October 25, 2009

My Uncle The Spy (Part II)

US tanks (foreground) face Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie, on October 27-28, 1961Outskirts of West Berlin, West Germany
10:37 pm August 30th, 1961

The stench of diesel exhaust filled the air. It had snowed the day before and the streets were still icy. Smokey clouds of CO2 puffed out of the exhaust pipes from the convoy of US Army supply trucks that sat idling on the old cobblestone streets. A few yards ahead, a blockade of spiraled razor wire and torn up streets impeded the movement of the trucks filled with vital humanitarian supplies for the recently over run Communist East Berlin.

"What's taking so long?" Sargent Neil Self muttered to himself as he sat in the cab of the old 1952 model Ford army truck. There was talk of an airlift this month of some new 1960 model trucks in this year for their support detachment. They still hadn't arrived. Fortunately, the heat still worked in the old mule. The temperature outside was a bitter 18 degrees tonight and he for one was thankful for the life giving heat coming off of the engine block.

Apparently there was some kind of misunderstanding about the supplies tonight. They had been delivering these convoys over the past few years as the backlash from the Berlin Airlift had subsided. What Sgt. Self didn't know was that on the morning of August 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to discover that on the orders of East German leader Walter Ulbricht, a barbed wire fence had gone up overnight separating West and East Berlin and preventing movement between the two sides. The barbed wire fence would soon be expanded to include an ominous wall and guard towers. The Berlin Wall would prevent the West from having further influence on the East, stop the flow of migrants out of the communist sector, and ultimately become the most iconic image of the Cold War in Europe.Niel Self (US Army) ca. 1958

Tonight was one of the first convoys after this historic event and they had been ordered to "stand by for further orders" as their commander went in to negotiate with Soviet officials about this latest "crossing".

Sgt. Self tapped his fuel gauge, which was now showing "E". Half of the gas had been used on the 2 hour drive up from the Clay Headquarters Compound on Clayallee in Berlin's Zehlendorf district. He left the truck running and opened the door and stepped out onto the icy sludge. He slammed the door and pulled out a bent Lucky Strike he'd been saving all night behind his ear. The warm flame from his cold metal Zippo kissed the tip of the cigarette and soon the warm smoke of the tobacco filled his lungs. He closed his eyes for second, the nicotine triggering a memory in his neural synapses of a time not too long ago... a night that he will always think about for the rest of his life...

Disclaimer: This and the following blog posts are works of fiction written by myself (Josh Self) that are based on real facts both positive and sometimes not so positive from my uncle's real life and choices that he made. The events and characters in this story could have happened but more than likely happened differently than portrayed here. I would like to thank the family and relatives of Neil Self in advance for allowing this artistic liberty in the spirit of a tribute to his life and an attempt to keep his memory alive through story.

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