30th Anniversary: Retired Master Sergeant Recalls Watching the Berlin Wall Fall

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FILE - In this Nov. 11, 1989 file photo, East German border guards are seen through a gap in the Berlin wall after demonstrators pulled down a segment of the wall at Brandenburg gate, Berlin. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 11, 1989 file photo, East German border guards are seen through a gap in the Berlin wall after demonstrators pulled down a segment of the wall at Brandenburg gate, Berlin. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

While the Berlin Wall and separation of East and West Germany seem like a distant memory for some, Barry Cantor, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, thinks about the wall often.

After all, the veteran has a shadow box hanging in his Brevard County home with an East German flag and a piece of the Berlin Wall. The wall, a guarded concrete barrier, physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989 and when it fell 30 years ago, Cantor was there to bear witness to history.

Serving as an American Forces Network (AFN) radio broadcaster, Cantor was stationed in Berlin from 1984 to 1990. He recalls pivotal moments during his time there, such as one U.S. president's directives for Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"I was there when President Ronald Reagan came in 1987. And he gave that speech," Cantor said. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Some people might think that Regan's speech provided a turning point for the reunification of Germany. Others give credit to the work of President George H.W. Bush or U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

But according to Cantor, there was someone else who may have been instrumental in helping the Berlin Wall come down. A press conference on Nov. 9, 1989, ended up becoming a significant turning point.

"It was a spokesman with the East German Communist Party, Gunter Schabowski, who received a note to read at a press conference," Cantor said. "[The note read], 'We're considering making it easier for East German citizens to go across the demarcation line'."

The new regulations made it so that East German citizens could apply for travel outside the country without having to meet pre-requisites and also allowed for permanent emigration between all border crossings -- including those between East and West Berlin.

These new rules had only been formalized a few hours earlier and were meant to take effect the following day to allow time for border guards to be informed of the changes.

Schabowski was unaware of the timeline for implementation and stated the order would take effect right away. Tens of thousands of West and East German citizens witnessed the announcement or subsequent newscasts on live television. The news had an immediate effect.

Thousands of people showed up at the Berlin Wall, trying to get across. And the guards at checkpoints let them through. Cantor got down there as soon as he could.

"I did short radio interviews with the Americans, British and French MPs that were down there," he said. "It was amazing."

When he finished editing his radio interviews, it was almost 1 a.m. But Cantor knew he was witnessing history, so he woke up his wife and young daughters to watch people crossing the border.

"There were West German citizens that were having bottles of champagne with the East Germans they came across. It was a joyful sight," he said, "We stayed until about five or six in the morning. I asked my daughter, 'When will you get a chance to see history in the making?'"

Cantor is happily retired now, living near Patrick Air Force Base and enjoying time with his wife, two daughters and five grandchildren. But he feels grateful for his experiences.

"Not everybody has a chance to see something happen up close or travel around the world," Cantor said.

This article is written by Patrick Connolly from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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