by CHARLES RAGER
I was drafted into the Army in December of 1961. I arrived in Berlin Germany in June of 61. I was assigned to the weapons squad of C Company, 2nd Battle Group, the 6th Infantry’s “Chargin’ Charlie”.
One of my most memorable times happened while touring around the Brandenburg Gate. There were four or five of us that went together. As we walked a few hundred yards below the gate we arrived at the memorial for Peter Fechter. He was a young man of 18 who, on August 17, 1962, tried to climb the wall to freedom and was shot and left to die. The Wall was only two meters high at that area. Later it was raised to about four meters. Someone had painted “When will this stop?” in German on the wall behind his memorial.
My buddy and I were looking over the wall at the East German bunker. I do not remember who had the idea but we decided to have our photo taken standing on the Wall. We were wearing our class “As” and we felt that they were not shooting anyone going into East Germany, only those trying to get out. So, up we went. My buddy, Buddy Branch, and I climbed up on to the Wall and had our photo taken. There was a West German guard there. He was quite upset and kept telling us that we would get shot. When we looked over to the bunker the guard had his arm out the gun port and was shaking his fist at us. We climbed down without incident.
In October of 2010 I was fortunate to be one of twelve Berlin Veterans to be invited on the Welcome Home Tour by Checkpoint Charlie Stiftung (Foundation). They invited us to Berlin for a week to tour and to meet with various people. It is a way of thanking US Soldiers for being there during a stressful time and to tell people what it was like there while we were there during the time of The Wall. (That trip is a story in its self)
One day during our free time a chaperone went with two of us on a search for Peter Fechters’ memorial. I wanted to stand on The Wall once again forty seven years later. The foundation of The Wall is marked by a double row of cobble stones imbedded into the ground.
We found the memorial site. There is a path of two inch cobble stones marking the spot. It leads from the wall of a building to a circle at the curb. In this circle should have been a pole dedicated to Peter Fechter. On the pole is inscribed “Er wollte nur die Freiheit” – he wanted only freedom. The pole was not there someone had taken it down and no one knew why. From the circle the path goes to the cobble stone trail of The Wall. I paced off the approximate distance from the memorial and stood on The Wall again forty seven years later. It was truly the high-light of my Welcome Home Tour. I wish Buddy Branch could have been there with me. I have lost touch with him.
bags I was told about the assassination of President Kennedy. I did not think we would be leaving but we boarded the train for Bremerhaven. We boarded the USS Patch for a wintry crossing of the North Atlantic. The only news we received for nine days about JFK was a mimeographed news letter put out on the ship. By the time we got to port in New York everything was over.