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This story began before I was even born. However, I was privileged to be part of the cause for freedom and liberty for a few and charged with the clean-up of East German VOPO (Volkspolizit – East German Police) kill squads from Russian influences and armament.
Before World War II started, European history, reported more than 9.5 million Jewish people living throughout all of Europe. By the time World War II had ended, Hitler’s 3rd Reich, the dreaded SS troops, the Nazis, had killed 6 million Jews, plus many more falsely accused political prisoners and innocent people, including children, babies, and prisoners of war.
Many books have been written about the concentration camps and the brave people who helped others. There are many stories about the horrible camps with names like Auschwitz, Belzec extermination camp, Bergen-Belsen killing camp Buchenwald, Chelmno extermination village, Dachau concentration camp, Ebensee concentration camp, and Flossenburg Concentration camps. All of these places killed Jews, Americans, English, and French prisoners of war. The Nazis called this barbaric behavior “Endlosung” or in English, ‘answer to the ‘Jewish question.’
Adolf Hitler provided clues to his ambitions to commit mass genocide as early as 1922. Annihilation of all Jews was one of his foremost tasks, and he would never give up until they were totally erased from civilization. He never gave losing the war or dying himself a second thought.
The Cold war in Germany began in 1947 through 1991. The focus of my story starts in December 1962.
I had just turned 18 and graduated from High School when I joined the United States Army. Two weeks after graduation, I went by Greyhound bus to Los Angeles for my physicals and from Los Angeles by bus to Fort Ord, California.
After basic training, came eight more weeks of (MOS) otherwise known as (Military Occupation Specialty) training.
After graduation, I was called to the company commander's office to find out where my new duty station would be. The commander told me that somehow my orders read Berlin, Germany. “I'm not sure how that order came down here private, because the entire battalion is scheduled for South Korea duty. You must have some pull somewhere if you are going to Berlin. Private, it is dangerous in Germany, so I suggest you be careful and keep your head down. Good luck over there.”
Two days later, I was looking out of the window of the TWA jet plane bound for New York City. My friend William Vandermark, the Undersheriff of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s department, stayed true to his word. He helped me to get into his old duty station, the 287th Military Police Company in Berlin, Germany.
I flew alone from Los Angeles to New York and landed there in one of the coldest winters on record, totally unprepared. I was not issued winter clothing so my duffle bag was light the essential things like maybe a Parka and gloves would have helped from nearly freezing. While at the base (Fort Dix), I was given the proper clothes to survive. All I had to do was learn not to put my frozen hands under warm water. It only took one time to learn that. Pain helps to remember those events.
Within two long weeks, of being frozen half to death, this southern California surfer was finally driven to my debarkation port in New Jersey and marched onto a big troop transportation ship called the USS Patch. Funny name for a boat I thought. Then one day while at sea, one of the Navy personnel told our entire gang of 100 soldiers that the ship was famous for having sunk three times during World War II. That was not comforting to know. Surely they were jesting?
From my perspective, however, this was a serious mistake being on this ship. Unfortunately, I had little influence on the Captain about turning around until one day I looked out a porthole window further up from the dreaded hole. The military was not supposed to be where I was, but the change of scenery and a lookout of a window after being cooped up for so long was worth the ass chewing if any. Would they really, put me in the Brig? I was already living there as far as I was concerned being, in the hole of the ship. It certainly could not be considered vacation time.
It was now two weeks since leaving the Port of New York, and I thought the captain had made a wrong turn, and we were now in Alaska. I was wrong. Out of the porthole to my utter surprise, and shock were huge icebergs littering the ocean everywhere. Those icebergs seemed to be as big as the ship itself. What I was looking at was the frozen Atlantic icebergs, which return most winter months in Germany. Then I saw the one-iceberg. I was at had probably sunk the Titanic.
The day came though that I finally walked down the gangplank at Bremerhaven West Germany Sea Port. From there, I was taken to the train station and put on a train headed for my new duty station in Berlin.
When boarding, a couple of Military Policemen looked at my orders and my facial expression of confusion. Who wouldn’t when told to board the train and don’t leave your assigned seat. Thinking to myself, why can’t I leave my seat? They told me not to worry and above all, stay in my seat to avoid enemy problems. Enemy, what enemy I thought? I was not the only American military person on the train, but I was feeling very much alone at this moment. Then I remembered what my MOS commander had told me, “good luck, and keep your head down.”
It wasn’t long after boarding the train and finding my “do not leave this seat,” that we began our journey to Berlin. The train wound its way through beautiful countrysides of Germany and quaint little towns and then one stop at ‘The Zone.’ Before stopping, all the people on the train were told to stay in their seats. Don’t move until we moved passed the blockades. In the Army, when you are advised not to leave my seat under any circumstances, except to go to the bathroom, I wondered if I shouldn’t be armed or something? The train came to a complete stop while East German VOPO guards walked all around it, looked underneath, and walked up and down the aisles. The guards had cold, blank stares and smelled filthy from lack of hygiene. They carried numerous weapons and wore square fur hats. After a complete inspection of the train and checking all people for identification, we were ready to start moving again. Once again, I thought to myself; I met the enemy an survived. What’s next?
Through the demilitarized zone, we went until we reached the East-West Berlin border crossing. Another border inspection to go through and re-count the people and check all identification. When that little intermission was completed, and we moved again, we crossed a bridge, and I was now in West Berlin. Finally, a name I remember seeing on my orders. It really did exist, I said to myself.
