Richard Rodriguez


Two events in my military career that left me with stark, polarizing, emotional, feelings…


I was one of the lucky American soldiers to be stationed in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell, but what I want to share about that event was how the wall came down from the start of a trickle, like ice melting in the mountains, a drop of water rolling down picking up volume and speed, so much so that when it reaches the valley below, it becomes a force that can transform the landscape.

I arrived in Europe (West Germany to be exact) I was there witnessing the whispered unrest coming out of East Berlin, particularly, and Eastern Europe in general. I witnessed with pride (and I say pride, because I was an American, a product of liberty, justice and apple pie. And East Berliner’s were a product of fear, darkness, and the Bogyman) l watched as, one by one, East German leaders resigned, ending with one named Egon Krenz, who spewed promises to be a different leader then those that preceded him. He promised to relax the decades of restriction, and everyone should calm down and within time, he would bring fought the wanted social adjustments. Now, as you can guess the populace was not going to wait, the proverbial genie was out of the shattered bottle, and Pandora's box was smashed open. There was no turning back.

One of the East Berlin protesters ran for the wall, the guards, who were always trained to shoot, hesitated as the protester climbed the wall and was greeted with a tremendous cheer as he was assisted over the war by West Berliners who had gathered by the thousands at Checkpoint Charley on the West Berlin side of the wall. Another East Berliner ran to the wall, and climbed over with the same results, now fearless, ten charged the wall, then fifty, then hundreds of East Berliners began charging the wall, and climbed over.

The East Berlin guards sensing that they were in the path of a tsunamic historical event, did not want to find themselves on the wrong side of history. They lowered their weapons and stepped aside, most, disappearing into the human tide that swept toward the western shores. Thousands on the west side lent aid to the fleeing easterners by lowering ropes, some produced hammers and started chipping away at the wall, thousand aped this action, and soon gaps, then holes, then huge spillways started appearing as sections of the wall collapsed.

East Berliners flooded into the west through these openings, I watched transfixed, heart-pounding, tears flowing, as long-separated people were once again united. The pride threatened to explode in my chest as I realized that I was part of the mechanism that united these people, that I was an American soldier stationed in Germany, and that I helped bring this iconic change in human history...



I remember that beautiful day with a wisp of white in the blue sky and the promise of joy and happiness in which it held. I remember the viewing stand, people laughing and smiling, awaiting the start of the air show. I remember watching the sky as the various planes flew by. I remember a father holding his toddler, who gleefully stretched his arm as if to grab the aircraft from the sky. I remember the toddler's expression change from that of wonderment to bewilderment, as his father's expression changed to horror, I remember not quite understanding what I was seeing as the three planes collided, and debris started raining on the stands. I remember thinking this a joke, sleight of hand, illusion, but feeling the truth. I remember the screams as flaming parts of planes crashed into the the stands. I remember hearing each individual word that was shouted out by hundreds of people as well as the tortured scream of the burning twisted metal. I remember the smell of the fuel, the smell of the burning masses, and the smell of fear. I remember glancing at the blue sky and noting how it was still so beautiful with its wisp of white. I remember feeling like a coward for not caring about anyone else. I remember running, I remember running very hard, very fast. I remember stopping only when I was overtaken by exhaustion, I remember walking miles till I returned to the base in Kaiserslautern. I remember going straight to my room in the barracks, collapsing onto the floor and crying. I remember cursing the memory of that damn blue sky with its wisp of white for leading me to believe in a false wonderment to come.

I remember…

The rest of this story goes as follows, since we were the transportation battalion, we had reefers (refrigerated trucks) which we provided as temporary morgues, and volunteers to walk the crash site looking for personal belongings and organic residue, we were giving little flags to place at a spot where we found something, I remember this everyday…



28 August 1988,

3:44 pm

70 dead

500 injured




All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Richard Rodriguez.
Published on on 01/11/2024.


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