Navy UDT-SEAL Museum shows off a chunk of history

The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum is now displaying a 300- pound piece of Cold War history.

On Oct. 3, the museum unveiled its newly-acquired piece of the Berlin Wall.

“We’ve been working with a few other institutions that have had access to or portions of the wall,” said Elaine Ryan, marketing and media director.

The artifact went on display about a month before the SEALs’ annual muster at the museum. The public-invited event with lots of booming family fun will be on Saturday, Nov. 3.

The museum’s executive director, Rick Kaiser, had friends in the German military from his service days. “Through his connections, we were offered a piece of the wall,” Ryan explained.

Annette Klein, consul general of the Federal Republic of Germany to Florida, attended the unveiling ceremony, along with other dignitaries. The artifact is on permanent display at the SEAL museum’s Cold War Gallery. The display was almost six decades in the making.

The Potsdam Agreement divided up responsibility for and influence over Germany at the end of World War II. Berlin was in the area controlled by the Soviet Union, the communist nation that existed from 1922 to 1991. But because it was the Allied Control Council’s seat, Berlin was divided between member states, including the U.S.

By the end of the 1940s, Germany split into two nations — the communist German Democratic Republic and the democratic Federal Republic of Germany.

Things were tense from the start. Over the years, millions of East Germans left by going to West Germany through West Berlin and heading to other parts of Europe from there.

That changed on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961. At midnight, GDR police and military units started closing Berlin’s passes. Workers started tearing up roads to West Berlin and erecting barbed wire and other makeshift barriers. In Germany, the day was called Stacheldrahtsonntag (Barbed Wire Sunday).

Within a few days, East Germany started building the first segments of what it called the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart. Everybody else called it the Berlin Wall. Still, East Germans found ways over, around, under and through the growing barricade. Workers started a second wall to create what was called a death strip between it and the primary wall. About 140 people died over the years attempting to cross the death strip from East to West Berlin.

Construction of the Berlin Wall continued in phases almost continously for two decades. About the time the East Germans had pretty much perfected the wall, world events were starting to tear it down.

The Soviet Union got mired in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan after Leninist communist forces it backed in a coup proved incapable of governing. The Soviet military was fighting the mujahideen, who received training and supplies from Islamic countries and the United States, along with fighting Afghan Maoist communist forces.

Then the Soviet Union experienced a rapid succession of leaders following the 1982 death of Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the Communist Party. The succession ended with Mikhail Gorbachev taking the reins in the Soviet Union in 1985. But discontent and unrest in the communist world was underway by then, and the Soviet economy was severely faltering.

President Ronald Reagan grabbed the chance to challenge Gorbachev to get East Germany to remove the wall. In 1987, he stood by the wall in West Berlin and said perhaps his most famous words. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Changes were unstopably afoot after that. Over the next two years nations under Soviet influence started removing barriers at their borders. East Germany tried to prevent its people from leaving through those countries. That cemented the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, a series of peaceful public demonstrations in East Germany and other places.

Under intense public pressure East Germany opened crossing points at the Berlin Wall, so people could go straight into West Berlin. Countless  did. West Berliners greeted their German brothers and sisters with celebration. Some got on top of the wall to dance together. Then others took sledgehammers to chip at it.

The East German military and police tried to gently get people to stop, but by June 1990 gave up and joined them in tearing down the wall. By October 1990, Germany was a reunified, democratic nation. The GDR was now history as demolition of the wall continued.

The SEAL museum and many others have long wanted pieces of the wall. Perhaps the most famous wall artifact is the one displayed prominently at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute, Simi Valley, Calif. “It is rare,” Ryan said. “We feel very honored.”

The muster, meanwhile, will kick off at 8 a.m. on Nov. 3 with the annual Muster 5K Run/Walk Beach Challenge. There will be lots of free outdoor events throughout the day, including speakers starting at 11 a.m. Among them will be Rep. Brian Mast, a catastrophically-injured Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan veteran. There will be tactical demonstrations by SEALs, food trucks and music by Kilt the Messenger and SoulJam.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. It’s open noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $15 for those ages 13 and older. Children ages 6 to 12 get in for $7. Seniors, veterans and first responders get a $3 discount. The self-guided museum with static and interactive displays is at 3300 N. Highway A1A, on Hutchinson Island, Fort Pierce.

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