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NATO Soldiers Abducted

  • A U.S. serviceman tells his story of how he and thousands of other soldiers from western countries were abducted by communist countries and forced to live behind the Iron Curtain.
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By Mike Blair

An American soldier has come forward as living proof of what American POW-MIA activists have suspected for years: communists abducted American and European servicemen during the Cold War and imprisoned them in concentration camps where they were abandoned by their own governments.

Ernie L. Fletcher, who now resides in Covington, Ky., was an American soldier who served in the Army and was kidnapped by the East German secret police (STASI) in 1959, at the age of 19, in Ber lin. He was left in communist hands for 22 years and four months by the U.S. government.

"Until the end I could not believe what now has been confirmed," Fletcher said. "The Army and my own government forgot about me with full intent."

What is even more troubling is that Fletcher was just one of up to 150 NATO soldiers abducted by the East Germans and the Russians, of which at least 35 can be documented as being American. The others were British, Canadian and French.

To this day, the fate of the other soldiers remains unknown and is still being covered up by the U.S. military and the various governments involved.

On the night of June 8, 1959, Fletcher, while on pass with his West Berlin girlfriend, Hildegard Fiedler, was snatched from the Alexanderplatz in the Russian sector of Berlin by the STASI.

He was taken to STASI headquarters and a short time later to a STASI prison in Bautzen, East Germany, which is located west of Dresden, just over the East German- Czech border.

The next morning, he was facing charges leveled against him by the East Germans and Russians, which included suspicion of spying against the communist country.

Fletcher's West German girlfriend be gan inquiring with East Berlin authorities about the young American. Officials told her he had been taken to Bautzen.

Fiedler was to go to visit with him. But upon entering East Berlin, she relinquished the security of her western residency, was arrested by the STASI and became a prisoner at Bautzen.

The two were allowed to marry while in captivity and had two daughters.

For months after Fletcher's abduction, he was "worked on," along with his girlfriend, by STASI and Russian officials, who tried to get him to become a collaborator and a spy in West Berlin.

If he cooperated, the communists told him, he and Fiedler would not have to go through a trial on charges of spying for the West.

Both refused and as a result spent more than 22 years in prison in East Germany.


To cover their tracks, East German and Russian officials claimed that Fletch er, along with dozens of other kidnapped western soldiers, had defected and asked for asylum.

U.S. military officials used this as an excuse for leaving the American servicemen in communist hands, claiming they were defectors and wanted to stay where they had fled.

It wasn't until the United States recognized the communist East German regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1975 and opened an Embassy in Berlin, that Fletcher made his plans to get to freedom.

But he was not yet aware that his own government had written him off as a hated defector and an East German collaborator.

He was received at the U.S. embassy by Ambassador Carl McCollum. Mc Collum believed the American soldier's story and protected Fletcher, his wife and daughters.

To this day, McCollum backs up Fletcher's story that he never defected to East Germany nor that he asked for asylum.

After contacting the embassy, the STASI—who had always kept Fletcher and his family under tight surveillance—took him back into custody and savagely beat him.

Fletcher says he can prove that he was simply abandoned by the U.S. government with the hundreds of documents in his possession.

He was given the documents after his return to U.S. control in 1981 to aid in his defense when he faced court-martial proceedings in the United States.

Among the documents in Fletcher's possession are statements from Army investigators who probed the American's disappearance behind the Iron Curtain and determined he had not defected. Fletcher also has numerous letters from fellow soldiers in Berlin refuting the charges that he was a defector.

When Fletcher finally made it to freedom on Nov. 17, 1981, U.S. military doctors in West Berlin found him to be suffering from a number of maladies as a result of his captivity and beatings.

But when he returned to the United States, doctors at Fort Dix, N.J., where he was scheduled to be released from service, conveniently found him to be the picture of health. Doctors told him that medical treatment was not necessary.

Fletcher said that he could not object to the doctors' findings because he was in such a state as a result of horrible treatment at the hands of the communists.

Fletcher said that in the 22 years he remained in custody in East Germany under the ever-watchful eye of communists, he met with U.S. officials only once.

On Aug. 5, 1959, just months after his abduction, he was taken to a meeting in Potsdam with two American colonels.

Fletcher said that after the torture and brutality he been subjected to, he was suspicious that the U.S. military officials were not authentic and were STASI agents. Therefore, when asked if he wanted to return to the U.S. he declined.

He says that he especially feared that the STASI would hold his girlfriend accountable for anything that he said.

U.S. military officials were later informed by agents they had in place in East Germany that the young American soldier had suspected a communist "trap" at the Potsdam meeting and that he really wanted to return to the United States.

Two British soldiers who escaped from East Germany later confirmed Fletcher's account.


Among Fletcher's records that refute the spy charges, is a list of 35 names, all but one of which are blacked out.

The list is headed, "U.S. Defectors in East Germany (1963)." At the bottom is the statement: "Info current as of 17 July 1963."

Fletcher appears as No. 12 on the list of 35 names who were all American servicemen in East Germany.

Fletcher himself said that of all the Americans he met while in captivity only one was known to be a real defector.

Over time, he said that he has forgotten the names of many Americans he met while in captivity.

Some names he remembers include: Dale Cray, Richard Moore, Charles C. Zeigler Jr., Marvin Beltz, Billy Kullis, Arthur Boyd and three others with the last names of Mclean, Jackson and Johnson.

Fletcher said he knew three British soldiers, who were corporals in the prison camp: Derek Anderson, Allan Brooks and R. Zankowski.

He recalled a Canadian soldier known as "Butch." He also recalled a French soldier who was beaten savagely by the STASI thugs and subsequently died of kidney failure.

While Fletcher was at Bautzen, he says there were between 100 to 150 western soldiers being held captive at the STASI prison.

He revealed that the East Germans and Russians maintained an old WWII concentration camp about a mile away. The prison camp was referred to as "Yellow Misery," because many of the prisoners suffered from hepatitis, a disease that runs rampant in the filth and squalor of the camps.

Fletcher said that as many as 80,000 East German civilians, all intellectuals—the elite of East Germany's writers, teachers, professors, doctors and other professionals—were held there. They were people the East Germans, communists and Russians feared because they were thought to be beyond communist indoctrination and therefore "enemies of the state."