Driving through Checkpoint Charlie was like driving off the set of a color
movie and into film noir. The sky was gray. The buildings were gray. The
clothes were gray. The people were gray. They shuffled along, slumped over,
looking very tired. Mostly people ignored us, but some walked by and without
turning their heads, winked or raised an eyebrow to say hello--knowing full
well that if they got caught they would be arrested and possibly never seen
In the central shopping area, the jewel of the Communist Block, had
buildings which were painted and in good order; but the sides and backs of
some of the buildings were still marked with bullet holes from the war. One
shop we stopped in had a display for soap: a plank on sawhorses, a tattered
wicker basket with one type of bar soap, shaped like a small pink-ish brick,
unwrapped and chipped. Period.
The four of us who palled around on this tour, (one tall, one short [me],
one fat, one average) were walking along the street, talking about what it
must be like to be a soldier in the East German or Soviet Armies, when (I
swear to God), we turned a corner and almost bumped into four uniformed
Soviet soldiers: one tall, one short, one fat, one average.
They were walking and talking much like we were except they were laughing
(before they saw us) and we were less jovial the entire day. They were in
their early twenties, G.I. hair cuts and meticulous uniforms--just like us.
The did not look like monsters. They did not look even particularly
threatening. We walked past each other, soaking in the site of each other,
unable to stop. I could not help but feel that each of us was thinking that
had we been out of uniform and in some other place, we would have loved to
sit and talk over a few beers.
On the other hand, a week from now, we could be shooting at each
making widows and orphans, cripples and corpses.
(Much later I lived in Los Angeles and hooked up with someone who had my job
(Air Traffic Control) about the time I was in Germany, but he went to Nam.
Five years after he got out, he was still occasionally waking in the middle
of the night in a cold sweat--screaming.)
I do not regret my tour in the service--quite the contrary. I still believe
that the only safe country is a strong one; but each of us have a duty to
all those who died in all the wars, to work diligently to prevent armed
conflict, to demand our politicians act perform with honor and to strive for
the ideals we believe in: truth, justice and liberty.
Sp5 S. Agliano
8th Infantry, (Aviation) HHC
Bad Kreuznach, Germany