January 25, 2011

"Tripping" to the Iron Curtain

Starting in October 1954, and for the next seven years, "leaders of American thought and life" were flown to Europe to visit Radio Free Europe (RFE) locations in Germany and Portugal, the Czechoslovak-German border, and the cities of Berlin and Paris. This was in conjunction with the domestic fund raising activities of the Crusade for Freedom in support of RFE. Those who participated in these “study tours” were given the nickname “Trippers” and were expected to brief their respective state and local Crusade chapters, and other national organizations, on “Radio Free Europe’s role in the fight against Communist propaganda.” Below we briefly will look at the first of these trips, which took place October 20 – 29, 1954, when seventy-two “Trippers,” made a whirlwind trip to Europe. 

The group included Crusade for Freedom state chairmen and national organizations representatives, including the National Council for Catholic Women, Disabled American Veterans, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Campfire Girls and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) 

The American Heritage Foundation, with Henry Ford II as Chairman, was the sponsor of the Crusade for Freedom campaign. Thomas D’A. Brophy, president of the American Heritage Foundation sent a letter, to each “Tripper”, in which he wrote,

We are confident that Radio Free Europe will inspire you, as it did us, and that you will feel impelled, as we did, to communicate your enthusiasm with others.

When you return, I think you will agree that supporting this vital undertaking will help better the chances for peace, prosperity and well being for all America and the Free World.

Prior to their departure, they were hosted at a buffet dinner in the Keystone Room of the Hotel Statler in New York City, with Thomas D’A. Brophy as the keynote speaker.
The flight time from New York to Munich was 19 hours on a chartered Pan American DC 6B airplane—The Yankee Clipper. The first night in Munich included a two-hour buffet reception at the American Consulate. The next morning the Trippers went on a two-hour tour of RFE's headquarters building. In the afternoon, they were individually photographed sitting in front of a microphone marked RFE and making a short statement for broadcasting to RFE’s target countries (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania). 
On Saturday afternoon, they visited the Radio Free Europe transmitting site outside Munich at Holzkirchen and later that day the large RFE monitoring station at Schleissheim, north of Munich.  

Sunday was an all-day tour by car to the German-Czechoslovak border for a personal look at the Iron Curtain, followed by a visit to the one of Free Europe Press balloon launching sites, where they lofted helium-filled balloons containing propaganda leaflets. 
On Monday they finished the tape recording of broadcast messages, signed Freedom Scrolls and flew to Berlin, where they met the Mayor of Berlin, Ernst Reuter, and saw the Freedom Bell in Schoenberg City Hall. On Tuesday, they were briefed by the Commanding General at the headquarters of the U.S. High Commissioner as well as a staff member of the Eastern Section of Radio in the American Sector (RIAS). In the afternoon, they went on a bus tour of the Soviet Sector of Berlin. 
The “Trippers” flew to Paris, where General Alfred Gruenther and other officers at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) briefed them.  After a sightseeing trip of Paris, they flew back to New York to begin the domestic phase of their support for Radio Free Europe by making public appearances and giving media interviews about their experience in Europe. 

A striking example of individual post-Study trip activity is that of Edwin (Ed) L. Haislet, who was Minnesota co-state chairman of the Crusade for Freedom and executive secretary of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. The February 1955 issue of Minnesota Alumni Voice on “Freedom and Democracy” was dedicated to the Crusade for Freedom. The feature article was “I pierced the Iron Curtain” by Ed Haislet, in which he detailed his experiences in Europe. The article including a photograph of him, standing under the Freedom Bell in Berlin, at the Czech-German border as well as his sending of a balloon over the Iron Curtain. Haislet wrote,

The people of the United States, by supporting Radio Free Europe, are fulfilling their own obligation to decency, proving to their own belief in the essential dignity of the individual human being, the fundamental equality of all men and their inalienable rights to freedom justice and a fair opportunity.

A 14 ½ minute film about trip "How Your Truth Dollars Fight for Freedom" was was distributed to over 200 television stations in the Untied States and use at 1955 Crusade campaign meetings. Here is the beginning of the film.

Although fund raising for Radio Free Europe under the Crusade for Freedom name ceased in 1960, the "study trips" continued under sponsorship of the Radio Free Europe Fund.

My book has details of other "study trips" sponsored by the Crusade for Freedom.


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