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It’s Diaper Detail For U.S. Army Cook

November 14, 1989

BERLIN (AP) _ The U.S. Army mess sergeant rolled up the sleeve of his jungle fatigues, squirted a few drops of milk near the American flag tattooed on his brawny arm and handed the bottle to the bawling East German infant.

″Getting real good at this,″ laughed Staff Sgt. Levonso Hemingway of Greensboro, N.C., first cook with the 6th infantry battalion, which for the past week has been operating a soup kitchen for refugees pouring through the new holes in the Berlin Wall.

″Jackie Mason chicken soup is on the menu today,″ he said. ″Yesterday we fed about 5,000. Today looks even bigger. People were on line in the dark and cold when I got here at 5 a.m. to turn on the portable stoves.″

The next infant in line was attached to his mother by the headphones of a portable cassette recorder, the first tangible evidence of the family’s flight to freedom.

″He’s jamming,″ approved Hemingway, doling out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the newest hard rock recruit and a package of disposable diapers to the beaming mother.

Less than three decades ago - Oct. 27, 1961 - when the Cold War was at its hottest, U.S. Patton tanks confronted low-slung Soviet tanks in a tense 16- hour standoff at Checkpoint Charlie.

Now the might of the American military in Berlin was on ″diaper detail,″ responding with British and French allies to requests by the Berlin city government to provide emergency food and bedding for the refugees.

They are bedded down on army cots in schools, sports halls, garages and factories. Some are even sleeping in their tiny East Germans cars.

″Many already have health problems,″ said Kristian Binde, a paramedic with the Red Cross. He was helping process the new arrivals at the army soup kitchen on the third floor of a derelict elevator factory where the elevators no longer work.

″They have headaches and trouble with breathing from the smog, and now that the weather has turned so chilly, chest colds are common, especially among the children,″ he said. ″In cases of really serious illness, like a heart attack, the open border now works both ways. We can send them across to the Humboldt University Hospital in East Berlin.″

Some have problems with alcohol. ″They celebrate their new freedom too much and wind up in an ambulance,″ Binde said.

Erich Honecker, the recently resigned East German leader, was given the assignment of building the Berlin Wall after midnight on a summer Sunday in 1961 because the best and the brightest under Communist control were defecting to the West. In the previous half dozen years, more than 17,000 engineers and technicians and 6,000 doctors and nurses had fled.

Apparently, East Germany’s professional class is on the move again. At a table in the soup kitchen, filling out papers that hopefully might find them work, were nurse Viola Spiering and her husband, Sebastian, an electrical engineer. With their 11-year-old son they had left Robel, a small town 70 miles to the north, and had no idea where they would settle.

″Perhaps Hamburg,″ said Mrs. Spiering, who has been plotting the family exodus for months. ″We are lucky. We stay with an uncle here in Berlin. The boy is very happy - he doesn’t have to go back to school yet.″

Hans Jorg Patzig, a refugee coordinator for the city of Berlin, said a lot of doctors arrived last week. ″This is a problem, because a lot of doctors here in West Berlin are unemployed. We have more doctors than we need. Also public health education standards are not very high on the other side, so a lot of them could be bad doctors,″ he said.

The government is providing free flights to take the refugees to jobs in other West German cities, Patzig said, and the U.S. Army provides buses to take them to the airport.

But even the skilled technicians and engineers have not kept pace with the West’s computer chip technology.

″We get a number of printers and linotype operators who don’t realize all our newspapers here are done by the offset process,″ he said. ″People in the building trades - carpenters, plumbers, roofers - will have no trouble getting work.″

Bus driver Heinz Hammermann is among the volunteers collecting clothing and blankets for the refugees. He remembers ″the confrontation between the American and the Soviets on Friedrichstrasse. We lived close by. I hid with my grandparents in the cellar. They thought World War III was about to begin.″

For Thanksgiving, Hemingway hopes to serve ″the best of the West″ to the new converts to democracy filling his soup kitchen.

″Real turkey soup, not the dehydrated stuff,″ he said. ″I’ll carve up a couple of dozen birds, get me some onions, celery, peppers, potatoes, and we’ll show them what freedom is all about.″

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