Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall

By Tim Fitzpatrick ’71

Tim Fitzpatrick afront East Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as a Fenwick junior in 1970. (The gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution.)

I first visited Berlin in 1970 on a Fenwick High School language trip with Father Nicholas Aschenbrener, O.P.  After living through the 1960s’ Berlin Wall crisis with John. F. Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner Speech” and experiencing the wall in person, I joined the United States Army.  I returned as an infantry officer in 1980 and my twin boys, Tim and Danny, were born in Berlin.  I had previously led Cold War staff rides in Berlin for students in the Department of Defense Executive Leadership Development Program NATO deployments. In September 2018, son Danny, one-year-old grandson Asher and Shawna’s parents were able to watch Danny’s wife Shawna complete the Berlin Marathon, which I had done while stationed in Berlin. 

Fitz (left) at Glienicke Brucke (Bridge of Spies) in 1980.

The Berlin House of Representatives sponsors the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, founded in 1994.  The foundation runs the Welcome Home program to sponsor U.S. Military veterans to return to Berlin, to share their story with Berlin schools, government and other organizations, and for them to experience Berlin as it has emerged from the Cold War into a very lively city.

I was privileged to be the group leader for nine U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Berlin veterans, representing a good cross-section of America, whose service in Berlin spanned from 1959 to 1993, greater than the life of the Berlin Wall itself.  For each of us, the shared common bond and deep emotions about our service in Berlin, and connection to Berliners, caused us to form almost instantly into a tight-knit group.

We stayed in the Hotel Air, Berlin center near the “KeDeWe” department store. We had a warm and gracious “Welcome Home” dinner at the Europa Center’s Kartoffelkisten. On Saturday 11 May we started our tour at the Glienicker Brucke (Bridge of Spies) and a tour of the Russian Colony, Potsdam (including Sanssouci Palace), culminating with a tour of Cecilianhof Palace where the Potsdam conference at the end of WWII was held.

Fitz (left) with 98-year-old retired U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen. “Hal” is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and gained fame for dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

What made this year’s tour so exciting was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift and the following reception in our old Outpost Theater, now Allied Museum, which allowed us to shake the hand of the famous Berlin Airlift “Candy Bomber” Colonel (USAF, Ret.) Gail Halvorsen (98 years old!). The host was the German Minister of Defense, who gave a very moving speech about the Allies saving Berlin and about the importance of Freedom – Freiheit! She awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan. After receiving his medal he joined the BUSMVA vets for some soldier stories. The evening concluded with an honor guard and serenade by the Luftwaffe band and troops.

“Candy Bomber” Col. Halvorsen (later commander of Tempelhof Air Force Base), speaks at the wreath laying for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

On Sunday 12 May, we participated in the wreath-laying commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Berlin Airlift at the Luftbrucke Memorial at Tempelhof. Col. Halvorsen was the featured speaker along with senior representatives of Germany, Berlin and all participating Allied nations. A reception followed, with a greeting of Airlift veterans, other dignitaries, and ourselves by the Berlin Governing Mayor in the main Tempelhof terminal hall. An interpretive music and dance performance held at the Columbia Theater (former US Air Force base theater) featured children from Berlin’s Gail Halvorsen School and the Stiftung Luftbrückendank (Airlift Gratitude Foundation founded in 1959 by Willy Brandt). Daniel de la Fuentes performed an original work “Flying for Freedom.” You could see these things done in their honor having a profound effect on Airlift veterans of each nation. Most stayed to enjoy the mass celebration under the Templehof aircraft awning. The USAFE Band played, dressed in WWII-era, Glenn Miller band uniforms to huge crowds, with an Airlift museum set up in a the hanger. Tempelhof is no longer an active airfield but a massive park where thousands of people play and stroll.

The Minister of Defense awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson (the decorated one!) for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan.

Monday 13 May we toured our former headquarters, Clay Compound, and McNair Barracks. Almost all is recognizable, but where we once did PT, or stood formation or lined up our reaction platoon armored vehicles, children now play — and the buildings are apartments. Throughout there are little memorials to our presence and the streets have retained their U.S. names. Andrews Barracks now houses the German National Archives and has some new buildings. While an archives employee was telling us about the buildings, it was fun to watch their little fork lift go by still marked “U.S. Army!”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” is a speech by United States President John F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. It is widely regarded as the best-known speech of the Cold War and the most famous anti-communist speech.

We ate lunch at the Schoneberg Rathause, made famous by President Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) speech. It houses a research library dedicated to memorializing those apprehended and killed by the Nazis. Students do the research and a Stolperstein (stumble stone) is embedded near the entrance of where the victim were last free. This stumble stone is a paver with a brass top engraved with their name, date of arrest and where they were murdered. Every time you touch one, you remember that person, what happened to them, and why the United States was in Berlin.

Stolperstein is a “stumbling stone,” (3.9 in × 3.9 in) concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
Continue reading “Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall”

Visualizing a Peaceful World (in the mid-1940s)

A Fenwick alumnus saved his valedictory address from 72 years ago. We publish it here to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day.

By Jim Wilson ’45

706 stars: A Service Flag hanging in school depicts the number of Fenwick alumni serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during Wilson’s junior year in 1943-44 (Yearbook photo).

In 1945, Fenwick Commencement Exercises took place on June 10th, one month after Germany’s surrender from World War II. In August of that year, the United States would drop two atomic bombs on Japanese cities.

For the past four years Fenwick’s graduates have been embarking on a pretty dark world. They have shouldered this responsibility of freeing that world from fear, slavery, and oppression. Because of the zeal with which they have met this responsibility we, of the class of 1945, are able to look beyond the tragedy of war and visualize a peaceful world, void of fear and oppression. We realize the responsibility of procuring a Christian peace that will be a fitting memorial, especially to those 38 Fenwick graduates who have given their lives in this conflict, and thereby made our graduation a step into a more peaceful world.

But some will ask: “Are we prepared for such a job? Are we taking enough with us from Fenwick? What have we achieved during our last four years?” These questions make us look back and meditate on our years in Fenwick. We see the progress we have made and the change that has come over us since we first became Fenwick boys. What we see makes us certain that we are ready to assume the responsibilities that the world will impose on us.

Scholastically we are prepared. We have learned how to think, how to reason. We have delved into many different fields, into the arts and sciences. We have not only learned how to form our own ideas but how to express them, both by speech and by the pen. Our high school days have been spent with our teachers, men expert in their fields, with whom association alone was enough to stimulate our intellects in the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectually, Fenwick has abundantly prepared us.

Wilson was the 1945 valedictorian at FHS.

But a full education depends upon much more than scholastic or intellectual training. The mere sharpening of wits, the sheer procuring of knowledge can be used either for good or for evil. Intellectual enlargement is dangerous unless it is accompanied by a corresponding moral growth. Our years at Fenwick have certainly been a stimulus to this moral growth. This development, however, has not been entirely dependent upon religion classes. The application of God and of moral standards to the other subjects, the discipline, the religious opportunities at Fenwick have all been instrumental in giving us a full Christian education. The faculty itself is composed of men, of priests who have devoted their lives to the development of this moral growth and education. Continue reading “Visualizing a Peaceful World (in the mid-1940s)”