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Life
At the Border

These modern times of newsfeeds to your smart phone, 24 / 7 TV reporting and commentary plus all the opinions one can stand - we certainly appear to be a well informed society.  Going back only a few decades, however, the print media, newspapers and magazines were the key players in keeping America up to date and one of the most widely circulated outlets was the weekly then monthly news and popular culture magazine - Life. 

Featuring a solid staff of writers, guest writers and some of the best news photographers of the day, the large format, glossy magazine covered the nation and the world, everything from the latest dance fads of the 1930s through World War II, fashion, culture, entertainment and hard news.  If it happened, funny or tragic, trivial or significant, chances were good that Life had a writer and photographer on alert. The magazine was, before television and nationally syndicated radio, one of the very few mass culture windows to the United States that could be read on the same day in Atlanta, Anchorage and Altoona.  This Wiki provides a concise history of the magazine.

In 1978, as circulation began to fall due to the pressures of TV based news reporting plus changing demands of the public, Life reformatted to a monthly edition and the longer time lines allowed for greater depth and scope in story telling.  A great example of the new format was a story in the August 1981 edition that featured a tour along the complete Iron Curtain of Europe.  The text was by Judy Fayard, a rising star in the magazine reporting world with beautiful images by renown photographer, Harald Sund. 

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  Some of the military message traffic from the planning of the border story saved by Life photographer Harald Sund.      

The cover of that edition featured a young woman in a bathing suit rising from a swimming hole - after all, they were trying to sell magazines, but the feature story was the border tour and while on this long photo safari, Harald Sund captured images of both the 1st Squadron border area and Eaglehorse troopers on border patrol.  The story was titled:  The Forbidden Line and Mr. Sund provides this recollection.

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As a freelance photographer who had previously photographed several stories for LIFE Magazine and for many other publications, I was asked to do the photography for a story on the Iron Curtain which existed at that time.  The plan was to start in southeast Turkey in view of Mount Ararat and end in Kirkenes in northern Norway.

This trip lasted almost two months beginning with my arrival in Paris on March 21st and ended back in Paris on May 18th, 1981. This story required months of planning and logistics for ground transportation (train, car, boat), embassy visits, meetings, foreign and US military guides, visas, hotels, local contacts, research, film processing along the way, baggage, flights, food and money exchange. Vast amounts of communications took place (before and during the trip) for permissions to access restricted areas in Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Austria, West Germany, West Berlin, Finland and Norway.

From these vantage points, myself and LIFE Paris based writer, Judy Fayard, we were able to look across and into the land and life along this extensive and sometimes hidden border. In the end, this was the longest story LIFE had ever published up to that date.

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  The story featured over seventeen pages of Mr. Sund’s photographs, many rendered in the huge double page style that only Life could accommodate.  Seen here - Check Point Charlie in Berlin.   Another scene from the barrier system in Berlin.  

Our coverage along the way eventually landed us the night of April 17th in Fulda, home of the 11th ARC HQ and 1st Squadron. Our overall purpose for being there is best described by communications between Ms. Fayard and Lee Griggs in Bonn (copies attached herewith) in which he mentioned local commander, Col. Crowe as “an old friend and very helpful” toward our mission.  Of course, this turned out to be true.  We stayed in the area until the morning of April 22nd and my log shows very brief “reminder” descriptions of our general activities during that time:

April 17th  arrive Fulda to Hotel Zum Kurfursten

April 18th Aerials of East and West Germany via helicopter.  Ground views of Setzelbach area.  Sunset  image of church Rasdorf.  Army meal Camp Lee.

April 19th Ground patrol.  Dusk images of house and border.  Army lunch meal.

April 20th Views of area around Rasdorf, Setzelbach

April 21st Views around Rasdorf fence 2 guards and motorcycle. Philippsthal and East German city.

April 22nd Depart Fulda

During our stay with the 11th Armored Cavalry our contact and guide was Staff Sgt. Bob McCord who, with Ms. Fayard, arranged for the helicopter to “fly the trace” and took care of all other logistics associated with our coverage including my attachment with a dismounted patrol physically walking the border trace during the late afternoon and evening of April 19th.

