20 years after the Berlin Wall: Lives of two former U.S. soldiers intertwined with Berlin
November 9, 2009
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Like a pair of bookends, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall flanked the military career of George Louis Horvath.
As an 18-year-old private, Horvath drew West Berlin as his first duty station in June 1961. Two months later, in the dead of night, East German authorities abruptly closed all intra-city border crossings to block a tide of refugees fleeing to West Berlin. Barbed wire went up, and armed guards were posted along the divide.
“We didn’t have a clue anything was amiss,” Horvath recalled in a recent interview. “When we went to bed, everything was OK.”
Roused from his slumber, he and other soldiers in his unit were sent to Tempelhof Airport. There they assembled as a quick-reaction force to respond if needed. He described the mood as “scary but exciting.”
Twenty-eight years later, Horvath was back in Germany as the U.S. Army Europe command sergeant major. Seven months into his last tour, he received a call one night. The voice on the line reported that the Berlin Wall, the most iconic symbol of the Cold War, was coming down.
Once again, Horvath recounted, “we were caught completely off guard.”
Jerry Deaver was a 23-year-old Army specialist en route to Berlin when he heard the news. He didn’t make it to Checkpoint Charlie, the main access point into East Berlin, until a couple of days later, but the area was still crowded with rapturous residents and blaring car horns.
“A few of the women hugged us,” Deaver said. “What I saw in their eyes was complete happiness.”
Everyone seemed to gravitate to Deaver and the half dozen American soldiers with him. Many Germans, particularly those from east of the divide, wanted their picture taken with a U.S. servicemember.
Deaver recalled finding an old German man who “rented” his hammer to him for a Deutsche mark, or about 70 cents.
“I took my Class A jacket off,” Deaver said, “and commenced to knocking off pieces of the wall.”
Twenty years later, the two former soldiers said their lives became intertwined with Berlin.
As a young soldier, Horvath wound up marrying a Berliner, while Deaver returned to the city several times after the wall fell to lead tour groups.
Berlin “was the center of intrigue,” Horvath said of the Cold War period. “The potential for something significant was always there.”