VETERAN’S DAY SPOTLIGHT: Former Cold War Warrior Discusses Service in Germany During Early 1960s, Fall of Berlin Wall
By Space Coast Daily // November 11, 2019
Merritt Island resident Lee Hathaway recalls his military service on Veterans Day 2019
BREVARD COUNTY • MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA – With the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Saturday, longtime Merritt Island resident and former Cold War Warrior Lee Hathaway recalled his military service on Veterans Day 2019 and what it was like in post World War II Germany shortly after the Wall was erected in 1961.
“When I joined the United States Army I was just 19 years young,” said the now 77-year-old Hathaway.
“Communism, stamp it out, rid the world of it wherever it exists – that was the mindset that I grew up with as a youth. That’s why I, as a United States Army soldier, was trying symbolically to push the wall over near the famous Check Point Charlie location in Berlin, Germany.”
The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Construction of the Wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic on August 13, 1961.
The Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin, to stem the exodus of East Germans fleeing Communism.
“Thank you, President Ronald W. Reagan, for putting a large dent in the Communist world from this same location 30 years ago,” said Hathaway, who saw first hand East Berliners being killed and injured during attempts to go under and over the wall to freedom.
Before the Wall’s erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin; from there they could then travel to West Germany and to other Western European countries.
Between 1961 and 1989 the Wall prevented almost all such emigration. During this period more than 100,000 people attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall, with an estimated death toll of more than 200 in and around Berlin.
“Freedom and Democracy are guaranteed by our United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights,” said Hathaway.
“Thank the soldiers, airmen, seamen and Marines that fought and died for these freedoms. I love the United States of America, and when I hear our National Anthem, I stand at attention with great pride.
“I only kneel for the fallen soldiers that gave their precious lives so we can be free to enjoy what we enjoy every day – and if any person will not stand for our National Anthem, abide by our laws or respect our great flag, please give me a call and I’ll give you a ride to the nearest airport so you can move to another part of the world.”
In addition to duty in Berlin, Hathaway was also stationed in Schweinfurt, which is located in the Southern third of Germany between Frankfurt to the West and the Czechoslovakian border to the East.
“I was in the famous 3rd Infantry Division, 39th Field Artillery Regiment. Our weapons were 105 mm towed howitzers and 155 mm self-propelled howitzers.”
He also served as a military policeman at a U.S. Army stockade in Wurzburg, Germany, and played on the U.S. Army hockey team.
Hathaway had been sliding that puck across the ice since his days in Rhode Island public schools, where he was selected for the Rhode Island School Boys’ Hockey All-State Team as a youth.
He also played hockey during his year at Bridgton Academy in Maine before joining the U.S. Army in 1962.
He was part of the United States Army team and traveled extensively throughout Europe playing Olympic competition across the continent.
During his first season overseas, he was also selected to play games for the German local travel team, which also added to the list of Olympic European team competitions under his belt.
“I was one of the few Americans in the early 1960s to play hockey for a European hockey team,” said Hathaway.
“Playing hockey for the U.S. Army, of course, was my best memories of my time in Germany as we traveled to numerous European locations to play our hockey games against some of the best players in the world at that time,” said Hathaway, who was inducted into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2018 for his contribution over a 25-year period to budling up the sport in Brevard County.
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