FULDA, Germany –
Not much of the old East-West German border is left, but Brig. Gen. Fred Maiocco remembered what he saw in the fall of 1989.
It’s been almost thirty years since he was a lieutenant in the U.S Army on border patrol with the 1-68 Armor Battalion, at the end of the Cold War.
His unit was pulling support duty in November for the General Defense Plan of Germany along the Fulda Gap, which would have been a prime invasion route for Warsaw Pact forces had the Cold War erupted into actual warfare.
While on duty just south of the Fulda Gap near Observation Post Alpha, Maiocco saw East German people by the thousands storm the gate and cross into the West for the first time.
“I saw people literally getting out of their cars and kissing the ground,” he said. “This took place right outside of Fulda and that’s right where we lived.”
And, 27 years later, he is back in Germany as a brigadier general who commands the 7th Mission Support Command and is the deputy commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.
In his new roles, Maiocco returned to Fulda and OP Alpha to give a speech during a 2017 Day of German Unity event.
“It was very special,” he said.
Known in German as Tag der Deutschen Einheit, Oct. 3 is Germany's national holiday, and commemorates the anniversary of German reunification in 1990, when the hopes for a united Germany were finally fulfilled after decades of separation.
“Nobody at that time thought there would ever be a united Germany,” Maiocco said. “Seemingly overnight, it happened. That’s why it was so extraordinary.”
OP Alpha was a Cold War observation post between Rasdorf, Hesse, in what was West Germany and Geisa, Thuringia, then part of East Germany. The post overlooked part of the Fulda Gap.
“It seems to me that there is no more suitable place than Observation Point Alpha for reflecting on the memory of the former inner German border which lay only meters away from where we are gathered this evening,” Maiocco said during his speech. “It is here that we can perhaps best feel, and best sense what it really meant for a nation, for the German nation, to have been so cruelly divided and separated for so many years.”
Nearly three decades later, American forces are still in Germany, but in a different role, he told the crowd of about 200 who gathered for the ceremony.
“We are here as your guests,” Maiocco said. “We are here as your partners. We are here as your neighbors. We are working together with you, with a united Germany in contributing to security and stability in Europe.”
There is a similar a threat to European security today, he said.
“Unfortunately, the threats to Europe’s security, so common during the cold war are still with us today,” Maiocco said during his speech. “The illegal Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and their armed intervention in eastern Ukraine since then have caused the NATO alliance, all 29 members, to declare at a 2016 heads of state summit that we stand ready to deter further aggression.”
German and American Soldiers are helping to do that in a variety of places in Eastern Europe, he added.
“The reason remains the same as in 1989 — to deter those that would encroach upon our freedoms, to protect and preserve the peace and prosperity of Europe,” Maiocco said.
After his speech, Maiocco said the area looks significantly different today than it did when he was stationed there from 1988-1991.
“You can’t tell where the border was anymore,” he said.
The homes, which were then gray and still pock-marked with holes from World War II have been restored and are now brightly colored. There are signs of commerce all over the area.
OP Alpha and a small section of the border has been preserved as a museum. It is the only memorial that has been made out of what was left of the former border.
“I certainly would encourage Soldiers to go and see it,” Maiocco said. “It’s an incredible tribute to the American investment and the efforts of our NATO Allies and a testimony to our partnership with Germany.”