From there, I was given additional paperwork from another MP to hand to a taxi driver who drove me to the front gate of my new home, the 287th Military Police Battalion. I was only given two days to adjust to my new home, the base boundaries, and stacks of paperwork on all the do’s and don’ts of military life in Berlin. As a Military Policeman, my first assignment was the booking desk where I booked American soldiers who couldn’t hold their liquor and were involved in bar fights, burglary, and many other fine manners of uncontrolled misconduct, requiring discipline. Three months later, I was assigned to the MP Train detail. I was now learning about what and who was in this Zone project. My job was to provide safety and protection to not just military personnel traveling to and from Berlin and West Germany, but to our passengers as well. I was not to allow the VOPO’s to take any advantages of the people in my care, or make any attempts to remove them.
A few times, during the physical searches, voices were escalated by both the VOPO’s and American MP’s. Shouts and threats rang out, but only into thin, tense air around us. Several times guns were drawn, and the VOPO’s seemed to enjoy antagonizing the Americans and the many other passengers, even to the point of threatening violence or death. It never failed that once I pulled my 45-semi auto sidearm at the lead VOPO officer, they backed down and withdrew. Interesting I thought cowards all of them. These guys acted tough, but it wasn’t too long ago that we and our allies won the war, 1945 to be exact. I learned soon enough just how cowardly they were — shooting innocent men, women, and children trying to flee East Berlin. I kept asking myself in a half fearful state of mind why? Why were the VOPO’s still wanting to harm innocent people? You will learn further along in my story that was exactly what they wanted to do. One of the problems was the Russians never liked the peace accord we had with the French, English, Russia, and the Americans. The Russians wanted all of Berlin. Both East and West all to themselves. Just for target practice and nothing more as you will soon read.
It was an overnight trip from Bermahaven to West Berlin, with no beds and only a few bathrooms, if you were willing to stand for an hour waiting to use one. My job description never changed. Help bring both military personnel and civilians from the Port City of Bermahaven to Berlin and back again. Three months after that detail of witnessing the brutality of East German border guards and having to draw my 45-semi auto weapon on occasion, I was given the opportunity of routine patrol duties throughout all the Berlin sectors. All except East Berlin, which was held by Russia. Two years went by very fast, and I had earned another stripe and was asked to become the Military Police Boat Patrol Commander. It was only then that I found out, that West Berlin even had a Lake with canals and one canal in particular named Teltow Canal, aka Dreilindin Drewitz where Bravo Checkpoint was sitting. That border crossing led out of Berlin, and if you didn’t make a wrong turn, you would enter West Germany, a safe zone. A wrong turn could cost you imprisonment in an East German prison camp or worse yet, death in Prague, Czechia.
Berlin was an occupied city like none other. A City within a City. Berlin was comprised of sectors. Those sectors or boundaries included Russia, France, England, and America.
However, there were only four ways out of Berlin. One was to fly out of Templehoff Air Force Base. The second and third were to either drive out or take the train from Bravo Check Point to West Germany. The fourth and least favorite alternative was being shot and killed by the VOPO’s or Russians.
Let me guide you back, closer to the beginning of my story.
World War II Germany was a time when Hitler ordered the Jews, the dissidents of any characterization or piquant tartness, as well as any political detainees to be executed. Most were innocent of crimes, except for a few criminals as they were called, stealing food to support their starving families. It didn’t matter if you were German, Jewish, or a foreigner of any kind. Frequently rivers, lakes, and old wells were used to bury or hide the corpses. It was quick and easy to dispose of the evidence.
One such place that was often used to dispose of corpses was a little-known lake named Wannsee Lake and its many canals. One canal in particular which I mentioned earlier was the Teltow Canal; it was just below a grassy embankment at Bravo Checkpoint due East of Wannsee Lake boat patrol headquarters.
There were miles of beautiful homes with green grass lawns that seemingly ran like a waterfall to the lake’s edge. Even with the beautiful trees and sandy shores, it was very deadly. The Teltow canal laid only one mile away from our boat patrol headquarters. Going to the Teltow Canal alone was a certain death even for Americans or visitors.
Why was it so dangerous, you ask? What made this particular canal so deadly was the invisible line right down the middle of it. This line separated East and West Berlin. At times the Canal channel had been used as an escape route for refugees, fortunate enough to have gotten that far. But the Teltow Canal still had surprises in store for those refugees not familiar with the East German Guard towers and the invisible line in the water. East Germans would try to swim across the 30 to 40-foot width of the canal to freedom in West Berlin. Many people didn’t make the journey to freedom. They may have fought hard, but the obstacles were just too hard to overcome. You see it wasn’t only the East German VOPO guards willing to shoot you, but the Teltow Canal was very cold. It wouldn’t take long for people to succumb to hyperthermia. If that happened, you would flounder in the water, making noise then the guards would wake up and shoot. Crossing the Canal was a no-win for most refugees.
On one side was Bravo Check Point and on the other side of the invisible line was East Germany and a 30-foot VOPO Gun Tower. From atop the gun tower, the VOPO’s could watch all the traffic coming and going from Bravo Check Point. Funny thing, as many times as I had been through the Zone, crossing the Avus bridge, I never saw the canal itself. Each side of the bridge was blocked off with dark wire mesh over 10 feet high and welded to steel beams.
