Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And you thought the Olympics was all fun and games

The year was 1972.
I was in the U.S. Army and part of the 1st Infantry Division on a field training exercise called Operation Reforger. For purposes that may not matter now, I do have to advise the viewing public here I am assuming this information has been declassified by the U.S. Government, and any all information from this point forward is strictly my own opinion of the events that occurred in that training exercise in 1972.

Our unit's mission was to fly in to Rein Mien AFB in Frankfurt, Germany and obtain our military equipment and vehicles to begin our training exercise in the field and convoy south to Munich to return said equipment. It was a way for the U. S. Military to have a presence in Europe and still call it "training."

I was especially excited as the 1972 Summer Olympics were going to be held in Munich.
Can you imagine an entire division of military personnel and army jeeps and tanks convoying through the streets of Munich? I was very excited. The excursion was exciting to me. I wanted to see most of what Germany had to offer in terms of food and beer.

To make this story somewhat relevant, and on course, when we got in to Munich, traffic was a nightmare. Can you imagine a tank going down the interstate? Even though our convoy was in the very right slow lane, I'm pretty sure we were a traffic distraction to the good citizens of Munich.

And as we came down a long stretch of road, there it was. The Olympic stadium. Banners and flags were flying from all of the different nations. We drove right by it as it was so breathtaking to see it all. The Olympics were to begin in less than a month and there was all kinds of activity in and around the Olympic Village. We reached our destination and then went to turn in our equipment and get ready for the military flights back to Fort Riley, Kansas. We all made it back safe and sound and life for us returned to normal. And then the Olympics began.

1972 Summer Olympics
From Wikipedia

The 1972 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XX Olympiad, were celebrated in Munich, in what was then West Germany, from 26 August to 11 September 1972. Munich won its Olympic bid on April 26, 1966 at the 64th IOC Session at Rome, Italy, over the cities of Detroit, Madrid and Montreal.

The 1972 Summer Olympics were the second Summer Olympics held in Germany, after the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Munich Olympics were intended to present a new, democratic and optimistic Germany to the world, as shown by its official motto, "the Happy Games". The emblem of the Games was a blue solar logo (the "Bright Sun"). The Olympic mascot, the dachshund "Waldi", was the first officially named Olympic mascot. The games also saw the introduction of the now universal sports pictograms designed by Otl Aicher. However, this joyful mood was ruined by the killings of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in an event known as the "Munich massacre".

The Olympic Park (Olympiapark) is based on Otto Frei's plans and after the Games became a Munich landmark. The competition sites, designed by architect G├╝nther Behnisch, included the Olympic swimming hall, the Olympics Hall (Olympiahalle, a multipurpose facility) and the Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion), and an Olympic village very close to the park. The design of the stadium was considered revolutionary, with sweeping canopies of acrylic glass stabilized by metal ropes, used on such a large scale for the first time.

Munich massacre
The games were marred by what has come to be known as the Munich massacre. On 5 September a group of eight Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Black September organization broke into the Olympic Village and took eleven Israeli athletes hostage in their apartment, killing two of the hostages in the apartment after fighting back; the subsequent standoff in the Olympic Village lasted for almost 18 hours.

During a botched German rescue attempt at the military airport of F├╝rstenfeldbruck, where the captors with their hostages had been transferred by helicopter ostensibly to board a plane bound for an undetermined Arab country, all the surviving Israeli hostages were killed by a Palestinian who threw a grenade into the helicopter carrying the hostages.

All but three of the Palestinians were killed as well. Two of those three were supposedly killed later by the Mossad. Jamal Al-Gashey is believed to be the sole survivor, and is still living today in hiding in an unspecified Arab country. The Olympic events were briefly suspended but Avery Brundage, the International Olympic Committee president, decided that "the Games must go on" and the games resumed a day later.

The attack prompted heightened security at future Olympics beginning with the 1976 Winter Olympics. The massacre led the German federal government to realize the inadequacy of its post-World War II pacifist approach to combatting terror, and to the creation of the elite counter-terrorist unit GSG 9. It also led Israel to launch an aggressive counterterrorism campaign known as Operation Wrath of God. The events of the Munich massacre were chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary, One Day in September. A fictional account of the aftermath was dramatized in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film Munich.

Shocked and Awed
The events on that dark day was unbelievable to me. How could something so good, turn out so bad? Ladies and Gentlemen let me say that all during that time before the heinous massacre of innocent athletes, I was kind of dumb about the world. I knew about Viet Nam, and even volunteered to go there. But this was different. I was 20 yards from the very spot where those cowardly acts of murder were done. It hurt me especially. It's where I first learned the word terrorism. It's something I'll never forget.

As we get ready for another Olympics in China, please don't assume everyone there will be friends. In today's world, you have to watch your back first.

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