Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Berlin 1961


That is the title of a book I am reading by Frederick Kempe. It triggered memories of my inexplicable recall to Army active duty in the fall of 1961. I knew I was part of a largely symbolic recall of reservists because of the Berlin Crisis, but that’s where my knowledge stopped. I had little interest at that time in geo-politics. I was 30 years old, struggling to make my career and oblivious to about everything else, including my wife Marilyn’s own struggles to raise our three children mostly single-handed.

I remember walking home from the office and lab in the darkening twilight on a November evening in 1961 and finding an official-looking envelope waiting for me from the day’s mail. It was ominously addressed to 1st Lieutenant David C. Ayers, 04 017 102, not a good sign. Inside was a set of orders desiring me to report for active duty at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in one week’s time. What? My first thought was that it must be some mistake. I had committed to six years of inactive reserve status. I left active duty for the inactive reserves in 1955. It was now 1961. Hmmmm.

My fellow engineers threw a party for me and awarded me the coveted Order of the Purple Shaft. But I knew better than to ignore orders, so in one week’s time I found myself bussing through the front gate of Fort Monmouth with orders in hand, leaving a confused Marilyn behind in Cedar Rapids to pick up the pieces.

To make a long story mercifully short, I was assigned a room in the World War II-vintage Bachelor Officers Quarters that was to be my home-away-from-home for a couple of months. I shared the BOQ with a bunch of rough Warrant Officers from a Peoria Army Reserve company, but I think I have written before about some of my experiences with them. Anyway, I was to fill an open slot for an officer with my particular Military Occupational Specialty rating. With the Army’s usual efficiency in such matters, they had actually recalled three lieutenants to fill the one slot. What to do?

What I did was wangle an office job in the Signal Corps Electronics Laboratory, leaving the other two to argue about filling the opening. My two months of service, which consisted largely of trying to learn to play chess as a defense against boredom, ended in early February, 1962, on the day John Glen paraded down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, following his historic three orbits of the earth.

Thanks to Berlin 1961 I now know “the rest of the story” about why I was so hastily recalled to service.

The proximate cause was a brand-new U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, who was in over his head in dealing with a wily Premier Khruschev over the fate of West Berlin. At an ill-conceived confrontation with Khruschev in Vienna, our fresh new President came out third best in a field of two and felt he had to counter with an aggressive action. Recalling some reserves so he could send another three divisions to West Germany was the best he could do. I recommend the book to anyone interested in the Cold War period in our history,

Ironically, I was sent to West Berlin on business the following year and had an up close and personal look at The Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.

At almost age 80, I think I am now safe from getting caught in such SNAFUs (you’ll have to look that one up).

Dave, who once served his country hunched over a chess-board.


7 Responses to “Berlin 1961”
  1. tom says:

    I remember that. I was in the process of making dust at FLW with a bunch of other ground pounders, as we were called. Not sure the world is any better off now.

  2. Dave says:

    FLW? (Brain cramp.) As far as the world being better off, I plead the Fifth.

  3. T.H.E. Hill says:

    About six months before Dr. Kempe released “Berlin 1961,” I published a book called “The Day Before the Berlin Wall: Could We Have Stopped It?”. It was based on a “legend” that was being told by soldiers in Berlin in the mid1970s when I was stationed there. The legend said that we had advance knowledge of the wall, and we knew that the East-German troops who were going to build it had been told to halt construction if the Americans were to take aggressive action to stop them. Kempe’s book essentially substantiates the “legend” that my novel is based on. Since you got called up for the Wall, you might enjoy reading the story about how it got built the way I heard it.

    FLW = Fort Lost in the Woods, aka Fort Leonard Woods. I was never there, but knew lots of people who were.

  4. Dave says:

    Thanks for the comments. The novel by T.H.E. Hill sounds interesting. I’ve downloaded it to my Kindle and will be reading it soon.

    Fort Leonard Wood – of course! Never was stationed there, but I pass the sign to FLW every time we drive to Lake of Ozarks.

  5. Leslie says:

    Hey Dad, I just finished reading “In the Garden of the Beasts”, a non-fiction book by Erik Larson about the American Ambassador in Berlin from 1933 to 1937, during Hitler’s rise. The poor guy was trying to get a cushy job in a small country so he could finish his masterwork, a book about the Old South, but got that post instead. Fascinating! It also had a lot of detail about Berlin and it’s version of Central Park and “Ambassador Row”. I thought of you being there during the 60’s.

  6. Dave says:

    Thanks for the reading tip. It sounds interesting, and I’ll see if it available for my Kindle.

  7. Leslie says:

    I recently checked to see if it’s available for Kindle loan but alas it is not. There are several books that are loanable, but not all, and usually not the most recently released I guess.

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