At one time even Hitler himself occupied a beautiful mansion on an acre of ground at Wannsee. When the Allied forces occupied West Berlin, Hitler’s former villa now laid within the American zone. It was used to house and feed visiting dignitaries, distinguished military officers, prominent political civilians, and their families. The house also served as the command center for the Military Police Boat Patrol.
Many a weekend, as many as 75 or more people would be stretched out on the grass sunning themselves. Many were having drinks or swimming in the greenish colored Wannsee Lake water, unaware of the danger lurking close by.
At the end of the sloping grass, the lawn was a sandy beach. In the middle of the melody of beauty was a boat dock that our MP Boat was moored to all year round when not on duty patrol. During the winters the lake would freeze over with an inch or two of ice. Our patrol boat could cut through thin ice to make our rounds securing the borders 365 days a year. Looking behind the boat, the blocks of floating ice floated behind our wake resembling flagstone rock pathways of ice.
Wannsee Lake, stretched for miles, with little tributary’s and always the invisible lines in the water. The ice, at times, made the invisible lines nearly impossible to navigate. Many times by accident, we strayed off coarse which could have met certain death by the always waiting VOPO’s hiding in gun towers or behind trees on their side of the line.
I can laugh today, but at the time, this next incident was serious. Serious with a capital ‘S’. What could have happened was another war?
It was a frigid winter day in December 1964. My company commander told me that or patrol boat was going to accompany four visiting Generals from other Command Posts in Germany. They wanted to go bird hunting, out of season of course and down close to another canal that shared the same problem as Teltow. An invisible line down the middle of the narrow channel. An islet protected the canal opening and was the main encampment for a few VOPO guards. Frequently we would run into one or two VOPO patrol boats when passing the little island. Sometimes they would try and sneak out from behind the island and come up from behind.
They could never catch us by surprise because we always expected shenanigans from the VOPO’s because we were passing so close by their turf. We were ready and maneuvered around to end up nose to nose. When that happened, they made a hasty exit backward and around behind the island again. From there, we would turn around and continue back to our patrol duties. It still could have always been dangerous. They transported 50 caliber machine guns on their boat bows. At that time in 1964, we only had 45 auto pistol sidearms. Our military never thought the VOPO’s much of a threat, even though the refugee shooting was on the rise. As usual, we remained outgunned. Not exactly a fair fight.
I gave the four visiting Generals warning of possible problems in some regions of the lakes and off-limit areas in other places. They just scoffed at me with retard remarks like don’t worry about us sonny; We will shoot their dumb asses off. Show how we do things in the big theater. Another would laugh and yet another gingerly argued we have more rights to be here than they do. Screw them the fourth General said. In other words, no one was going to break in on their duck hunting party, or whoever would dare try could be picking buckshot from their asses for a week.
Besides the Generals loud, boisterous mouths, we prepared them with the latest in winter gear and shotguns for being on a cold, cold lake. The only good thing going for us was no wind. It was a rather calm day on the icy water.
It only took a few minutes for me to prepare the 16’ motorized boat for the Generals to use. That wasn’t the real problem. Besides the cold weather, Wannsee Lake had at least a half-inch of ice covering it. Small boats like the skiff the generals were using wasn’t made for ice cutting. The trouble was the coffee the Generals had before addressing us. It had to have been spiked. Their heavy alcohol breath nearly knocked me over. It didn’t take a fool to figure out that a cold day, plus alcohol, and not paying attention was a disaster waiting to happen.
The four Generals took the lead as they shoved off ahead of our patrol boat. We stayed approximately seventy-five yards behind the skiff. I didn’t feel like getting shot this morning, and 75 yards was good enough distance to remain behind. The Generals were evenly seated one behind the other with the last General handling the motorized tiller. Suddenly without warning or provocation other than a couple of shotgun blasts and missed ducks, a VOPO boat came around the islet at full speed and straight toward the Generals little skiff. As soon as I saw the bow of the VOPO boat rounding the island, I immediately pushed my throttle forward to make-up the distance between our two boats.
The Generals were not prepared for what happened next. One reason was no one was paying attention to the front line of the boat. I tried to shout, but they didn’t or couldn't hear me.
I think in retrospect, the VOPO’s may have overheard their snide remarks. All we heard on the MP boat was shotgun blasts and loud cursing when the birds stayed in the air. Could be having hot toddies this early in the morning saved a lot of birds' lives. At any rate, the VOPO’s took a run at the Generals and in the last minute slipped by the skiff leaving only a couple of feet before they turned again between our Patrol boat and the islet. As they were running back, they fired a few shots into the air. What usually happens in these cases, the smaller boat loses, and the occupants are thrown overboard into the icy water.
That was precisely what happened right in front of me. All four Generals were tossed into the cold icy water, loosing more than their hats, but all four shotguns sank to the bottom of the lake as well. If you are aware of the military, a soldier (including Generals) shalt not lose your weapon. The boat was of little use to the generals being upside down now, and all four Generals were losing the battle to hypothermia.
My only choice when we came alongside their boat was to remove my coat and shoes and jump into the water, and one by one grab each General and with the help of my two deckhands push them up and into our MP boat. Once they were all aboard the Patrol Boat, my crew covered the Generals with blankets, and I hoisted myself out of the water and wrapped myself up as well with a blanket. I ordered one of my partners to leave the skiff and turn our boat around and get us back to our dock fast. It took approximately fifteen minutes to reach our dock. When I was able to crawl up to the helm, I radioed our headquarters to have help standing by. Call our Company Commander and advise of our situation.
