Germany Beckons Cold War GIs

By Kolb, Richard K. | VFW Magazine, January 1998 | Go to article overview
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Germany Beckons Cold War GIs


Kolb, Richard K., VFW Magazine


STORY AND PHOTOS BY RICHARD K. KOLB

For 45 years, Germany was the central battleground of the Cold War waged between the U.S. and USSR. Now, that united nation is paying

tribute, and GIs who served there are again a major attraction. Here's what VFW magazine found is in store for returning veterans.

"ALL OF GERMANY MUST BE ours," declared Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in spring 1946, "that is, Soviet, Communist." When it became clear Germany in its entirety would not fall behind the Iron Curtain, Moscow's mass murderer said, "We shall turn eastern Germany into our own state." The Cold War was on before WWII had barely ended.

Members of the 7th Armored Division Association, in Germany last September for a nostalgic tour, were among the first GIs to encounter the Soviets. Gene Breiting was a jeep driver with 3rd Plt., B Trp., 87th Recon Bn., when the unit met up with the Russians at Lubz in eastern Germany. He recalled Lt. Bill Knowlton's letter home in which he wrote: "Thus at 0925, 3 May 1945, was junction made between the American and Russian forces north of Berlin. It was the first contact on the other side of the Elbe."

Tom Dailey, then executive officer of the 17th Tank Bn., remembered being given 24 hours to pull out of Kothen to make room for the Soviets. He did so, and coincidentally returned home on a troopship with vets of the 69th Inf. Div. who had linked up with the Red Army at Torgau on the Elbe River. A young 69th member told Dailey, prophetically, "We were the first to meet the enemy."

COMMEMORATING THE COLD WAR

By the time the Cold War was over 45 years later, some 5 million uniformed Americans had served on German soil to deter the enemy from moving west. In gearing up to recall its recent past, Germany is honoring those who made reunification possible.

With the Soviet presence in the East already remembered in stone on a massive scale, many Germans felt it was time to underscore the role of the West in winning the Cold War.

While the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift this June will be the highlight of the celebration, Germany as a travel destination for veterans is here to stay. Vets of Berlin and armored cavalry units who patrolled the border will be particularly interested in recent developments.

Small museums, monuments and memorials-numbering 28 to date-stretch in a line from Ruterberg in the north to Topen in the south. Then, of course, there are the prime sites of Berlin and the permanent reminders of the GI presence at bases in the former West Germany.

A logical starting point for a Cold War tour of Germany is Frankfurt, where most Americans arrive from the U.S. At nearby Rhein-Main Air Base, a memorial honors the 31 Americans killed in the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift. Also, the Rhein-Main Historical Exhibit in Building 341 features not only an excellent Berlin Airlift display, but chronicles the U.S. Army in southwest Germany, too.

The exhibit is primarily the brainchild of John Provin, an Air Force civilian historian and author of a forthcoming book on the airlift. Says Provin: "This is a tribute to all Americans who sacrificed a portion of their youth to guarantee West Germany's security. Our exhibits and displays portray all the key events that occurred in this part of the world. The museum is designed to appeal to veterans as well as the general public:'

COBURG TO FULDA

Travelling several hours east to southcentral Germany brings you to Coburg, long the base of operations for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. It, like other similar U.S. units, operated alongside the West German Federal Border Police. Formed in 1951, the Bundesgrenzschutz once numbered 20,000 men. Not surprisingly, its vets developed a sense of camaraderie with the ex-cavalrymen.

Hans Schmidt, who served in the border police from 1956-1997, has maintained strong ties with the Americans. Since his family fled the advancing Red Army in 1945, narrowly escaping death, he genuinely appreciates what America did in Germany during the Cold War.

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