|Honor Pages - Page 14|
Excellent history stories from proud veterans
As "EX-BERLINER" I fondly remember the good old days I had while stationed with PROVOST MARSHAL, BERLIN BRIGADE, and later as COMMANDER of HELMSTEDT SUPPORT DETACHMENT (1969 - 1972).
I served 20 years in the United States Army, and I'm also retired from the San Francisco police department.
In 1962 I was working with the San Francisco police department, when my Reserve MP unit was recalled to active duty. My first posting was with the 153rd MP Co., in Fischbach near Pirmasens, Germany. A mere three months into this assignment I was detailed -- due to my native fluency in Russian -- as part of the security team to escort Soviet General Yakubovsky and his staff to visit US Army General Freeman, the Commander of Headquarters, United States Army Europe and Seventh Army, in Heidelberg, Germany.
This mission prompted my immediate transfer to the Berlin Brigade to the position of the Operations Officer, Autobahn Detail, under the command of the Provost Marshal, LtCol Sabolyk.
By the way, some years later in the late 1960s CWO 3 (Ret.), Steven Volk, my nephew, who was a Sergeant at that time stationed in Berlin, was working for Deputy Provost Marshal Major Bob Owens on special assignments (see Honor Pages, Steven Volk With Police Intelligence). I found my work very interesting and stimulating, and enjoyed visiting East Berlin for inexpensive and tasty meals and also buying antiques. Incredibly (and probably unbelievable to many) the official exchange rate was 4 to 1, but we bought our "East German Marks" in West Berlin at an exchange rate of 16 East German Marks to 1 US Dollar.
During my assignment to Berlin I had numerous situations -- some potentially explosive, some laced with humor, that transpired between 1962 and 1966, and then again between the years 1969 - 1972. I'd like to share a few of these events on Reinhard's website.
During my first official invitation to Spandau prison* the then Russian/English interpreter, a Mr. Firestone, working for the Provost Marshal, made a slight faux pas in translating from English into Russian. His error was that he had repeated in English, what was said in English, instead of saying it in Russian to the Soviet officer audience. The speaker was the Berlin Brigade commander of the time, and of course noted Mr. Firestone's mistake and jovially commented, "Mr. Firestone, I don't need an interpreter for English." Understandably, this observation by the commanding general provoked some hearty chuckles.
Upon opening a new Soviet checkpoint near Babelsberg, next to US Checkpoint Bravo, the Soviets invited the Berlin Brigade staff to view their new "modern" premises. As I was in the process of introducing one of the Soviet officers (a captain) to our Berlin Brigade commander (a brigadier general) I politely asked this Russian captain for his name, to which he replied, in Russian, with the single word: "Nevazhno", which translated means that he (the captain) felt that it was obviously unimportant for him to give his name to the general. (Note: If he refused to disclose his name over operational security concerns, he was clearly overreacting, and certainly ignorant of the US Army intelligence databases of Soviet officials at checkpoints.) I was momentarily stunned by the perceived captain's impertinence vis-à-vis the general, but regained composure and introduced the captain to the general as: "Sir, this is Captain Nevazhno".
Obviously believing that the captain's name was indeed Nevazhno, and not understanding the meaning of the word, the Berlin Brigade commander shook the captain's hand, stating: "It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain Nevazhno". So it would seem the joke was on the good captain.
Then there was he retaliatory detention of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission (SMLM) sedan on KU-Damm, occupied by one Soviet major and three enlisted men. When I informed him that the detention will last between one and two hours, he said, "We are well prepared to dispose of our bodily functions even if you detain us for 12 hours". As you see on the photo, the Soviet soldiers didn't want to be photographed.
