OK to join the West German guards in the lookout. He assured us that he would return in a couple of hours to take us back to our hotel.
The West German soldiers did invite us up to be with them. It was dark, except for the floodlights from the East side, making the area of the now blocked off road as visible as if it were daytime. We looked down from the tower, about 20 feet high, across the floodlighted area to see groups of East German soldiers armed to prevent anyone from escaping.

These West German soldiers were anxious to share that many had tried in vain to cross through this area. One man had strapped himself under a car and had the accelerator bolted down by a friend, set to speed through the wire. He didn't make it, he didn't live.

Another had leaded his entire car to be bullet proof. That worked, but the car stalled in the barbed wire. He was shot on the spot.

Berlin Wall 1973Berlin WallBerlin wallThe Wall was different that we might have imagined. In some parts it was large buildings with the windows boarded. Other parts were like concrete, parts were wire fences.

Later, we traveled by taxi around much of the wall separating East and West Berlin. We discussed the event we had just missed, that young woman jumping from a building to awaiting relatives holding on to a blanket like a trampoline.  - only to be shot to death in mid air. What a tragedy for that family, all for freedom.

Yes, stories became real and Freedom became precious. As I consider this Country, our gift of living here, our gift of Freedom to Choose, I want each of you to know that I love this Country. I am grateful to our founding fathers who fought so hard for liberty, to set up a Republic based on principles. I believe they were inspired of God. I believe that we who have inherited this Freedom will only maintain it as we live by the principles of our founding Patriot fathers.

As I am doing genealogy research into Ireland in the 1760  era, trying to find Patrick Cragun and his parents I learn how tragic it was living in their time, in Ireland. The brutality of the British Crown was inhumane and horrible. Our grandfather Patrick was born in a time of starvation caused by the behavior of the King of England. The potato famine of 100 years early was almost identical in disaster as what Patrick was born into.

No wonder at age 15, he was willing to run away with 40 others, leaving his parents forever, braving the challenges involved, to taste the freedom promised by the stories of America. Our immigrant ancestors came here for a reason. I wonder if we as their children appreciate what they gave us.

Patrick lived here when England began to exercise the same type of control over our Country as they had endured in Ireland. The love of Freedom and the commitment to remain free, coupled with the spirit of our Irish ancestors led to what we are blessed with today. Patrick is said to have been in the Boston Tea Party, a stand against taxation by the British government. Many of those in the Boston Tea Party, a resounding and insulting event to the Crown, where those Irish who fled tyranny, unwilling to suffer the same experiences here, were willing to go to War and fight to their death to protect this freedom.

I pray that neither I or any of my children give up that freedom. I say that, as I believe the same God that inspired and supported our ancestors, offers as a part of freedom the right to choose our own destinies. It is my belief that he, as in times past, in this day will let us choose how we are governed. In ancient Rome the majority of the people turned an empire into history. That could happen now, if the majority of our citizens allow it to or choose it to be that we turn our backs on our founding principles, the key foundation being our God and our Constitution.

In conclusion, I sincerley believe this Country is a blessed land. I believe the majority of our people, who carry the genetics of our forefathers, will as they did, love their Country enough to stand up for liberty. We may not have to fight at Lexington or Concord, but in our own ways we will have to fight to preserve what we were given, Libery.


  1. Through your blog I've learned so much about you. All I knew was you "went to England" on a mission. You could print the blog and publish it for your grandkids! (Or your sisters).

  2. Second try...

    I've learned so much through your blog. All I knew was you "went to England" on a mission.

    You could print your blog & bind it into a book for your grandkids. (And your sisters).

  3. Thank you for sharing this memory, Larry. It was easy to imagine the tense situation while in East Germany as I read your memories. Whew! How grateful I am for the freedoms we have in America.