It was a most interesting experience for me personally as I had previously served three years in the United States Army, almost two of which were in Wurzburg, Germany.  Although we did not patrol the border at that time, we did indeed go out on many one to two week field trips and exercises. 

If my memory serves me, we were driven to the patrol area of the Second Squadron across from the East German town of Frankenheim. This was directly along the border where I met SGT Jon Moore, SSG Alvin Albers and PFC Matlock, Troop G, Second Squadron, 11 ACR  (see attached photo from LIFE) was both familiar and nostalgic to me and I greatly appreciated how they went about their business in such a professional manner.  I do not recall Ms. Fayard being with us - I guess it was just us men.

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This page from the article is most appropriate to the Eaglehorse portion of the story.  Judy Fayard’s text, Harald’s images.

 

The late afternoon or evening was dry, no wind, not to cold and very quiet. The landscape was forested and rather flat with occasional openings with views on to the border. Only a few yards away and separated by an “Iron Curtain” was a different world and of a different life than what we knew. During the patrol, I remember approaching a watch tower just across the border and was amazed they were able to determine if it was occupied by using a heat detection device (official Army name unknown to me).

I do remember their being patient with me as I tried not to interfere with their patrol duties and also trying to photograph under low light conditions while maintaining our camouflage and cover. We tried to maintain our discreteness and I wondered if anyone on “the other side” was doing the same. Each hidden from each other. I was looking for just a few images, perhaps even one, that would convey what it was like to be with the Army directly on the border between East and West.

Impressed upon me was their important duty and serious business for sure. The remaining time spent was quietly walking and at times conversing with them eventually stopping for a quick flash portrait. For a few hours it felt comfortable and good to be back in the Army again. We neither detected nor encountered any East German soldiers along the way.

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  From the day Harald accompanied the dismounted US Patrol, this image of East German border troops in the vicinity of Setzelbach - technically the 1/11 ACR portion of the border.  

A rough and ready map to re familiarize you with the border area. 
1 -  OP Alpha
2 -  Setzelbach Pocket
3 -  Fulda
4 -  Northwestern end of 2/11 ACR patrol responsibility, Frankenheim     
peninsula.

 

After all these years I still think of Staff Sgt. McCord as he openly and proudly shared with me how grateful he was to the United States Army for providing him direction and discipline in his young life at that time and he had special admiration for and loyalty to Col. Crowe.  I fully understood his comments as I too am very grateful to the Army for the three most important years of my life without which I am not sure who I would have become.

To this day in my office proudly hangs the certificate I received from the 11th Armored Cavalry dated 21st of April, 1981 and  signed by Col. Crowe proclaiming me “An Honorary Member of the Border Legion”. It was, is and always will be special to me and I continue to have great memories and appreciation for the Cavalry Soldier.

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  Hey - we’re selling magazines here!  Get a girl in a bathing suit on the cover!  Life August 1981 - the Iron Curtain story was their largest endeavor to date.  

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So the border is gone and Life magazine is almost gone but what about those names and faces?  Judy Fayard is consuming French culture and writing about it at a hectic pace in Paris.  Harald Sund is still on assignment as a renown photographer now based in the northwest and those three troopers - SSG Albers, SGT Moore and PFC Matlcock - Troop G 2/11 ACR - well if you are in contact with any of them, we would surely like to add their recollections.

   
 

Close up of the three Eaglehorse troopers, SGT Jon Moore, SSG Albers and PFC Matlock, Troop G, with original caption.

 

The Life article featured only the one photograph of American soldiers and although un named in the caption - as long as August 1981 edition sits in archives, is bought and sold on E Bay or hangs around in your parents attic - those three troopers will be the most famous unknown soldiers in Germany  that year.

   
 

Writer Judy Fayard at about the time the article went to print.

 

Great thanks to Harald Sund for his wonderful recollection of the border tour so many years ago.

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  Harald Sund’s Border Certificate - signed by Colonel JS Crowe.  

May 2014

 
 


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