More on President Reagan’s historic 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate:
Here’s some additional background history about the speech that is little known or understood by even those who were there.
During a pre-visit to Berlin, the White House advance team chose the Brandenburg Gate as the backdrop. The Reichstag was adjacent. It would make a perfect visual for the message the President was to deliver.
The decision to have the President deliver the speech in front of the Gate created a number of problems that were little understood and certainly not appreciated by the visiting staffers. Their plans to leverage the imagery of the President standing in front of the gate also created potentially large political implications. The wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate was recessed inside the Soviet Occupied Sector of Berlin (East Berlin) by as much as 10 meters. And the podium for the speech, as well as the area where the crowd gathered to witness the speech, was in the British Occupied Sector of Berlin. To further complicate matters, the Wall in the front of the Gate was covered in vulgar anti-American and anti-Reagan graffiti.
To complicate matters further, under the Quadripartite Agreement (American, British, Soviet,and French) for the Administration of Occupied Berlin, the Soviets had full access rights to the area, including a nearby Soviet World War II Memorial.
To avoid potential confrontations with the Soviets, the British had disarmed their Royal Military Police in the area. The British were also leery of the security responsibilities for the President in their sector, particularly in an area so close the armed East German patrols, armed East German Guard towers, and Soviet patrols that frequently made incursions into the area in front of the Gate. The British solution was to cede all security responsibilities in that portion of the British Sector to the US Military Police and US Secret Service.
This responsibility was heartily accepted by the Americans. We carefully planned the security which included use of Army explosive detector dogs, some 45 uniformed US Army Military Police, along with appropriate augmentation by US Secret Service resources. We were to carry loaded weapons as we did routinely in the American Sector of Berlin. This operational detail caused the British considerable concern. Having already abrogated responsibility for security of the event, their response was to request a place for a liaison officer in the US command center in the basement of the Reichstag. This request was accommodated.
Prior to sealing the area with a security cordon on the morning of the speech, one crucial task remained. The Wall had to be painted to mask the obnoxious Marxist inspired graffiti. This was accomplished by a team of US Military Police confinement specialists. During the darkness of the early dawn hours prior to the President’s arrival, these special MPs entered the Soviet Sector with coveralls, large buckets of thick quick-drying paint and rollers. Under the eyes of armed East German border guards, the MPs covered the entire Wall facing the West from the Reichstag to an area well beyond the Brandenburg Gate. While one crew covered the Wall with white paint, another crew spray painted the Wall with welcoming and friendly graffiti. “Hello World! Welcome Reagan! God Bless America!
One funny moment occurred when a press bus arrived earlier than expected. A small little lady waddled up and asked what was going on when the paint supplies were being loaded into the back of a supply truck. As the truck drove off, that was one more story Helen Thomas missed.
I was the US Army Chief of Military Police Administration in Berlin at the time, and Commander of Allied Check Point Charlie. The MP troops who performed this historic security mission were under my command. For those of us there, it seemed that President Reagan actually won the Cold War that day when he told Mr. Gorbachev to “Tear Down This Wall.” I like to think that our Military Police also helped win the war with a can of spray paint: “Welcome Reagan!”
LTC, USA (Ret)
Thanks to Colonel Bronstein for adding to the background of the speech for our readers today.