When we reached our dock, no less than a dozen people were standing by ready to administer first aid. Other than being frozen cold, tired and embarrassed, the Generals thanked us for our service, saving their lives and ordered us M-14 Rifles to assist in our protection, while on duty. We had only been asking headquarters for six months for weaponry. Should have invited the Generals to go hunting last December? Requisitions such as more firepower got answered in strange ways. Even though the M-14’ s were a welcomed improvement, the VOPO boats had 50-cal. Machine guns mounted on the bows of their boats. Just maybe, the powers that be thought we were faster and better shots and never had to worry about more massive guns?
After that, winters thaw came bright warm days. What a welcome that was to switch from our winter uniforms to summer short sleeve fatigues. Other than our usual picking up of dead floating bodies out on the lake, we spent our time going up and down Wannsee Lake, helping people back to shore who tried to swim too far offshore, or towing broken-down boats and checking all of our canals. We even managed to do a little water-skiing during lunch breaks now and then and give some visiting military families tours on our boat of Wannsee Lake.
Everything was seemingly normal for this time of year. (according to Hoyle?) Eighty-degree days and brightly sunny. Nothing to worry about except running over dead floaters or swimmers. The Helmsmen, whose name was Hann’s, was born and raised in Germany. He was a short man, at 5’5” and was going bald. Hann’s was always worried about everything unimportant. There had to be more to his background than the few German Marks that our military paid him for the use of himself and his 26-foot boat.
Hann’s never talked about the war. In fact, he didn’t talk much at all. In the early morning, it was ‘Guten Morgen or ‘Guten Tag’ in the afternoons. Only when I was driving his boat did I hear oblique words in German under his breath. It didn’t take long for him to realize how well I understood and communicated in German. Not that it stopped his cussing. That was just Hann’s. Like him or not, he was the man with the boat that steered us through many a dangerous moment in my history while in Berlin. Times like the one that I am leading up too.
Hann’s lived in one of the prestigious shoreline homes of Wannsee Lake, most of his adult life. To this day, I could not tell you how he gained so much after the end of the war. Most Germans were impoverished and still struggling to make ends meet, even though in West Berlin Capitalism was doing very well.
The Incident at Bravo Check Point began like any other summer day. It was Tuesday, June 15th, only nine days before my 21st birthday. This day, before it ended, would take all I had to live through it. Either I did what I was told or possibly start World War III. America, the Military, the President of the United States, had no idea how close we all came to that. An incident? Hardly. A major making of who Rex was, yes. My upbringing, my grandparents, even my missing mother’s problems. It all came into play this day. Most of all, it was my faith in God!
“Guten Morgen, Hann’s said to me at 0700 hrs. on June 15, 1965.” (Good Morning).
“Guten Morgen Herr Hann’s. Wie Geht es dir”? (How are you).
“Sehr Gut. Danke”. (Very Good, thanks) Hann’s replied.
“Bist du bereit fur weiterer heiber tag?” (Are you ready for another hot day)
“Jawohl Mein Herr” Hann’s replied. (Yes, or you bet sir)
“Ok, let me open up the office and get the logs out. I can’t believe how hot it is already. Any coffee ready yet in the kitchen Hann’s?”
“Ja Jawohl. Sahne und Zucker? (Yes, you bet. Cream and sugar)?”
“Yes, thanks to Hann’s. I will be ready in just a few minutes. Meet you on the boat. You ready Rudy?” Pvt.
Rudy was my second in command. A young MP rookie from Arizona. He worked on patrol for one year before transferring, to our MP boat patrol.
Rudy was a kid. We used to talk a lot about transferring out of Berlin and going to Flight School in Arizona. There was a total of (7) young men, including myself who tested and passed all of our pre-school exams. The Vietnam War seemed to be screaming our names. Now’s the time young men to fight for your country. I guess we all yearned to go where the real action was.
For me, the answer was to stay where I was. There will be enough action soon enough.
A Captain from the Arizona Chopper school showed up one day in the 287th Military Police lunch room. He took a look at his new cadets, standing at attention before him and our company commander Capt. D. His eyes looked squarely at each one of us. Then he looked at me and raised not only his head but his eyebrow as well. “What the hell are you doing here, young man. I know you passed all your exams with flying colors, but you would never fit in one of my birds. Sorry, but you never should have made it this far. Please leave this assembly.”
I was confused and hurt inside that no one had ever mentioned that for the first time in my life, I was too tall. I gathered up all my courage and strength and saluted the visiting Captain, then made a snappy left turn and left the lunchroom. Once outside all I could do was shake my head in disappointment and shame for not being with my friends to fight a more significant fight someplace called Vietnam.
As God, would have it, the call was the right one. Many months later, my Company Commander and friend, Capt. D. called me to his office.
Have a seat, Rex; I need to tell you something. His eyes were fixed on a piece of paper, laying on his desk just below his gaze.
I am sorry to tell you that all six of your friends were shot down in Vietnam. Rudy was one of the first to be shot down and then the others over a month. The only soldier returning home is Eddie, and his price was both of his legs. It was good that you didn’t go, Rex. They are turning pilots out far too soon without enough training time. This business of turning out flyboys too more quickly was not right. It should not have happened. By the grace of God, you and I still have a job to do and races to race. (You see, Capt. D. and I took pleasure during the sports car racing months to race all over Europe). Capt. D. had a pretty new Alfa Romeo. I had an older, tired Porsche 356 that I charged up every weekend race day.
