Today is exactly 50 years since the West woke to the news that East Germany with the full support of what’s now the FSU (Former Soviet Union) was building a wall around the part of Berlin known as West Berlin. That was Sunday, August 13, 1961.
When the Berlin Wall was built, President Kennedy took that as a sign to show U.S. resolve to defend West Berlin had not diminished since 1948 (see below). Kennedy “activated” (i.e.; called to active duty) some 150,000 U.S, military reservists. Basically he “froze” all personnel movement meaning, in part, those reservists at summer training camp were technically on active duty so remained on active duty. Relatively few were deployed outside the U.S. Instead some U.S. military personnel on regular active duty were redeployed and some of the reservists took their places. The remaining reservists trained for possible missions.
This Examiner knew some of the reservists in and around Cleveland and heard how their lives and their families’ lives were disrupted for what was a politically necessary show of resolve. However, the reservists and their families and the press didn’t usually see it that way at the time. The reserves stayed on active duty for approximately a year and were then released back into civilian life. Part of those reservists’ “reward” was placement in “inactive” reserve status, thus shielding them from Vietnam. Since many had been in “the six month” program, they were now eligible for G.I benefits, which they would not have been under the regular six month program..
Most Cleveland area employers treated the reservists well upon their return and they got their civilian jobs back with little trouble. Of course some had problem but they were the exceptions. This Examiner heard stories about how some single and married reservists would swap holiday leaves. For example, so the married reservists could be home with their wives and kids for Christmas while the single reservists stayed on duty during Christmas. The single reservists then went home for New Years when the married reservists stayed on duty.
The U.S. was determined to keep West Berlin free despite the city being 110 miles inside East Germany. In 1948, East Germany attempted to blockade West Berlin and starve it into submission. President Truman ordered an airlift of essential food and supplies to the city. Known as the Berlin Airlift, it last for nearly a year as the U.S. and its allies daily airlifted over 4,000 tons of food and supplies to West Berlin, Finally the FSU ordered the blockade ended.
By the late 1950s the Soviet Premier was Nikita_Khrushchev. who was earning a reputation of repeatedly testing Western, especially U.S., resolve. So during his time in office there were a few occasions when World War III seemed quite possible.
All this testing Western resolve towards West Berlin started because World War II had produced some odd boundaries. The Soviets under their ruthless dictator Josef Stalin grabbed all the territory it could from the rapidly collapsing Nazi regime. This included countries inbetween the FSU and Germany, such as Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the eastern part of Germany. The other Allied Powers (the United States, Great Britain, and France) kept roughly the western half of Europe. But Germany was to be divided.
Partly this happened because the retreating Nazi army was caught between the FSU advancing from the east and the Allied powers advancing from the west. In fact, soldiers from the FSU and the U.S. shook hand on a bridge crossing the Elbe River. The Elbe River then became a boundary for how much territory the FSU could claim. Berlin managed to remain in Soviet territory but since the U.S. viewed having some of Berlin as essential, that city was divided and became a sore point..
Except for some superficial courtesies when Truman, Churchill, and Stalin met in Potsdam to formalize matters, that hand shaking was about the last gesture of friendship between what became the two major post World War II powers. Both sides wanted the top German scientists and each side got some of whom they wanted. For both sides, those scientists would lead the rocket and space programs of their respective new homelands.
By 1989, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R., aka Soviets, Soviet Union) started becoming the FSU. Without Soviet support the East German government collapsed, the Wall disappeared, and Germany was eventually unified