Greencastle veteran returns to Berlin

Shawn Hardy
Chris Kuhn of Greencastle, far left, and other participants in the Checkpoint Charlie Fountain’s Welcome Home to Berlin program are shown at the U.S. embassy overlooking the Brandenburg Gate and the capitol building.

Chris Kuhn was an 18-year-old Greencastle-Antrim High School graduate when he was stationed with the 5th Battalion, 502nd Infantry, the Berlin Brigade.

His three years in West Germany, 1985-1988, included the deadly 1986 bombing at a disco and a dose of radiation following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Kuhn was on hand in 1987 for President Ronald Reagan’s famous “tear down this wall!” speech, yet he never thought the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany would come down or the Soviet Union would crumble.

He returned to a very different Berlin in September as part of a group of veterans whose service spanned from 1961 to 1991.

“It is important to keep the memory of Berlin alive … people forget what communism was,” said Kuhn.

Known for organizing reunions for soldiers who served in the shadow the the Berlin Wall and running a Facebook page for the Berlin Brigade, he was selected for the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation’s Welcome Home to Berlin program. According to the foundation website, the program was started in 1988 “to honor and remember those who risked their lives to protect Berlin’s freedom in the days of the Cold War. At the same time, the program serves to illustrate how much the city has developed since the fall of the wall, displaying economic growth, human creativity and metropolitan charm.”

 In the service 

Kuhn, the son of Betty Kuhn of Williamson Avenue and the late Leonard Kuhn, left for the Army on June 30, 1985, after graduating from Greencastle-Antrim High School. He said the military was his destiny, with both his father and his brother serving before him. His father’s cousin, Randy Kendle, was one of only six men from Greencastle killed in Vietnam.

He recalls traveling from Frankfurt to Berlin the soldiers had to put on civilian clothes and their train could only travel at night, and remembers getting settled in and seeing a guard tower at the wall.

“In the 1980s, you never knew when World War III was coming,” said Kuhn, who had 10 years of active and Army reserve service.

He also remembers when his mother called him on Nov. 9, 1989, and told him to turn on the TV. It was the day East Germans were allowed to cross the wall.

 On the tour 

“The city has changed, good and bad, but the people are the same,” said Kuhn, who lives in Greencastle with his wife, Amy, and works in forklift repair at Tractor Supply Co. in Hagerstown. The group got to walk through the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of not only the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace, according to Wikipedia.

They also visited Potsdam, where “Churchill, Stalin and Truman got together and carved up Germany,” Kuhn explained; toured “Little America,” which was everywhere the U.S. Army was; and visited the Reichstag, a government building and met with government officials. They spent a day with the German military at their joint operations center, where they American flag was flown in their honor.

A highlight for Kuhn was the three-hour Q&A session he and two other members of the tour had at a high school that ended with a standing ovation.

The students’ questions ranged from “were you scared?” and “did you think you were going to die?” to “what do you think of the new president?”

One student asked if he had hated the Soviets.

“I said, ‘No, we’d just sit in front of the guard tower with six packs and try to tempt them to come over,’” Kuhn recalled.

“A soldier doesn’t want to go to war and once war starts, you’re fighting for the buddy beside you,” said Kuhn. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from we all deserve a place on this earth and we gotta do it without killing each other.”