KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Saturday marks 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down.
Bill Brunkhardt had a front row seat to the historic day. He was there on Nov. 9, 1989, a 19-year-old sophomore at Pepperdine University, studying abroad in Berlin.
The day started with him and his friends getting a rare opportunity to visit communist-controlled East Berlin.
“Unfortunately, even someone was trying to escape that day and was shot,” he said.
Unbeknownst to them, that would be the last person shot trying to escape to freedom. After returning to West Berlin a few hours later, Brunkhardt’s crew was at a bar when suddenly, they saw something amazing.
“Christopher Charlie was on the TV, which was just about 200 feet from us, and they were just letting people out,” he said.
The fraternity brothers raced outside, camping out to witness history on top of the wall at Brandenberg Gate, the spot where two years before President Ronald Reagan had given his famous “Tear down this wall” speech.
“All of the sudden some of us started to jump down onto the East German side, and we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Brunkhardt said. “A row of about 100 guards line up and start walking toward us, and we didn’t know what to think. So we were scrambling to get back up on the wall.”
Then a West German made a grand gesture to his former enemy soldiers.
“Jumped down and walked over and gave them a rose,” Brunkhardt said. “That was pretty incredible because 12 hours earlier, 24 hours earlier, they would have been shot.
Years later, Brunkhardt would end up working for then former president Ronald Reagan.
“He would be very emotional about the Berlin Wall and what he did there,” Brunkhardt said.
When he looks back on his time with Reagan, he remembers a conversation with his former boss. He asked Reagan if he had any idea that the wall was going to fall.
“He said, ‘Well, we got an anonymous telex, and all it said was “Mr. President, you shall have your wish,”‘ and that was about three weeks before the wall fell,” Brunkhardt said.
The Kansas City man said Reagan showed American might in more than speeches and conversation. He kept tabs on the Soviet leaders at all times.
“”And when there would be a high-level cabinet meeting for Gorbachev, Reagan would send up an XR-71 Blackbird at 100,000 feet, and the Soviets didn’t have anything that could intercept it or a missile,” Brunkhardt said. “And they would just go back and forth where Gorbachev was and create sonic booms every 30 seconds the entire day.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall was Reagan’s goal from day one in office, the first sign the Soviet Union would crumble. Reagan has been credited with ending the Cold War, a legacy Brunkhardt said made the 40th president very proud.