Our family spent four years in Germany (1982-1986) on military assignment. This article offers a wake-up call to Americans as to what happens when you suddenly lose your security. This is what we experienced when terrorists targeted our family. The goal is to help Americans understand the fragility of secure freedom and why we want to guard and maintain security and freedom in America.
We hear many Americans say that we need to leave the war behind and get back to tending to America and its domestic policies -- to return to normal life. I have pondered how to explain how precious our freedom is and how thankful we should be to hold this fragile gift. It occurs to me that a simple story of what our family experienced while living in Germany might bring some light to understanding what a gift the security we take for granted really is.
In 1982 we moved to Germany on military assignment. We were excited about my husband's orders to command an Army Aviation unit that was responsible for patrolling what were then the borders of West Germany with East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The command would take us to the area of Nurnberg, West Germany, to the small town of Feucht. My husband processed in country ahead of the children and me, and when we arrived some three weeks later, we found that we had the choice of living among other Americans in luxurious quarters in a U.S. Army Kaserne (military compound) or living "on the economy" -- the term used for residence among the German nationals. We chose the latter, reasoning that we could live among Americans any time, but we had a unique opportunity to learn a new language, experience a new culture, and to make new friends in the country we would be living in. Never did we expect the events that happened roughly a year later.
We made our home a row house in the small, colorful town of Feucht, some thirteen kilometers outside Nurnberg, because my husband was the commander of the U.S. Army airfield just outside town. We settled our older children in the American schools in Nurnberg, and a chartered school bus picked them up daily. Our son was only three, so for him we found a German kindergarten where he might make new friends and learn their language. Life was seemingly normal, though with the usual culture shocks of encountering a new language, understanding and honoring German culture, and finally, meeting many people who would become lifelong friends.
Then one winter night, we received a phone call some time after we had put the children to bed. My husband took the call then advised that I make coffee because military and civilian officials were coming to tell us of a problem. Not understanding what we might be hearing, I went about the routine of making coffee, only mildly pondering what matter must bring people out on this cold and snowy evening. Within the next fifteen minutes, my entire worldview would change in ways that would rock my universe.
Seven or eight men rang the doorbell at our house on Jahnstrasse. My husband opened the door, and we invited the group of men into our living room. I glanced over and recognized the mayor of Feucht and one or two others I had met briefly, noting that the group consisted of both military and civilian German officials. I would later learn that the equivalent of our FBI/CIA were present representing the country of Germany. The men refused my pot of coffee and promptly began telling us a narrative that both chilled and alarmed us.
The situation they conveyed that night was that factions of the Bader Meinhof Gang and the Red Army Brigade, well-known German terrorist groups of the 1970s and '80s, were looking for American children to kidnap to use as pawns in a deadly game. One of their own was set to go on trial in the upcoming weeks in Stuttgart. Hoping to work a deal with trial officials, they hatched the plan of kidnapping the children of the commander of Feucht Army Airfield when it was learned we had decided to settle within the local community. A select group of terrorists came to this small town and evidently went from shop to shop asking where the American commander's family lived. Being Germans and being private people, not prone to talk freely to or share knowledge with outsiders, the townspeople effectively saved our family. The town of Feucht, we later found out, was proud to have an American commander forsake living among fellow Americans in order to learn the culture and language of the Germans and be integrated into their community. In fact, each shopkeeper knew and loved our three children, feeling endearment for their Texas accents and our three-year-old's version of thank you: "Donkey shane" instead of "Danke Schoen."
There was more than one astute shopkeeper whose concern grew until they decided to call the German authorities to report suspicions about outsiders seeking to find where we lived. So that night, many years ago, I found myself first speechless, then in tears as I sought to center my mind on what I was hearing and put in my worldview the loss of safety -- and in particular the specter of hate-filled extremism and deadly terrorists -- and to know that someone truly wanted to hurt me, and would have done so without for God's protection over my children.
I remember asking one of the men why anyone would want to hurt my innocent children. His response still resonates in my soul: "Mrs. Gunn, you have now discovered that there is evil in this world and that as an American, you find yourself a target. Do not ask why, for evil has no reason. It is evil just for the sake of being evil."
Those words have stayed in my heart ever since. My worldview was so simple, as I was raised on a ranch in Texas and had never had an enemy until then. But I found out. During our remaining time in Germany, I learned to spend most of my waking days "on alert," making sure I watched who was around me, ensuring I did not take the same route twice so as not to be followed, and checking, sometimes hourly, to make certain a bomb had not been planted under my car while it was parked. Until you have to continuously wonder if your life, your children's lives, or all that you love and hold sacred is safe, you cannot truly understand the value of the security we take for granted in our homeland or that we are ever in danger of losing it. And once we do, our world will never be the same.
So when folks tell me we need to leave the war behind so we can focus on domestic needs, I want to shout to them that unless and until we finish this war and so thoroughly rout the enemy that they no longer dare to cross us, we cannot confine our concentration to fixing health care, social security, or other myriad social problems. Once we as civilians become so vulnerable that fear becomes a daily part of our and our children's lives, we will find it is far too late.
In such things as security and freedom, we had better understand that we must resolve to place the needs of freedom first. Once we lose our security, we have lost our freedom. Or as my old Daddy used to say, "Sound fences and closed gates allow a rancher to sleep well at night."
-Beverly Gunn, East Texas Rancher
Mrs. Gunn comes from Texas pioneering cattle ranchers. She is married and living in Texas. Two of her family are presently serving in the military, and her husband retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. She lives in East Texas and keeps her fences and gates tightly closed, valuing both her freedoms and her family.