A powerful, fascinating, and groundbreaking history of Checkpoint Charlie, the famous military gate on the border of East and West Berlin where the United States confronted the USSR during the Cold War.
East Germany committed a billion dollars to the creation of the Berlin Wall in the early 1960s, an eleven-foot-high barrier that consisted of seventy-nine miles of fencing, 300 watchtowers, 250 guard dog runs, twenty bunkers, and was operated around the clock by guards who shot to kill. Over the next twenty-eight years, at least five thousand people attempted to smash through it, swim across it, tunnel under it, or fly over it.
In November 1989, the East German leadership buckled in the face of a civil revolt that culminated in half a million East Berliners demanding an end to the ban on free movement. The world’s media flocked to capture the moment which, perhaps more than any other, signaled the end of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie had been the epicenter of global conflict for nearly three decades.
As the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall approaches in 2019, Iain MacGregor captures the essence of the mistrust, oppression, paranoia, and fear that gripped the world throughout this period. Checkpoint Charlie is about the nerve-wracking confrontation between the West and USSR, highlighting such important global figures as Eisenhower, Stalin, JFK, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedung, Nixon, Reagan, and other politicians of the period. He also includes never-before-heard interviews with the men who built and dismantled the Wall; children who crossed it; relatives and friends who lost loved ones trying to escape over it; military policemen and soldiers who guarded the checkpoints; CIA, MI6, and Stasi operatives who oversaw operations across its borders; politicians whose ambitions shaped it; journalists who recorded its story; and many more whose living memories contributed to the full story of Checkpoint Charlie.
Striking where the enemy is weakest and melting away into the darkness before he can react. Never confronting a stronger force directly, but willing to use audacity and surprise to confound and demoralize an opponent. Operations driven by good intelligence, area knowledge, mobility, speed, firepower, and detailed planning executed by a few specialists with indigenous warriors – this is unconventional warfare.
T. E. Lawrence was one of the earliest practitioners of modern unconventional warfare. His tactics and strategies were used by men like Mao and Giap in their wars of liberation. Both kept Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom close at hand. This book looks at the creation of the HEDGEHOG force, the formation of armored car sections and other units, and focuses on the Hejaz Operations Staff, the Allied officers and men who took Lawrence’s idea and prosecuted it against the Ottoman Turkish army assisting Field Marshal Allenby to achieve victory in 1918.
Stejskal concludes with an examination of how HEDGEHOG has influenced special operations and unconventional warfare, including Field Marshal Wavell, the Long Range Desert Group, and David Stirling’s SAS.
The U.S. Army Physical Security Support Element-Berlin (PSSE) Memorial Stone Dedication Ceremony was hosted by Maj. Gen. James E. Kraft Jr., the deputy commanding general of USASOC on 16 April 2018. Many former PSSE members were in attendance.
Sergeant Major Gilbert Turcotte (Ret) was inducted into the Special Forces Hall of Fame on 4 May 2018 at Fort Bragg, NC, as a Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment in recognition of his outstanding Special Forces career and his major contributions to the Special Forces regiment.
Former Member of Detachment”A” Nick Brokhausen has written a book about his time in CCN part of MACV-SOG in Vietnam. The book entitled We Few: U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam – Suicide missions in enemy territory with the SOG. The hard copy book will be released on 2 April 2018. It is available for pre-order on Amazon. Click here for additional book info on Amazon
On his second tour to Vietnam, Nick Brokhausen served in Recon Team Habu, CCN. This unit was part of MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group), or Studies and Observations Group as it was innocuously called. The small recon companies that were the center of its activities conducted some of the most dangerous missions of the war, infiltrating areas controlled by the North Vietnamese in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The companies never exceeded more than 30 Americans, yet they were the best source for the enemy’s disposition and were key to the US military being able to take the war to the enemy. This was accomplished by utilizing both new and innovative technology, and tactics dating back to the French and Indian Wars.
This small unit racked up one of the most impressive records of awards for valor of any unit in the history of the United States Army. It came at a terrible price, however; the number of wounded and killed in action was incredibly high. Those missions today seem suicidal. In 1970 they seemed equally so, yet these men went out day after day with their indigenous allies – Montagnard tribesmen, Vietnamese, and Chinese Nungs – and faced the challenges with courage and resolve.
This riveting memoir details the actions and experiences of a small group of Americans and their allies who were the backbone of ground reconnaissance in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It became a cult classic among the Special Forces community when first published over a decade ago. There are no longer any copies of the original edition for sale as they were passed around until they actually disintegrated.
Former Detachment “A” member Colonel Warner D. “Rocky” Farr has just published a book entitled “The Death of the Golden Hour and the Return of the Future Guerrilla Hospital”.
Rocky served as a medic on Team 3 in Detachment “A” in the 1971-1972 time frame serving with Team 3 Commander Hermann Adler Commander and Bob Charest Team Sergeant.
Colonel Farr has a long and highly distinguished career in Special Forces with sterling professional credentials including BSMT, MD, MPH, MSS, FACP, FAsMA, Associate Clinical Professor of Anatomic & Clinical Pathology, Associate Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine, Aerospace Medicine Specialist. He is also a Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment.
