Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Remembering the XX Olympiad

I returned from active military service as an army officer in (then) West Germany in July of 1972. A month later the the XX Olympiad in Munich began. Since I was still looking for work after my military discharge, I watched most of the games on TV.

I was enthralled by U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz as he set a world record by wining seven gold medals and setting new world records as he won each.

Teen-age Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut won my heart as she did most of those who saw her perform. Even though she came from "the other side" of the Iron Curtain, we Americans were saddened when she was failed to win in the individual all-around gold after falling during the finals.

I was impressed with ABC-TV coverage of the Olympics. Then, when hell entered the Olympic Games, I was more impressed by the coverage provided by primarily sports broadcasters such as Jim McKayChris Schenkel,  Keith Jackson, and Howard Cosell.

The TV coverage what was to become known as the Munich Massacre of the Israeli Olympics team was broadcast 24-hours-a-day.  Even now, forty years later, scenes from those TV pictures are lodged in my mind.

The Arab terrorists (members of Black September ) demanded the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs held in Israeli jails as well Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, leaders of the German Red Army Faction.

The terrorists demand for the release of the Baader-Meinhof Gang leaders really grabbed my attention. As an intelligence officer I had had more than my share of dealing with these so-called “urban terrorists.” The only time I had bullets flying toward me and I fired my .45 cal automatic in return was at what we believed were members of the Red Army Faction, who had, among other atrocities bombed the U.S, Army barracks at Frankfurt am Main and the U.S. Army Officers Club in Heidelberg, threatened to kidnap and execute U.S. Army dependents living in Germany. My wife and son, who were with me in Germany, were thus potential targets of the Baader-Meinhof gang.

I was watching the TV when the final act of the tragedy was played out. It took place at the Munich airport where the terrorists believed they were to board a plane that would fly them and their hostages to Egypt. The five German snipers, members of the Bundesgrenzschutz  (Border Police, with whom I had worked in my liason role as battalion S-2), ere deployed around the airport. The terrorist and the hostages were flown to the airport from the Olympic Viallage in helicopters. What happened next is up to interpreataion.

What we witnessed on TV who chaos. Sportscaster Jim McKay reported the horrible news:

We just got the final word ... you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They've now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone.

As I watch the 2012 Olympiad, my mind continues to flash back to 40 years ago. My chest tightens as I remember the massacre and I ach for the young athletes who died in September, 1972.

This year, 2012, the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre, the International Olympics Committee has again refused to allow a moment of silence in the London games to honor the Israeli athletes and their coaches murdered during the XX Olympiad. 

I am sad


  1. That was a sad time for the olympics indeed. there is only one sportscaster that you mentioned is still alive,Mr Keith Jackson he will be 84 in October.

  2. History and your memories make this an excellent post!

  3. Well done, Rev. Saint. Well done. I remember the TV broadcasts all too well. The Baader-Meinhof gang and Black September were just the beginning of the hell the world has had to endure over the past 40 years.

  4. In 1972 I was yet to be born. I really didn't know about the Munich Olympics until I read this. What a terrible event at a time when nations were coming together in peace. Horrible.

  5. Yes, I remember it too - such a terrible thing.