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Behind the Iron Curtain

In my life time I have enjoyed world travel. During the war, I circled the world, spent time in North Africa, India, China, along with various islands in the Pacific. I enjoyed traveling and made a point of visiting and spending time in each of our fifty states. I lived seven years in Japan along with four years in Europe and during that period made a point of traveling though out the area. Previously, I traveled behind the iron curtain to east Berlin on two occasions, without incident.

I flew into Berlin twice. First times spend three days and was impressed how quickly Germany had recovered from the war. In west Berlin old buildings had been repaired and many new buildings were in the city. Late model cars filled the streets. Stores were well stocked and the people worn the latest in fashion. A tour into east Berlin, the man on the street worn old work clothes. The few cars were driven by officials of the government. People waited in line at the food shops, which quickly ran out of supplies. On the corners of the streets, east German police carefully watched the crowd, while armed with machine guns. There were many buildings never repaired with fields filled with broken blocks of cement.

It was the summer of 1966, when my family was on our last year of a four-year tour in Europe. We spend the summer on the beach, one hour north of Venice, Italy. Back in Germany living in the same building was our close friends. Her husband was a Sergeant in the Air Force and she was from Vienna, Austria. Thru visits, we met her mother, who invited us to visit her in Vienna, Austria. At the end of our vacation, instead of driving north from central Italy into Germany, we planned a return trip following the east coast of Italy into Yugoslavia and Austria. Leaving warm Italy, we entered the mountains toward Yugoslavia climbing high into the cold weather. At the border, the Italian checked our passports and raised the gate. Going thru the woods, it was a good mile to the other border. Racing thru the wooded area was the Yugoslavian army on field maneuvers. About a mile up the road, the area became open fields on both sides. Waiting for us was a lone soldier armed with a rifle. The border gate was down. He spoke to me in his native language, which I didn’t understand. I answered in German, which he didn’t like, since the Germans had invaded his country during World War II.

Using his rifle, I was ordered out of the car and marched up the road to a building. The inside was clearly a police station, with a police woman behind a desk. She screamed at me to sit down. I didn’t understand the words, but clearly her gestures. At this pont I was in need of a toilet and she pointed to a door. The moment I open the door, she screamed again, clearly meaning, the next door. I was able to look into the room. It was a hallway with a chair half way down the passage and overhead was a strong light. This was a room where they questioned prisoners. Completing my task, and within half an hour an officer entered the room. He spoke English, and wanted to know why I was in Yugoslavia. I pointed out that we were taking a short cut on our trip to Austria. He handed me a four page document along with a copy for my wife. There were many questions to fill out, such as were we visiting friends in Yugoslavia, how much money we were carrying, etc. Once I filled it out, the guard with a rifle escorted me back to my car. In the meanwhile my poor wife was worried about what happened to her husband. Once she filled out the form and signed it, we were waved on toward our destination. We had planned to stay the night and have dinner, but my wife said, no way, I want to get out of this country as soon as possible.

I exchanged some money and we were on our way. Checking the map, we were approaching some famous hot springs. There was a group of young men giving us dirty looks, so I kept on traveling. Reaching the next border, we passed only two very small cars, which I suspected were driven by local officials. There was a farm wagon, pulled by a single horse. The wheels were automobile wheels with rubber tires. An old farmer with his daughter was on the wagon. When he saw we were approaching, he held his daughter close to him and both turned away. Our party arrived at a small village where we stopped. Down the side road I notice a horse sale going on with the area crowded with farmers. As I got out, all of the farmers turned their backs so their faces would not appear in my pictures. We continued up to a town and we got out to walk around and take pictures. Needing a rest stop and we entered a bar and asked to use their toilets. The moment we walked into the place we noticed it was crowded with men, talking or playing cards. Everyone became silent and watched our entrance. I asked for the location of the toilets and was directed outside in the back. When we returned my party received the same unfriendly treatment. The only main store in this town had farm equipment displayed in the windows. My wife collected dolls in every country and no dolls were found. Nearby was a newly constructed railroad station. Walking thru the building we saw a café. Good, my wife, daughter and I were all hungry, but what turned us off was the cheese sandwich in the window. This dried up sandwich had to have been more than one month old. It was displayed in the window, so no lunch for us.

My wife said, there is no way we are going to have dinner and stay the night in this country. So, it was full speed to their northern border. I drove into a small village, with a gate, and guard at the end of the street. There were no people in the street. We had arrived at their norther border.

I walked into the office to change my money and the woman clerk gave me only 80% percent. This was too much and I screamed about being cheated there. Then she did give me 95% percent, claiming I could get the rest at a gas station down the road.

A new problem was the guard didn’t understand English, but using his rifle, he ordered me to go into a hotel, where he sat down and examined our passports. One, he had looked at upside down. I was then walked back to my car. Before I could go, a civilian walked up, talking to the guard. I took him for a security officer. I carried two very expensive German cameras. He could have interpreted that I was a spy. But he waved me on. With my foot down on the gas petal, I released the brake and raced down the road throwing stones and dust behind me. WWII Vet

-Kenney Nelson

Bio of Kenney Nelson

My name is Kenney Nelson and I was born in Seattle, WA back in 11th Sept 1923. My family moved to San Francisco in the early 30'. I joined the California National Guard at the age of sixteen. This was allowed, since it was a state unit, but when came under the National service I was given a Honorable discharge. Finished high school, started collage and enlisted into the Army Air Force. Trained as a Photo Interpreter and went overseas to China with the first B-29 unit that bombed Japan, flying from India, refuel in China then bombing Japan. As one of three gunner instructors was assigned as a Intelligence observer and completed nine missions over Japan. After the war worked as a civilian in the government as a IBM programmer for two years. Joined and was trained as both a Criminal Investigator and Counter Intelligence agent for the Japanese islands north of Tokyo. Spend seven years in Japan and returned to the states. Joined the Air Force as a instructor at the training school in Sacramento for five years. Volunteers for four years service in Germany. Retired from the military with twenty-two years of service. Selected by the Secretary of the Navy to join as a civilian photo Interpreter and served for twelve years. Finally retired at the age of fifty five, with thirty five year of government service.