I have noticed lately that a number of people on the Yahoo list of those who served in Berlin around the same time as I – and who had similar attitudes – are beginning to reevaluate their feelings regarding their service on Teufelsberg. I don’t know if I could ever become as rhapsodic about that period as some of my brethren, but I do have to admit that we formed some strong bonds with our friends that I haven’t experience in any other walk of life.
I first recognized the tenacity of this bond when I reunited with Brock Garland, a fellow voice intercept operator who took me under his wing, as it were, shortly after I started working on the Hill, teaching me many of the things one didn’t learn in class back in the States. When he first contacted me several years ago, almost 40 years had passed since we had last spoken, and yet we immediately recognized that our friendship hadn’t changed. I don’t know whether this kind of special relationship is the result of the “us against them” war that was waged with the clueless treads or because we recognized the importance of the job we were doing and could only talk about it with one another. July 3 was the first anniversary of Brock’s death and I still miss him every day.
A year ago this past February another close friend from that period came back into my life. Gene Brown was solely responsible for insuring that all the intelligence we collected on our reel-to-reel tape recorders was packaged and shipped to the appropriate agencies, most often the National Security Agency. He also wrapped a few Christmas presents, which I believe is how I first met him. We fast became close friends and I was even his best man at his wedding shortly before he got out of the Army. He found me on Facebook nearly a year and a half ago and decided on the spot that he was coming out for a visit. When he showed up at the door, it was as if we had never parted.
Both of our wives recognized that special bond Gene and I had formed more than 40 years ago, a bond that clearly wasn’t broken by the passage of time. He and his wife, Marylin Ball-Brown, stayed several days before going back to their home in Olympia, Washington, and a new bond had been formed among the four of us. In the summer, both joined us and two other close friends on our 12-day Baltic cruise. We spent our time on the ship reminiscing and found it as enjoyable as the days we spent touring Scandinavian cities.
Last week Gene and Marylin came back for another visit. By this time I began to realize how profoundly what we experienced in Berlin four decades ago had shaped our lives and the way we viewed the world. Our common bond was akin to a brotherhood. We laughed, we argued and we reflected on those days in Berlin when we contributed to a mission that ultimately played a large role in bringing down the Berlin Wall and shattering the Iron Curtain. We couldn’t talk about it back then – which probably played a role in creating the strong bonds of friendship among many of us – but we sure can now.
And we did it all in spite of the treads.
(Shameless plug: For a better understanding of treads, the Hill and the mission, read McCurry’s War. And then let me know what you think.)