Earlier this year, Gil called Bob Charest and discussed a concept and idea he had for making of a Detachment “A” plaque. Bob said ‘go for it’. Gil came up with the concept and design, hired a woodcarver to construct the plaque, and funded it. Gil put a lot of thought, time and effort into this plaque.
Gil wanted an ‘eagle’ cane for Detachment ”A”. Eagle Canes are a tradition in many states. Woodcarvers/artists hand craft each custom cane and donate it to the veteran; in support of our veterans. Maine shares in this tradition and Gil hired George and Donna Gunning, of Windsor ME. They carve each eagle cane individually to specifications and donate it to any veteran who has honorably served, no matter how long they served.
Gil wanted the eagle cane to be focal point feature of the plaque.
The woodcarvers did their research about Detachment “A”. They read the articles posted on our web site and as they learned more about Detachment “A” they became very enthusiastic about the unit and the project.
The overall plaque design consisted of: the eagle cane mounted on the plaque, Detachment A” items, US Army items and a large area for Detachment “A” members to sign their name and dates they served in Detachment ”A”.
Gil collected all the items he wanted on the plaque then created a mock-up where each item would appear on the plaque. The entire project took about 4 months. There was a lot of collaboration and iterations – Gil was very particular on what he wanted.
Gil’s Detachment “A” Plaque Description
The actual wooden plaque is 4 feet long and 2 feet high. It weighs 40 pounds. It will be positioned at a 20 degree angle for proper viewing. Gil described each component of the plaque as follows:
The most distinguishing feature of this artifact is the Eagle Cane. The cane has an intricate Bald Eagle’s Head carved and painted into the handle representing the national symbol of freedom and independence. The shaft of the cane consists of the American Flag, the Army Branch of Service emblem, a burned etching of “Detachment ”A” with dates of existence 1956-1984, and the Berlin Occupation Medal.
On the left side there is a burned-in wooden block etched with MG Sidney Shachnow’s name, as he is the best known Commander of Detachment “A”. In the center there is another larger burned-in wooden block containing the Special Forces Crest, SF Shoulder Patch, American and German Wings, and two Detachment “A” coins one coin for the Head and one for the Tails which were Gil’s own coins. The head consisting of a parachute, represents the infiltration into Berlin by Detachment “A” members led by MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret). The tail consisting of a broken wall represents the exfiltration of Detachment “A” out of Berlin as LTC Piasecki(Ret) was the officer in charge of the final 10 days to clear out, sanitize and clean the station. On the right side of plaque there is another burned -in wooden block etched with LTC Eugene Piasecki’s name.
The far right side of the plaque contains the Taps List with those departed members of Detachment “A”. It is positioned under base of the cane. Gil expressed its significance to be that whenever the base of a cane touches the ground it serves as a reminder of our honored comrades and brothers who are no longer with us, and to honor them and never forget them.
The original taps list was sent out for reformatting and printing. It was originally printed on plain white paper. The owner wanted to know about the ‘Taps List’. When Gil explained it to her she ordered it to be re-printed on parchment and refused to accept any payment.
On the back of the plaque Gil wrote: “Donated by Gil Turcotte, SGM(Ret) 2017”.
The rest of the plaque is reserved for Detachment “A” member signatures and certain dignitaries. Each member signs their name along with time served in Detachment “A”.
Detachment “A” Plaque Signing
Gil arrived on Wednesday to the 2017 Detachment “A” function in honor of Jeff Raker with the plaque.
Gil designated that the first signature and the location of the signature at the top of the bald eagle’s head be reserved for Bob Charest. Gil wanted Bob to have this distinction of being the first to sign because he ‘brought Detachment “A” in from the cold” and “made it prominent by bringing long due recognition for the unit”. Bob was honored as the first Detachment “A” member to sign the plaque at the head of the eagle.
Members present on Wednesday also signed the plaque including John Lee, Chris Feudo, Rick Westbrook, Steve Bright, Lee Fondas, and Eugene Piasecki who signed under the block containing his name.
On Thursday after MG Jim Guest’s speech, Gil had CSM Jeff Raker’s son Jeff to sign the plaque on his father’s behalf and in his honor.
Gill then caught up with our distinguished guest speaker MG James Guest’s(Ret) former Commanding General, United States Army Special Forces Command and obtained his signature.
Gil continued collecting signatures from all Detachment “A” members present at our function. He also signed for some members with their permission, who were unable to attend, including Daryl Katz, Peter Gould and Doug Curry.
On Friday, right before our ceremony, Gil got MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret) to sign the plaque under the block containing his name.
Our June 2017 function in honor of Jeff Raker, included the presentation of the plaque. At the conclusion of our ceremony after MG Shachnow’s speech, Bob Charest called on Gil Turcotte who then presented the plaque to MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret) who then donated it to the JFK Museum on behalf of Detachment “A”.
About the Cane Woodcarvers
At the far right bottom corner of the plaque contains the woodcarver’s names George and Donna Gunning, Windsor ME, 2017. They did not want to put their logo because they thought it might detract from the plaque but Gil convinced them to place it on the plaque. They have produced 3,800 canes for Maine veterans at no cost to the veterans. Donations are accepted to keep the tradition going. Gil presented them with an autographed copy of Styk’s book Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990 as a gift, along with a donation for their work.