Friday, January 8, 2010

Berlin Pt. 3: Capt. Charles R. Terry

Cpt. Charles R. Terry, US Air Force Intelligence

"I would have never thought I would see that wall come down. I wasn't expecting it, no-one in the intelligence community was expecting it, it surprised everyone. Mostly because we were all convinced that you could never trust anything the Soviets said."

It is Thanksgiving and Mila is talking with my cousin, his wife and my mother at a freshly cleared table. Wadded napkins and glasses filled with schorle still litter the table. The only remnants of a warm spread recently packed away. My father and I are in the kitchen and I am watching him select his words carefully as I ask him questions about the GDR and his job in Germany. He will be the first to admit that 90% of what he knows is not actually "sensitive" anymore, but true to whatever word he gave, he doesn't share a whole lot. "Methods and sources, that is mostly what we're not supposed to ever tell." He does recount his trips to West and East Berlin. "We would be on the duty train and as soon as we would cross that border into East Germany, the shades on the train were pulled down, and the train only ran at night, and you could tell you were in the East because the rails were not maintained very was always bumpier on the other side."

I could see him sidestepping certain words as he told me how he and a colleague were given passes into East Berlin on one of these trips. "I can't remember exactly, ...I know it was legal though." I smiled at the details he recounted, "The difference was like black and white once you crossed the border. There were no building cranes, no one smiling." "Bud Hiller and I went to the big department store to buy some shoes for cheap, everything was really inexspensive in the East. We got to the store and joined a long line. I was planning on buying a couple pairs until I overheard a young man tell his friend, through complaining about the cold, that he had saved so long for this pair of shoes. I looked at Bud, and without saying anything we decided to just get the one pair. It was an eye opener."

"The thing about East Germany was, they were always simply a puppet...controlled by Moscow." Strong words, that may sound marginalizing, but truthfully his resume` demands some credibility. He spent his career primarily in the intelligence and counter intelligence sector of the military and government and retired conveniently two years after the Iron Curtain fell. Giant pieces of Turkish brasswork hang in our home his year long remote assignment intercepting Soviet radio transmissions. In 1968, While working for the National Security Agency he literally watched Soviet tanks gather on the border of West and East Germany and Czechoslovakia hours before the members of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia while stationed in Hof, Germany. At that time Hof was considered an epicenter of the intelligence arena of the Cold War. "Some mornings operatives bodies would show up in the Saale." (River) In 1985, my father was assigned to be the Chief of Personnel and later Automation Security for the US Army Europe - the first civilian to be appointed to the position.

At the time my father took this position, there were more Soviet soldiers in East Germany that any other place outside of the USSR. Only months earlier a US Army Major, Arthur Nicholson of the US Military Liason Mission, stationed in Potsdam, East Germany, was shot and killed by a Russian soldier while photographing Soviet tanks on an intelligence gathering mission in Ludwigslust, East Germany. Major Nicholson is considered the last known causualty of the Cold War.

The official US Army Europe report on the Nicholson shooting.

My father and mother returned to Berlin only months after the Wall fell. Driving through towns and cities, my father explored locations he and his office were targeting only months earlier. My interest in what my father did while in Germany has been rekindled since meeting Mila and learning more about her family. It is a strange thing to consider country, government, the Wall and the Iron Curtain as dividers that actually connect us today.

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