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Trip to Fort Lewis part of Cold War response to Soviet action in building Berlin Wall

The front page photo from October 26, 1961. Image courtesy of Badgerlink.

“A Spectre is haunting Europe,” wrote Karl Marx and Frederich Engels back in the year 1848, the same that Wisconsin became a state. “The Spectre of Communism.” Interpreting history to be a series of class conflicts in which each preceding economic system inevitably gave way to a successor that was better, the two German expatriates had a seeming prescription for the proletariat they claimed to save - unite and overthrow the bourgeoisie middle class capitalists!

By the time a century had passed in 1948 that call for revolutionary overthrow had won strategic victories and spread to a great portion of the world: to Moscow in 1917, followed with Eastern Europe and then Beijing a year later, to within 90 miles from the Florida coastline in 1959, at Cuba.

Not much will be said here on that, except that the practice of Communism was much different than its theory. Rather than emancipate those who came under its rule, the red state became all encompassing and draconian in its reach, crowding out and/or imprisoning those who would contradict Marxist orthodoxy and seeking to expand to the entire world, whether that world wanted it to or not.

As such, the Communist advance demanded a strong and credible pushback response from those opposed to it, and in part to that end following new developments at Berlin, Battery A of the Stanley National Guard was activated along with others to put the West on heightened alert, heading out to Fort Lewis, Washington.

“We were called up on the 1st of October,” Scott Mason said of Stanley’s National Guard unit, with Diane Weggen helping to explain the larger context in a tribute entitled “A Ready Warrior.”

“Berlin was in the middle of East Germany and the Berlin Wall completely surrounded the western sector of the city,” she said, her husband Don being among those called up with Battery A. “West Berlin was free, along with all of West Germany, and was helped by the Allies to maintain independence from the Soviet Union. West Berlin was accessible from West Germany by highway through gates in the wall.”

The Wall started construction in 1961 in response to East Germans seeking to escape to the West at Berlin, with initial construction taken as a provocative measure by the West. The East as it turned out, was trying to keep its people in as they looked on a prosperous outside world. So what of Fort Lewis Washington and Battery A? Occasional dispatches to the hometown newspaper kept residents filled in. Come Christmas it was field exercises at Washington, with kudos from Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, who visited the base, recording his impression.

“The artillerymen under your command have a strong, constructive, and aggressive attitude toward their training and toward the Division," he said of field exercises. "I not only saw a number of your men on the firing range, but I also spent the night with a Mosinee outfit who have about as strong a morale as I have seen anywhere in any man’s army.”

As time went on, the true purpose of the Berlin Wall as a defensive measure to keep people in rather than anti-Western aggressive move by East Germany became more apparent, resulting in the return home of Battery A and others. Then in 1989, the unexpected happened: the Berlin Wall put up in 1961, was torn down, with sledgehammers - the spectre of Communism in retreat from Europe.

“Don & I could hardly believe the news in 1989 that the Berlin Wall was coming down,” Weggen said. “That was something we believed would never happen during our lifetimes.”

In the end, the defeat of Communism in East Germany was due in part, to resolution showed by men like those of Stanley’s Battery A.

On Christmas Day 1991, the Soviet Union's flag, came down, the spectre defeated in Europe.