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Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.


For the 28 years from 1961 to 1989, the ghastly palisade known as the Berlin Wall divided the German city of Berlin. It sealed off the only escape hatch for people in the communist East who wanted freedom in the West.

No warning was given before August 13 when East German soldiers and police first stretched barbed wire and then began erecting the infamous wall, not to mention guard towers, dog runs, and explosive devices behind it.

By one estimate, 254 people died there during those 28 years -- shot by police, ensnared by the barbed wire, mauled by dogs, or blown to bits by land mines -- most of them in the infamous "death strip" that immediately paralleled the main barrier. The communist regime cynically referred to it as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall."

In my home hangs a large, framed copy of a famous photo of a poignant moment from that sad day in 1961. It shows a young, apprehensive East German soldier glancing about as he prepares to let a small boy pass through the emerging barrier. No doubt the boy spent the night with friends and found himself the next morning on the opposite side of the wall from his family. But the communist government ordered its men to let no one pass. The inscription below the photo explains that, at this very moment, the soldier was seen by a superior officer who immediately detached him from his unit. "No one," reads the inscription, "knows what became of him." Only the most despicable tyrants could punish a man for letting a child get to his loved ones, but in the Evil Empire, that and much worse happened all the time.

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5

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