The military heroes of "Operation Oscar X-Ray," the stunning commando rescue in Somalia, came home yesterday as casually as a football team returning from a victory on the road.
West Germany's shock troops emerged from a Lufthansa jet at Cologne-Bonn airport dressed in sport shirts and sweaters to the applause of their wives, children, a crowd of well-wishers and government officials. A brass band played the national anthem but no one wore a uniform.
Not even Ulrich Wegener, head of the 28-man commando unit, wore a tie or a hat. So muffled was the military note that Wegener shook hands with Interior Minister Werner Maihofer, who has jurisdiction over the force, instead of saluting him.
The lack of spit-and-polish was deliberate. The West German government, exultant in a major victory over terrorism, did not want to mar the homecoming with a ceremony that might remind the world of Germany's history of militarism.
"It is a small miracle," said Maihofer. "All the surviving 86 hostages were rescued alive. Only one man in the unit suffered a slight injury.We had not dreamed of such a happy outcome although we hoped for it when we made our decision . . . We are proud of you."
Sixty men of the anti-terrorist unit - known officially as Unit 9 of the border police but known to some insiders as the "Green Berets" - flew to Somalia. There are 90 volunteers in all, with 22 weeks of training. The courses run from street fighting and aerial assault to psychology and law.
The unit had never been deployed before but it was kept in readiness by providing bodyguards for top government officials.
Military historians looked back to 1943 to find a German operation comparable to Operation Ocar X-Ray - when Nazi SS comandos landed a glider atop an Italian mountain and rescued imprisoned dictator BenitoM Mussolini.
The relaxed and rumpled way that the commandos came home could hardly provide a sharper contrast with what happened on the airstrip in Mogadishu.
Although the Bonn government sought to keep a news blackout on details of the raid, United Press International put together this account:
The 60 men of Unit 9 landed at Mogadishu airport after dark. Their civilian Boeing 707 jetliner used only its navigation lights.
The men, 30 specially trained assault commandos and 30 backup medical and communications personnel, could have been tourists on a character by the look of their sports outfits. But by midnight, the 30 assault troops were dressed in black, their faces blacked as well.
They silently moved in on the target place at midnight European time - 2 a.m. at Mogadishu.
Five minutes later, the men struck. They blew out the Boeing 737's doors and stormed aboard.
"Lie down! Lie down!" one commando screamed at the hostages.
Practically simultaneously the raiders exploded new anti-terrorist grenades that cause temporary deafness and blindness.
Equipped against these effects themselves and reckoning the hijackers were up front, the commandos began shooting.
Within one minute, three of the four hijackers were dead and the fourth was out of action with severe wounds.
Within two minutes of the first explosion, the first of the hostages was down on the ground. All 86 were out in seven minutes.
Just one commando suffered wounds and stewardess Gabi Dilimann, 23, received minor injuries in the right leg from grenade fragments.