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Monthly changing of the guard at Spandau

It's probably safe to assume, that when Brother John Eldred '66, was a young undergraduate at PIKA Penn, he never envisioned himself playing a key role in history.

“The irony of being an Ivy-League graduate Platoon Sergeant, meant I didn’t fit in anywhere,” laughs Pike Brother John Eldred. “I think there was a sample of two of us in the entire army.

Rewind a few years. Brother Eldred began his journey into the history books as a young man at Penn and was commuting from home. PIKA was the only fraternity that recruited commuters and was the only fraternity that accepted both Christian and Jewish members.We had various duties, we had to be there when every politician flew in, and I was in charge of a platoon when Nixon came over. Twice a year we drove 110 miles to West Germany for training, we had to be combat ready and we were also in charge of security at Spandau Prison. We were not allowed to have any ammunition, which caused a bit of concern.”

“PIKA taught me to understand the centrality of comradeship,” said Eldred. “It was these values that propelled the young man to his role in history.

John Eldred Rudolf Hess

At the time, this was when there were a lot of student protests happening in Berlin and one of our jobs was to provide backup for the Berlin Police in terms of riot duty.”

In October of 1946, Rudolf Hess, who was appointed Deputy to Adolf Hitler in 1933, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for crimes against peace.

“He was the only one left and we were told that the Russian refused to release him,” recalls Eldred. “We were not allowed to talk to him or shine any search lights in his cell, so even then, we were concerned about being politically correct.Hess served his life sentence at Spandau Prison and in 1968, remained the “last mad symbol,” of the men who ran Nazi Germany.

The only time you saw Hess was when he came out for his exercise. One of the standing orders was you were not allowed to talk to the prisoners. Hess used to go in this circuit with his head down and on the back of his jacket was the number 7 - that was his prisoner number. He had worn a path about six inches deep going around and around in a circle with his head down. One day he looked up at one of the GI’s in the tower and flipped him the bird!”

Eldred Recalls that Hess did talk to one of the young guards once, asking him for a cigarette and the kid, who was about 17, threw a cigarette down to him. Hess was cackling and took the cigarette to one of the other officers to prove their had been communication between prisoner and guard. He got my guy busted, which just confirmed what we all thought of Hess anyway. He was the last evil, son of a gun and the sooner we could get rid of him, the better. Of course we weren’t allowed to do anything about that.

“We would do shifts for a month and then hand it over to the British, the British to the French, and then the French to the Russians, he recalled.

Every time there was a changing of the guard ceremony, all the generals from all four major powers would show up,” says Eldred. This was usually a chance for them to get together and have coffee and drink Vodka. They would all watch the ceremony, we would march in to the courtyard and we would take over for whoever had been on guard before us. We were told that if we showed up the Russian Honor Guard, we would get a three-day pass!

You have to understand, that was a big deal, so we always found ways to show up the Honor Guard.

I was in Berlin for 19 months and there was a lot of ‘What are we doing here?’ The Chicago riots were happening and Bobby Kennedy was killed and we felt like we were needed elsewhere.”