Editor’s Note: The Voice-Tribune’s Earl Cox was in attendance at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games at Munich in southern West Germany, that came to be known as the “Munich Massacre.” Palestinian terrorists took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage. The kidnappers killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German policeman.
My apartment overlooked the Olympic compound, about two football fields away. All I needed to enter the compound was my Olympic media pass. American athletes and coaches walked around mingling with athletes from the world over.
I remember a prominent and colorful American basketball coach, Lefty Driesell, with basketball star Bill Bradley exchanging Olympic trinkets with foreign athletes.
Earlier that day, during the second week of the Olympic Games, Kentuckian Kenny Davis from Wayne County, a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, had shown me around the U.S. living quarters. It reminded me of a typical American college bedroom.
I have often thought in recent days of how palatial the living quarters are in which present multi-millionaire American basketball players luxuriate.
Davis, who had started his collegiate career at Western Kentucky University before transferring to Georgetown College, was the most experienced member of the USA basketball team. He had toured the world as a member of Amateur Athletic Union teams. He emerged as the spokesman for the ill-fated USA basketball team. His story and that of the American team will be told in a later story.
That night I saw helicopters hovering over the building where the Israeli athletes were housed.
To learn what was happening, I hustled to the Olympic media building which was next to my apartment.
And then came the words that I hope I never hear again, “Israeli athletes are being slaughtered and kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists,” just before dawn on Sept. 5.
I knew enough about Israeli-Palestinian problems to understand that the situation had to mean the deaths of a lot of people. It did.
An hour or so earlier, eight terrorists carrying duffel bags filled with assault rifles, pistols and grenades climbed a chain-link fence. They were aided by unknowing Canadian Olympic athletes, who helped the terrorists over the fence!
‘They’re all gone’
The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinians jailed in Israel, but the Israelis refused to negotiate. The hostages were Jewish, which created a crisis for the host West Germans. The host Germans offered the Palestinians an unlimited amount of money, but the kidnappers refused the offer.
Eventually the terrorists allowed helicopters to take the hostages to the airport, where a large jet awaited to fly them to an Arab city. But the plan failed and the hostages were killed at point-blank range.
To this day I can hear the chilling words of ABC’s Jim McKay: “They have now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”
On Sept. 6, I was among 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes who attended a memorial service held in the Olympic Stadium.
American Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee, enraged people the world over when he made little reference to the murdered athletes during his speech. Brundage praised the strength of the Olympic movement and equated the attack on the Israeli athletes with arguments about encroaching professionalism, outraging many listeners.
During the memorial service the Olympic flag was flown at half-staff, along with flags of most of the competing nations.
Ten Arab nations objected to their flags being lowered to honor murdered Israelis, and their flags were restored to the tops of their flagpoles almost immediately.
Should the Games continue? The host Germans sought to cancel the rest of the Games, but Brundage said, “The Games must go on, and we must and will continue our efforts to keep them clean, pure and honest.”
That decision was endorsed by the Israeli government.
After the services, all remaining members of the Israeli team withdrew from the Games and left Munich.
Indiana University swimmer Mark Spitz, the most dominant athlete in the Olympics, had finished all of his competitions and left Munich during the hostage crisis. It was feared that as a prominent Jew Spitz could be a kidnapping target.