History Book – Battling for Okinawa, and closing Checkpoint Charlie


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, June 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book. Today, three events that all happened on this day, June 22nd.

Thirty years ago, the closing of “Checkpoint Charlie” between East and West Germany. Plus, a costly victory on the Pacific island of Okinawa. But first, Congress creates a new federal agency. Here’s Paul Butler.

We begin 150 years ago today:

RASSMUSSEN: Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives…that there shall be…an executive department of the government of the United States, to be called the Department of Justice, of which the attorney general shall be the head. 

Kim Rassmussen reading from HR bill 1328.

Following the Civil War, the U.S. government spent about $800-thousand dollars a year to retain private attorneys and outside legal counsel. On June 22nd, 1870, Congress passed the Act to Establish the Department of Justice

RASSMUSSEN: SECTION 2, And be it further enacted, that there shall be in said department an officer learned in the law to be called the solicitor general…

The act gave the DOJ control over all federal law enforcement, plus criminal prosecutions, and civil suits against—or on behalf of—the United States government. 

RASSMUSSEN: SECTION 5, whenever the attorney general deems it necessary, he may require the solicitor general to argue any case in which the government is interested before the court of claims…

At the time, dozens of government departments were working on legal questions and cases independently—often without knowledge of each other. On top of that, many legal appointments and contracts were doled out as political favors. 

So Rhode Island Congressman Thomas Jenckes led a reform movement to streamline, unify, and professionalize the government’s legal divisions. 

RASSMUSSEN: SECTION 8, the attorney general is hereby empowered to make all necessary rules and regulations for the management and distribution of its business.

Recent scholarship suggests that the creation of the DOJ was more than just an attempt to increase the federal government’s capacity for Civil War legal claims—which has been conventional wisdom. According to a 2014 Stanford Law Review article, letters and documents from Congressman Jenckes and his fellow reformers reveal a more robust philosophy behind the act. 

Next, 75 years ago:

NEWSREEL: Last days of the bitter battle for Okinawa…

The 82-day battle for Okinawa comes to an end. Codenamed Operation Iceberg, it was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

NEWSREEL CLIP: The United States 10th Army and the 3rd Marine Amphibious Corps start for the beach…

Okinawa was 340 miles southwest of the Japanese home islands. 

NEWSREEL: Men of the 10th Army leaves the road to penetrate into the bush. Here, underground and in fortified caves and holes, are some of Okinawa’s last defenders…

The victory on Okinawa was one of the costliest in the Pacific. 

NEWSREEL: The battle is waged over dangerous terrain, from ridge to ridge, from cave to cave… 

Clearing the enemy forces cost Allied troops at least 75,000 lives. 

NEWSREEL: Japan sees her doom drawing near as the American flag is firmly planted on Okinawa.

AUDIO: [SOUND OF CEREMONY]

And finally, June 22nd, 1990, 30 years ago. 

CEREMONY: We have come together not to dedicate a building, but rather to close one…

U.S. and German political figures and military personnel gather in Berlin to officially decommission the American managed checkpoint between East and West Berlin.

CEREMONY: I refer to the modest, famous structure known to millions as “Checkpoint Charlie…”

The name Charlie came from the NATO phonetic alphabet. Checkpoint Alpha was in Helmstedt. Checkpoint Bravo in the south-west corner of Berlin. And this third checkpoint was therefore named Charlie. 

CEREMONY: Many visitors to Checkpoint Charlie over the years were disappointed. There was something unfinished. Something temporary about it. These impressions were altogether accurate…

At the close of the ceremony, a large crane lifted the building as observers on both sides of the border cheered.  

CEREMONY: Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain seated while the checkpoint is prepared for lifting.

Not long after its removal, a replica was built near the original site. Today, it’s one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions. The original Checkpoint Charlie is on display as a part of the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/ABC News) Checkpoint Charlie

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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