My racing days nearly ended one weekend on a German race track, when out of my right eye, I spotted a lone wheel passing me by. Then a sudden grinding noise as my right rear wheel dug into the pavement, leaving a rather large scar in the track. I stopped rather suddenly and unintentionally as I watched my tire still rolling toward the finish line. It took me a few months to put all the pieces back together again. But then time was racing in another direction.
Back to June 15th, 1965 and the Bravo Check Point Incident.
Hann’s had the boat warmed up when Rudy and I bordered with our coffee’s and clipboards in hand. As I went over the schedule with Hann’s and the points of interest that I wanted to check this morning, Rudy untied our vessel, and Hann’s put our maiden in gear. We left our dock slowly, and Hann’s guided her in a long and slow right turn. It was time to visit the islet where the Generals went overboard this past winter. We were notified that the VOPO’s, had been target practicing on homes in the American sector early this morning and at boats passing by the invisible line in the water denoting the American and East German boundaries. I took exception to this activity and wanted to make it known that we were no shouts of laughter were heard, until we rounded the bend, having crossed the line. Rudy and I both had our weapons pointed at the first two guards. Coffee cups went flying, and guns came up fast. Then Rudy and I as pre-planned slowly put our weapons down. “What’s up friends, I shouted in my best German.” ‘Vas ist Los comrades’?
As soon our guns were down, they, in turn, felt safe enough to lay their weapons down. All of us kept them within striking distance. The one VOPO Bow gunner turned his Cal. 50 to the opposite side but kept his arm on the gun. I continued with a little forward maneuvering until we were side by side. More than anything, we showed we were not afraid of them and could care less about some imaginary boundary line in the water. Only Hann’s remained sitting down and out of sight of the VOPO’S. You could say he was a little shaken by my maneuver.
I took a pack of cigarettes out of my pocket and held it up. “Comrades, Cigarettes” and then through the package to them. The Cal. 50 bow gunner finally let loose of his gun and caught the package in mid-air.
“Danka, Danka he and the others shouted.
Meanwhile, Rudy threw a couple of rubber bumper guards over the starboard side to keep the boats from banging against each other. One bumper guard was secured to the bow cleat and the other to the stern cleat. Quietly, I whispered to Hann’s to stay hidden and don’t make any sounds.
The highest-ranking VOPO waved at us as a jester of good faith in exchange for the cigarettes by removing his stern East German flag and through it toward Rudy. ‘Danke’ I said. He saluted in a German fashion with palm out, and I waved back. Not once did any of us take our eyes off of the other. With our bow line and stern lines untied by the VOPO’S, I slowly inched backward the way we came in. Rounding the bend of the islet, I put us in forwarding motion and gave a little more throttle. We cruised away and continued our checking all our areas of the lake.
Said hello to people we didn’t know and waiving at kids playing in yards. Some folks were even prepping their small boats for a beautiful day of fishing or water skiing.
Other than our little challenge test with the VOPO’s, it was a great morning. Hann’s finally got out from under the counsel behind the steering and looked at me like I was crazy. His announcement became final – you are insane American Rex. We all could have gotten ourselves shot or worse. Why Hann’s asked?
“Orders Hann’s. Just orders to stop the VOPO’s from shooting across the lake at houses and people. My orders Hann’s become your orders. Got it?”
“Warn me ahead of time, please. Hann’s asked,”.
“Why, what would have been different? You would not let your boat out of your sight for anything. She’s your baby. Right, I said?”
“Ja, Ja, Hann’s repeated in an angry tone.
For Hann’s to confront the VOPO’S was the scariest thing on earth. They were, for some reason, his worst nightmare and problem in life. But he would never talk about why.
I asked Hann’s to take over at the Helm and take us back to the dock for lunch. Afterward, we will head down to Bravo Check Point.
“Jawohl, he said, and gave more throttle to get back to our dock faster.”
Nothing more was said between us for a good hour. Rudy remained smiling at what we had just accomplished. “I wonder Rudy asked if anyone else has ever come that close to a VOPO boat before?”
“Oh, I would think so Rudy. Not that far away from each other and they enjoy playing games. Today we caught them off guard, and we showed them we had no fear. Bold as molasses and ready to blow them away yet strong in our compassion. They are truly confused by now and wondering just what in the hell happened?”
As Hann’s was maneuvering our vessel backward to our dock, both Rudy and I jumped ship, each holding a tie rope and fastening them to a pier cleat. We always backed our boat in for emergency fast starts.
“Come on guy’s I will buy lunch today.”
Rudy was up for that but Hann’s laid back saying that he had to clean up a little and check oils, plugs, and for any leaks.
“In case you haven’t noticed, we are accumulating more water than usual in the motor compartment. I think the Bilge Pump is slumbering a little. I am going to see what is wrong. I will take up on your offer next time Hann’s reported.”
“Ok suit yourself old man. See you back on the dock within the hour, I yelled back at Hann’s.”
Rudy and I went to our usual table closest to our office door. From our table, we could hear the phone better or the radio in the event of an emergency.
“What would you like Rudy today, I asked?”
“I think a Chef’s Salad. Getting tired of hamburgers all the time.”
