On July 4th, 1961, I (Brent Orr) and seven other nineteen year old kids (young men?) fresh out of a week of instruction at the old LDS Church mission home (which was replaced a couple of years later by a succession of mission homes culminating in the present Missionary Training centers in Provo, Utah and many other countries around the world), flew out of the Salt Lake Airport around ten o'clock in evening, while fireworks were blossoming all over the valley, to start our two and a half year missions in Germany.
We flew all night - quite literally a milk run on propeller driven planes - first to land in Denver, then in Omaha, then in Chicago. It was in only in Chicago that we finally boarded a jet plane for the final leg into New York, arriving on the morning of July 5th.
In New York we had a lengthy layover, so we all piled into two taxis and went "down town." We took a tour of the United Nations building, using our ministerial passes to get a free tour, then rode the elevators to the top of the Empire State Building. I have a picture of my seven companions standing looking into my camera, the art deco top of the Chrysler Building in the background.
We flew out of New York that evening, again aboard a propeller driven KLM Royal Dutch Airliner, and made the next milk run: from New York over the north Atlantic to Glasgow, from Glasgow to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Bremen, from Bremen to Hanover, and then, finally, aboard a Pan American plane, from Hanover along the air corridor over East Germany (established in the Four Power Agreement between Russia, France, England the the United States after World War II), to West Berlin, finally arriving at Templehof Airport in Berlin on the afternoon of July 6th.
All eight of us had been called to what was then the North German Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with headquarters in Berlin-Dahlem, Am Hirschsprung 60, but which took in all of northern Germany from south of Hamburg to the Danish border. But, unbeknownst to us, history was being made. Recognizing the perilous political circumstances bedeviling the city of Berlin, with threats at the time from the Russians to make Berlin an international "free" city - which meant that it would disappear behind the Iron Curtain - the Church determined to strengthen its membership there so they could better withstand that eventuality, should it occur. So a new Berlin Mission, separate from the North German Mission was launched just two days after we arrived. It was to serve just the city of West Berlin, but oversee the membership in the areas to the east, i.e., Communist East Berlin. East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., where there were struggling branches of the Church.
With that historic change, the lives of six of our traveling group changed as well - I, along with elders Demke, Davis, Wladrip, McKee and Glissmeyer, were kept in Berlin to be part of the new mission, while Griffiths and Thierbach were sent out to Hamburg, the new headquarters of the North German Mission.
From my mission journal:
"David Owens, assistant to mission president Percy K. Fetzer, who was still in Salt Lake City attending meetings for mission presidents from around the world, assigned six of us to remain in Berlin to become part of the newly established Berlin Mission. I was assigned to David Miller, a blond, gangling six foot seven inch giant, a wonderful guy. I met him last night (July 8) as missionaries being reassigned from the North German Mission to the new Berlin Mission came in from Hamburg by bus over the Autobahn. Brother Miller and I immediately traveled by subway to our room at Kaiserdamm 94, ('bei Ludwig,' as the German address reads), in the Charlottenburg section of West Berlin. The city is very beautiful. There are 92 steps to our fifth floor apartment (an antiquated elevator works only part time)."
On November 10, the Berlin Wall was toppled - done in a peaceful manner and with great joy and celebration.
I, along with a number of other missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was there on August 13, 1961, when it was originally constructed, and, over the next two and a half years, witnessed the atrocities that were perpetrated along the Wall. I was of the opinion through the years that it would not come down without military action. Thankfully I was wrong in that opinion.
Love and best wishes to you all – Brent Orr
I too was there when the Berlin Wall was built. See the story, photos and sounds at my website:
I too was there when the wall went up - two days before and two days later. In fact I spent that day in East Berlin. However I was in the Air Force at the time and came back as a missionary nine months later. I suspect my pictures might be a little different than yours - if I could just find them now.
Roger Harmon wrote I was there also and I remember it being a very cold wintery day when President Moyle came to speak to us . He stood up and said "many are cold but few are frozen!"