Berlin Airlift hailed at 70th anniversary event as model of trans-Atlantic cooperation

Master Sgt. Eugene King of the USAFE Band plays taps during a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift at Frankfurt airport, Tuesday, June 26, 2018.


By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 26, 2018

FRANKFURT, Germany — Diplomats, politicians and military leaders gathered at Frankfurt airport Tuesday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift – a mission lauded as the greatest peacetime aerial supply mission in history.

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union, in one of the opening moves of the Cold War, blockaded all rail, road and water access to West Berlin to force the Western Allies out of the city. Two days later, the Berlin Airlift began with cargo planes flying out of Rhein-Main Air Base and other bases in western Germany to supply West Berlin’s citizens with food and other necessities until the Soviets lifted the blockade 11 months later.

Dignitaries gathered at the Berlin Airlift Museum included Richard Grenell and Anne-Marie Descotes, the U.S. and French ambassadors to Germany; Robbie Bulloch, the deputy head of mission of the British Embassy; Volker Bouffier, the minister president of the German state of Hesse; and Maj. Gen. John B. Williams, the mobilization assistant to the commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.

The USAFE band provided music for the guests, including ‘40s-era jazz and the national anthems of the U.S., U.K., Germany and France.

Special guests at the ceremony included the daughters of famed airlift “Candy Bomber” Gail Halvorsen, Denise Halvorsen Williams and Marilyn Halvorsen Sorensen.

Although Halvorsen, known for dropping candy with miniature parachutes from his plane to the children of Berlin, was not present because of his health, he was mentioned by all of the speakers. They all also spoke of the sacrifices of the pilots and crews.

Maj. Gen. Williams said that by the time the airlift ended in 1949, crews had flown roughly the distance from the Earth to the sun, in some of the most challenging weather. They had delivered 2.3 million tons of supplies to the 2.5 million citizens of West Berlin.

“It foreshadowed the many humanitarian operations that the respective nations have participated in, in the past 70 years,” he said.

Bouffier called the airlift “a victory of freedom over dictatorship.”

Grenell spoke of Germany’s plans to increase defense spending, noting that “the U.S. wants to see a strong Europe, a more prepared Europe and therefore a stronger transatlantic relationship. That’s what we all want, and that’s what we are all celebrating here today.”

Twitter: @stripes_photog


U.S. airmen were among the guests at the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift in Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, June 26, 2018.