Flag falls, pride soars at Berlin compound
BERLIN — Old Glory made its final descent Wednesday on the flagpole at Clay Headquarters Compound, a slow slide into history.
The final retreat came more than 49 years after the first flag was raised here. That ceremony was attended by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Omar Bradley and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton.
This ceremony under gray skies officially ended the American military presence in the city of Berlin.
Maj. Gen. Walter H. Yates Jr., the final commander of the Berlin military community, put his hand over his
heart when asked how he felt watching the flag come down.
"Tear-jerker, isn't it," he said.
But Yates then noted that the soldiers in Berlin had accomplished 'their mission.’
"Time to move on," he said.
The flag will be presented to Secretary of Defense William Perry at 8:15 a.m. today at the headquarters.
When the flag came down, it found the waiting arms of Sgt. Brett Hickman, who then helped fold it into the familiar three-cornered shape.
"Proud. Full of pride,” he said after the ceremony. “To bring that flag down — not only for the Berlin Brigade,
but for the country — I'm proud."
Also holding the flag during the final retreat ceremony was Sgt. Alton Henderson who came to Berlin in June 1989, when the Berlin Wall was still a scar across the city.
"A lot of changes. So many changes," he said of his time in the city. "It's been a lifetime experience."
He said he and others were atop the wall the night it opened in November 1989. He said Trabants, the East German-made car, swarmed into West Berlin like mosquitoes.
"We were giving flowers to everyone," he said. "I don't know where the flowers came from."
He said before Wednesday's ceremony that he had participated in flag ceremonies many times, in front of commanders and dignitaries and even in front 65,000 people at a professional football game.
"Pressure is something I can deal with," he said. "But this is on another level.''
He said he would someday tell his grandchildren about his time in Berlin, including the honor he felt at Wednesday's final retreat.
"It's like being the chosen few.''