“You know, you're right Rudy, hamburgers all the time does get old. Maddy, why don’t you get me a Cheese Burger with Bacon on it.”
“Oh, that’s new and different isn’t it, Maddy replied?”
“Yes, my dear because I never order one with bacon, and I would like a nice tall glass of ice tea too please, I said.”
“Me too, Rudy chimed in.”
“Ok boys. Coming right up. How is the lake today guys, Maddy asked?”
“Beautiful Rudy said. Just perfect for water skiing. No wind lips on the water. Smooth as silk. You should come out with us when you get off.”
Rudy was madly in love with Maddy. She was a cute little petite blond with blue eyes — gentle curves but a bit too thin for me. Besides, I was already married to a beautiful redhead lady. My plate was full as it were, including a beautiful baby daughter.”
Ruby and I sat listening to the music when Rudy asked again about the orders to roust the VOPO guards this morning. “Was that true, Rudy asked?”
“Yeah, sort of. Capt. D. mentioned the incidents hitting his desk, and he asked me if I knew anything about it? I said no, I hadn’t. I did not hear a thing. So, he said, look into for me, please. Find out what is going on. Yes, Sir, I said and did an about-face thinking he met us to hassle the VOPO’s.”
“Sorry Rex, but I am just a little lost here Rudy said. You mean he just asked you look into it and find out what is going on? And you thought he met for us to risk our lives sneaking up on the VOPO’s with our guns drawn? You do know how dangerous that was, don’t you? I mean, hell we could have had our heads blasted off by the 50 Cal.”
Quit peeing in your pants pup. I was letting them know that we know what the hell they are doing and how sneaky we can be. I promise you there won’t be any more shooting at civilians. What I said scared the crap out of them.”
“Yeah, me too, Rudy said nearly regurgitating the words as he spoke.”
Here you go boys, Maddy exclaimed as she handed us our breakfast plates. “Anything else I can get you before I take my break?”
“No sis, I think we have all we need. Hoping that her slamming us on being boys, then I figured my remark was apropos.”
Rudy and I were into our second bites when we heard both the telephone and the radio going off at the same time. The words on the radio sounded all too familiar and threatening.
Rudy and I both jumped up simultaneously. He answered the phone, and I listened to the radio announcement.
“MP Boat 1, we need help at Bravo Check Point. Numerous shots fired in the canal area. We are stuck inside watching but can’t see what the VOPO tower guards are shooting at.”
Bravo, this is MP-1; we are on our way. ETA 10-15 minutes. Keep me informed.”
“Rudy, let’s go, man. We got an emergency of some sort at Bravo.” We will eat later.
“Yeah, that was 1st Sarg saying the same thing. He said approach with caution and find out what the hell the shooting is all about”.
“Ok, move man.” As I was running down the lawn toward our pier and the MP Boat, I was yelling for Hann’s to fire her up. We have an emergency." He heard me because the engine compartment lid closed fast and Hann’s quickly stepped to the bridge and fired MP-1 up. I was in the lead, so I scrambled to the bow cleat and untied the rope, then through it onto the bow. More tension was placed on the stern cleat as the bow drifted a little away from the pier. “Common Rudy, untie the rope man.”
As I jumped on board, over the gunnel wall, Rudy shouted, I got it and threw his stern line in the back of the boat, jumping in at the same time.
People sunbathing on the grassy lawn, others walking around and people from inside the café were all alarmed at our departure. As soon as I boarded MP-1, and was assisted by Hann’s who grabbed my right arm steadied me next to him. I immediately turned the blue light and siren on indicating to all that we had an emergency. Most of the time, people anticipated a swimmer or boater in trouble. This time people were a little more alarmed after some had overheard our radio conversation inside the office. Someone yelled out; ‘Good Luck out there,’ as we were departing from the pier at full throttle.
“Hann’s, I yelled over the roar of the engine and propeller straining at the control motivation by Hann’s. “
“Ja, I heard over our radio. Bravo Check Point Ja?”
“Ja. Shooting, Hann’s said. Don’t know if it just the VOPO’s playing around or maybe retaliation from this morning’s business. Keep the hammer down Hann’s. It sounded like we are needed.”
I then turned back to Rudy, who was holding onto the stern balance bars. “Get up here, I yelled.” I then proceeded to give Rudy instructions on what we could be facing. Be ready to jump in if people are in trouble or stay low with your 45 Cal. at the ready. Don’t have any idea what is going on yet.” After saying that our boat radio flared up with a familiar voice. It was Sgt. Johnson, the senior in command at Bravo Check Point, announcing over the radio that shots were still being fired in our direction from the VOPO tower guards. I don’t know what the hell they are firing at, but we are ok up here. Where are you at now, he asked?
“Sarg, we are just turning into the Teltow Canal. We should be there in a couple of minutes. I hear the shots. Ok, I see a small boat in the water by the cattails just below you guys and one maybe two people in the water. It looks like the VOPO’s are shooting down at them. “Were almost there.”
I hung the radio receiver on its hook and asked Rudy to hand me the M-14 rifle which was next to him below the bridge.
“What is it, man, what is going on, Rudy asked?”
“Stay down and shut up, Rudy. The VOPO’s are firing at something or someone in the canal.