Another very significant occurrence was when a US Convoy, with 12 passengers (each truck carrying 3 soldiers in the back) pulled into the Soviet checkpoint in Helmstedt to be processed for a Berlin trip. A short, stocky Soviet lieutenant insisted that the troops dismount for a head-count. This was not in accordance with US-Soviet agreement, which explicitly states that dismounts of soldiers from the trucks is only authorized if the convoy had more than 24 passengers sitting in rear of trucks. To my suggestion that he count the troops by simply looking into the rear of the truck, the lieutenant argued that he couldn't see the passengers from the ground. To his flippant reply I recommended that he climb on a chair to count the troops, which he dismissed and walked off in a huff. As a consequence the convoy remained in place for over 12 hours and was finally released, with the stated threat that it will not be cleared at the Soviet checkpoint in Berlin. On arriving in Berlin, the Soviets refused to release the convoy, unless the soldiers dismounted from the truck. This refusal gave impetus to the developing crisis (see photos of the detained trucks). The convoy was arrested in place for 72 hours and all civilian traffic to and from Berlin to Helmstedt was halted completely.
During this 72-hr detention period, the troops dismounted, build latrines where they had to perform bodily function, pitched tents, conducted exercises and were a visible nuisance to the Soviets. I still remember a Captain Uzoff, Berlin Brigade Signal Officer, takings photos from a helicopter of the incident, which the Soviets threatened to shoot down. Of course the threat was immediately relayed to the Berlin Brigade, but the Army stood its ground and the chopper kept on flying. Following exhaustive and tense negotiations between Washington and Moscow and at a great relief to the Soviets at checkpoint Babelsberg, the convoy was released and the incident considered over.
While in Helmstedt, I invited the Soviets at the checkpoint to a 4th of July picnic, held annually in the garden behind the US Army Helmstedt Detachment under my command. I was surprised when I received a reply accepting my invitation, which was unprecedented. When I called Berlin Brigade Command and told them that the Soviets have accepted my invitation, I was asked who gave me the permission to invite the Russians. I explained this invite was a customary yearly happening, adding that until now the Soviets had consistently declined. I must say that at the end of the day a good time was enjoyed by all. I remember that when I was driving the Soviets back to their checkpoint, Soviet Major Saayenko asked me where our mine fields and barbed wire are. To convince the major that we had no such barriers, I turned the car around and drove 15 miles into West Germany, towards Braunschweig, which seemed to have convinced the major when declaring that he now believed me.
This photo documents a re-enlistment ceremony of a US Army sergeant taking his re-enlistment oath administered by me close to the intimidating East German guard tower defining the East German border by US Army Checkpoint Alpha in West Germany under the command of the US Army Helmstedt Support Detachment.
These were the times which I will never forget, especially so the camaraderie that evolved between German civilian- and German military police, and us, the members of the US Army. I'm including a photo of myself in uniform of the San Francisco police department and a German friend, Wolfgang, visiting from Berlin sitting in the patrol car wearing one of my uniform shirts and hat. I had known Wolfgang and many of his fellow German MPs from my time in Helmstedt. Wolfgang was then a member of the German MPs (Feldjaeger) stationed in the nearby city of Braunschweig. At the time when this photo was taken was shortly after my retirement from the US Army and rejoining the San Francisco police as a sergeant working Taraval Station in the Sunset District of San Francisco.
I have nothing but good memories about my time in Berlin and in Helmstedt. Perhaps one day, we can have a reunion in Berlin, my favorite city with wonderful people living there, or maybe the German Government could invite us old folks back for a reunion, but I know of course the latter is wishful thinking.
George N. Wallace
* The Spandau prison no longer exists. As many know, for many years after WWII the Spandau prison housed Rudolf Hess, Hitler's Deputy, as its only prisoner, who is said to have committed suicide in the prison on August 17, 1987. The allied forces provided guards for the prison, and the mission rotated on a monthly basis. Being allies, guarding of Rudolf Hess allowed for Soviet soldiers to enter and stay in West Berlin in force (but of course restricted to the confines of the Spandau prison proper) whenever their turn arose for guard duty.