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“I was there when the Wall went up, and I was there when the Wall came down.” (Video interview, 1:23:20)

   Melvin Edward Ratz
Collection image
Melvin Ratz at time of interview
War: Cold War
Branch: Air Force
Service Location: Europe; Middle East; Japan; Sweden; United States; Ankara, Turkey;
Rank: E-8
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A series of chance encounters led to Melvin Ratz’s enlistment in the Air Force, and later, to his service with the Military Liaison Mission in Germany at three different stages of the Cold War. Established shortly after the end of World War II and the division of Germany, via an agreement with the Soviet Union, the Military Liaison Missions were small units of military intelligence personnel that were allowed to move freely within the Allied and Soviet zones. Stationed in Potsdam and armed only with cameras, Ratz and his comrades spent their days digging up intel and dodging constant surveillance. As he relates, his three stints in Germany were the most exciting, scary and rewarding of his multiple decades in the military. He was awarded the Airman’s Medal for his heroism and voluntary risk to his life while serving with “the mission."

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (155 min.)
More like this
»Cold War Dispatches: Service Stories from 1947-1991
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Assigned to spy unit; recruited for the mission; transferred to Potsdam. (03:32) First day in East Germany; what the mission entailed; types of jobs; weather conditions; vehicle he drove. (03:41) Constant surveillance; evasion tactics. (01:18)
Incident in which he was captured; tied up and interrogated; released; and finally kicked out of Germany. (02:22) Construction of Berlin Wall; value of any shred of intelligence; satisfaction of helping US government. (02:59) Day that the Berlin Wall went up; eerie calm followed by the arrival of 500 tanks; fear; feeling like WWIII had started. (02:09)
Incident in which he went in search of radar and evaded Russian security; awarded Airman’s Medal for his bravery. (01:21)  

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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