I had just put the M-14 to my shoulder and was leaning on the windshield framing when the VOPO’S turned and fired on us. It wasn’t the big tower 50 Cal. gun but rifle fire. We took five hits on both starboard and port side of the bow, and then it happened. One VOPO guard was half sliding and half trying to step down from the tower. He stopped mid-way, through his rifle down to the ground and jumped down himself. He didn’t bother to pick up his gun. The second VOPO took one more shot at us, hitting the windshield and chrome framing right where I was standing. The windshield and framing exploded all over me. My left eye received the worst of the damage and the side of my head and ear. I felt the bullet pass over my ear slightly scrapping the hairline at my skull.
Glass shards were everywhere, and the side of my face was bleeding. Not losing too much composure, I raised the M-14 back up and put the bulls-eye, on the back of the first guard. I wanted him down before he reached the woods. Then I would snip the second guard who really pissed me off for putting holes in our boat and nearly killing me. Just before pulling my trigger, I heard a resounding “NO.” That was all. I looked left, right and even turned around. Rudy meanwhile took the opportunity to ask if he could get up and kill something?
There was nobody in the boat, on the shore or in the water that could have said NO. However, I did recognize the voice. Stepping back, I took a breath and another look at the guards running away.
“Why God, why can’t I return fire?” He didn’t answer me.
I guess NO was enough of an answer. Even though I was angry and wanted revenge, it would not be today. I remembered that ‘vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord’.
As I put my rifle down, a little dazed and adrenaline weak, I continued watching the two guards disappear into the Grunwald (forest). Then I ran to the starboard side of the boat and saw the carnage of what the VOPO’s left of a young couple.
I had supposed and wrote in my report hours later that the couple had paddled up the canal in search of a place to have a picknick lunch. They must have come close or crossed over the invisible line in the middle of the canal and paid the ultimate price for that ridiculous mistake. The VOPO’s opened fire with everything they had. I estimated 50 bullets in both bodies floating on the water’s surface. Their boat was half sinking with whatever other shots passed through the couple’s bodies. The picknick basket and its contents were floating next to the floating bodies. Blood was everywhere. I mean in our boat, all the cattails, trees outstretched over the canal ten feet up. The water was no longer its standard green but dark red.
I jumped over the side of the boat to grab both bodies and simultaneously, drag them out of the water before they sank or floated away.
I said it then and after all these years and now re-writing what I saw was pure evil. Killing people for fun was what the VOPO guards did. Never have I seen so much blood, pouring from two bodies that fast. There was no time for CPR or bandages. Life was gone. Their Souls were gone, and all I thought about was why God said NO to my wanting to retaliate by shooting the enemy who shot at me and killed two innocent young kids.
By this time, one of the MPs’ from the checkpoint came running down the hill, including Sgt. Johnson. Then I saw Rudy jump into the water, scared and shaking like a leaf. Fear does funny things to our bodies and minds when that dark cloud of horror comes forward and smacks you in the face. It happens to everyone. I sat there for a few minutes my knees over the bodies. Both kids were still slowly bleeding out, and there was nothing I could do. Trying to describe the feelings, the looks of horror on all our faces, being sick to our stomachs is to this day, hard to grasp in the scene's totality.
Death, dying, bloody, dead bodies never bothered me before. Somehow, I coped with any situation or just shoved it down for a second look later on in life? However, I just sat there stunned by the useless sense of what was before me. Why? Why or how, could two VOPO guards be so inhumane and vicious as to shoot two innocent people, not just once but a hundred rounds more or less? Just for fun? Or maybe to even the score? It was twenty years ago that Hitler lost the War in 1945? The sun was still out, and no clouds in the sky?
It was apparent I was still in shock. Someone again tried to tidy up the blood running down my face. I shook the MP off me. Leave me alone, I said. I’m fine. “Sarg, I need to use your phone I yelled out.”
Sgt. Johnson said, go ahead, let Capt. D. know what just happened. Get some help down here.”
“OK, I yelled back as I stumbled to my feet. Rudy, get a tarp and cover the bodies for now. Don’t let anyone close to the scene except who is here right now.”
It was only a minute or two reaching the front door of Bravo Check Point. Another MP, Cpl. Dolan was anxiously waiting for some news on what had happened below on the Teltow Canal banks.
“Hang on, Dolan got to call Capt. D. immediately.”
Picking up the phone, I noticed my hand was shaking a little. I was having trouble breathing. My knees were so weak I felt like just giving in to whatever was overcoming me and fell to the ground. No, I said silently and fought instead to keep standing. Hmm, I noted. I realized that I was in a state of shock. It caught up to me and was settling in. Get rid of it. Take a breath. Try breathing in and out I told myself thru your nose Rex and out your mouth.
Dialing the Commander's office, I heard Capt. D’s secretary politely asks my name and business. Shouting into the phone receiver, I asked for Capt. D. now damn it. This is MP-1. We have a real emergency.
“Rex, what is going on out there, Lt. Jameson, asked.”
“Bad news, sir. A young couple was fired on by the VOPO’s sitting in the guard tower. Both dead. I need to let Capt. D. know sir immediately.”
“Hang on, Rex.”
“Rex, Capt. D. inquired. What happened out there?”
I gave him the entire story, and I might have mentioned that this is no longer a safe zone. I suggest you block any more cars or foot traffic from coming toward Bravo. Also, stop all inbound traffic from West Germany coming through here. This is a bad situation, sir and may get worse.”
“Anyone else hurt, Capt. D. asked?”
“No, sir. But we need help.”
“Help is being called for right now. Hang in there and protect the scene, Capt. D. ordered.”
