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201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade

Still serving after six decades with Army

Holocaust survivor supports 201st BfSB with 18 years as volunteer after 42 years serving as Soldier

Published: 01:49PM April 10th, 2014

When Soldiers walk into Mike Fried’s office at the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade headquarters office on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, they see certificates, medals and coins from his 42 years of military service.

Fried has served multiple assignments as a U.S. Army linguist in Germany, where he saw the Berlin Wall go up in 1961 and watched it fall in 1989.

Young Soldiers and officers in the unit sometimes stop by his office to hear his stories from a long career that concluded in 1994 when he retired as a chief warrant officer 5. For the last 18 years Fried has been at the military intelligence unit headquarters every day from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. as a full-time volunteer, working on staff duty officer rosters, leaves, administrative forms and, as Fried puts it, “Just about anything they ask me to do.”

At age 79, Fried doesn’t plan to retire completely. In fact, retirement is considered a dirty word in his vocabulary.

“My wife and I would probably divorce within a week if I would stay home every day,” Fried said.

Volunteering is the least Fried feels he can do in support of a military that helped him and his family, whose members spent five years in a concentration camp during World War II.

Jewish in Nazi Germany

Born under the last name Wartelsky in 1934, Fried grew up during a difficult time when National Socialism, Nazism, grew in Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The Nazis blamed Germany’s Jewish citizens for many of its social and economic problems, which led to persecution that strengthened during the decade of the 1930s.

By 1938, Jews were banned from most public places and anti-Jewish campaigns increased as Nazi forces killed Jewish citizens in countries they invaded and occupied in the early years of the war — including Poland and Soviet Russia.

Fried’s parents decided to emigrate from Germany to the Netherlands and join Fried’s grandparents who were living in Argentina.

On May 10, 1940, his father, Werner Wartelsky, was killed in a hotel bombing in Rotterdam after trying to get travel visas for the family.

The rest of the family was captured by Nazi sympathizers and put in one of the many detention camps in Poland.

It was a scary time for many Jewish citizens, especially for 6-year-old Fried and his sister Gaby, who was only 3 when they were apprehended.

“I didn’t know what the heck was going on,” Fried said.

Staying alive

About 6 million Jews, along with other persecuted groups, were killed in the Holocaust between 1938 and 1945.

Fried said that he, his sister and his mother, Lonny, were on the list to be executed multiple times because “they didn’t want to keep a single woman with two small children in the camp.”

His mother approached a gentleman named Rudolph Fried and requested they get married and then separate after the war.

Being married would prevent the three from being deported or becoming victims of one of the mass gassings.

Fried’s stepfather agreed. As one of the camp’s administrative employees, he crossed off the names of his new wife and children each time they appeared on the deportation list.

“That’s how we survived in the camp,” Fried said.

Liberated, move to U.S.

When he was 10, Fried’s camp was liberated by the Canadian Army on April 10, 1945.

Over a few days that month, United States’ forces also liberated thousands of Jewish citizens from larger camps in Poland and Germany.

Seeing the tanks roll into the camp in support of him, his family and others was a turning point in young Fried’s life.

“That’s how I decided I wanted to become a Soldier,” Fried said.

His uncle, Walter Baron, who emigrated to the U.S. and became a Soldier in the Army, learned of his sister, niece and nephew from a Red Cross list of names.

He went to the camp looking for anyone named Wartelsky, not knowing his sister remarried and that her husband, Werner, was killed in the hotel bombing five years prior. There was a happy reunion and two years later the family made the move to the to Buffalo, N.Y., with his other aunt and uncle. They arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

After high school, Fried joined the U.S. Army and began more than four decades of service.

Still serving

Fried served tours in Germany, Vietnam and the Netherlands before he retired at JBLM in 1994 with what is now the 201st Military Intelligence Brigade.

He and his wife, Rita, bought a home in DuPont and decided they would stay there after he finished his military service. But once he retired, he asked the brigade commander at the time if he could remain with the brigade as a volunteer.

“I wanted to continue serving Soldiers,” Fried said. “This is where I’m happy. This is where I want to be.”

Since then, Fried’s son, Douglas, served in the Coast Guard before retiring as an Air Force Reservist. His son and daughter Diane also gave Fried three grandsons.

Fried hasn’t missed a day of work except for family vacations and trips to the MI Hall of Fame at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. — where he was inducted in 1997 and visits every June.

Since retirement isn’t in the cards, Fried said he wants to continue living a long, healthy life serving as a volunteer with the 201st BfSB.

“I’m helping support the military that gave me and my family a terrific life,” Fried said. “Everything I’ve done is because of the military.”