Horrors of this magnitude do something different to everyone. Some take it in stride, or so they think, like me. Others start shaking uncontrollably like Rudy. Some people fall to their knees in disbelief like Hanns. Others get angry, like me and others even get sick at the sight of so much blood. None of that comes close to the fear that unravels within your mind when, across the Teltow Canal within two or three hours of the incident, you could hear people (armies, and equipment) setting up for war inside the Grunewald (forest).
Cautioning everyone to stay alert and ordering four people to man the perimeter around the dead bodies with sidearms was a joke. I had no real idea of what was going on across the canal, but it sounded like an entire army marching to war. It didn’t take long to figure out that this was precisely what was going on.
Four Americans were surrounding the dead couple; one of which was me. We each had a 45 Cal. sidearm. There was one M-14 now in Rudy’s hands.
Poor Hanns, our one and only German boat skipper, was hiding in the boat. We were up against an army of Russians and East Germans. The odds didn’t seem quite fair.
During the next three hours, I witnessed the most intense military build-up on both sides of the canal, that could have ever imagined. I thought this could be the beginning of another World War III. The Russians had a Tank Division, an Armored Division, and one or more Infantry divisions. I could see all their guns pointing directly at the American side.
The American side had one tank division, an armored division, plus the 6th infantry division. They were pointing all their guns across the canal at the Russians. My little troop was in the middle.
The tension was gripping and intense. Fear hung in the balance for everyone. It became very quiet, and everyone was at the ready. Had one person from either side fired a shot, World War III, would have exploded. And that is not an exaggeration – we were on the brink of war.
Rudy, Hanns, the other MP and I were in the middle of it all at the Teltow Canal water’s edge in our bullet-riddled boat. I remember thinking to myself how small I really was in this world compared to the two military super-powers faced off against one another.
Thinking back, while I was aiming at the East German guard who had jumped down from the tower and was running to hide in the Grunwald, I was ever so slowly squeezing down on the trigger to kill him. That is until I heard God’s voice in my head clearly and loudly say “STOP.” In other words, don’t shoot! I alone could have started World War III. I’ve had to live with that incident all my life, and I’m grateful that God intervened.
‘What If’ I had pulled the trigger? What would or where would we all be hiding right now?
The mere sound of one tank firing a cannonball toward Bravo Check Point would have taken it off of the map, instantly. All that would be left was smoke where it had once stood.
It became so apparent to me, how insignificantly one person or four people are who are in the middle of such devastation, conflict, and medal killing machines. Not to mention all the army personnel on both sides standing at the ready. The machine guns, nearby, fighting helicopters at the ready, jet fighters ready for take-off a few miles away in Berlin. Then, every American Post in Germany was going on alert and convoys of military personnel and weaponry were deployed toward Bravo Checkpoint.
We had no place to hide but one. It came to me like a lightning bolt. Pray! Pray for peace and no further military action required. Pray for peace and order to return Rex. Pray to me for courage and strength.
Now I know how King David must have felt as a young man going up against his foe, the Giant Philistine Goliath. David’s battleground was the valley of Elah. Mine was Bravo Check Point. 1 Samuel 17. The difference, I didn’t have to kill anyone. Could have. Maybe I should have. But my God said NO! ‘What If It Were You.’
Other than my memory, such as it is, most of the facts derived from this Teltow Canal Incident, came from East German News Papers, people in the know, still living in Berlin, The Bridgehunter’s, which is in part Chronicles of Berlin History bridging the past with our future.
When I left Berlin and the 287th Military Police Division in 1967, I left a lot of strong memories of both good things and bad. The worst was by far was the senseless shooting deaths of Hermann Dobler and his girlfriend Elke Martens that day in July 1965. The only redeeming thing about it was when in my research I saw that (1) of the VOPO Guards that shot the couple was later arrested in 1993 and convicted of murder. That guard was sentenced, to only (6) years in prison for murdering two innocent people. Once again, Communism played out; its justice system and justice was not served, in my mind.
The second guard involved in the Incident served no time or presumably no punishment at all. I read where the commander in charger received (6) years of probation for giving the order to rain down the bullets on Hermann Dobler and Elke Martens.
To Hermann Dobler and Elke Martens, I am sorry that I didn’t get there sooner. Perhaps I could have warned you of the Teltow Canal danger? Maybe I could have convinced you to go a little further up Wannsee Lake and spend time at a beautiful area on the lawn of our MP Boat Patrol Headquarters? God Bless you both as only He can do.
It means little now, in all the years since that day, July 15, 1965, that I have thought about you both, prayed for you and your descendants. Ashamedly I did not know your names until I started writing my Biography in 2015. The same goes for all the innocent people killed both at Charlie Check Point, Bravo Check Point and other areas of Berlin. Especially the many dead bodies found floating in Wannsee Lake.
Berlin, today, is a different city. Berlin is now a United city. Meaning East and West Berlin is one.
The Wall came down in November 1991. The building of the wall jstarted on August 13, 1961. Thirty years of terror, hate, and prejudice. Thirty years of killing innocent people. Thirty years of lives cut short of their prime. For me, 54 years of continued memories never to be forgotten.
God Bless Us ALL.
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About The Excerpt Above
The portion of Bravo Checkpoint Incident, by Rex Barton with Jodi Pappas, has been copied by permission of Rex Barton and Associates for use on this website.
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