USAFE fetes Air Force’s 60th anniversary
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — A pair of Air Force legends joined airmen on Saturday to celebrate the service’s 60th anniversary.
Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, known as the Berlin Airlift “candy bomber,” and retired Col. Leo Thorsness, a former Vietnam prisoner of War and Medal of Honor recipient, were the guests of honor at the birthday party at Ramstein.
Halvorsen, 85, said returning to Germany and being a part of the festivities brought back memories of the service’s first year, when he was a pilot taking part in the Berlin Airlift. He is known as the candy bomber for dropping candy via tiny parachutes to German children during the Berlin blockade in 1948.
“Just being out of the crib we did all right,” he said of the Air Force. “We fed over two million people in 15 months. Thinking about 60 years here, being in Germany again, feet on the ground and the pine trees around reminded me of landing at Rhein-Main [Air Base] in July of 1948.”
The Air Force’s actual birthday isn’t until Sept. 18, but U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters along with airmen in the Kaiserslautern area celebrated the anniversary on Saturday in one of Ramstein’s massive hangars.
The event included aircraft static displays of planes old and new, food vendors, a security forces demonstration and musical performances. Lt. Col. Bryan Vyverberg, an Air Force doctor who helped organize the event, estimated that about 2,500 people attended.
Halvorsen signed autographs and talked about his day as a pilot flying the C-47. He said the response from the Germans helped keep morale high among the aircrews during the Berlin Airlift.
“We flew day and night and thunderstorms in the summer and later on in the winter with ice and snow and nobody complained,” he said. “That was because of the gratitude.”
Thorsness, who wore his Medal of Honor around his neck, gave the keynote speech in the hangar. He earned the prestigious medal during a mission to attack surface-to-air missile sites in North Vietnam in 1967, but he did not know he received the award until years after the fact.
He was shot down and spent six years as a prisoner of war.
He said the major difference between the airmen when he served and the airmen now is that servicemembers today are smarter.
“They’re smarter only because every generation is smarter,” he said. “Kids have to grow up faster. They’re exposed to more, the good and the bad. They are exposed to so much more just by surviving.”
Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Arbona, who works in personnel for USAFE, said what separates the Air Force from other services is how the service treats its people. Her father served in the Air Force and her husband is an Air Force policeman at nearby Sembach Annex.
“I feel good about what I do,” said Arbona, who wore a vintage Air Force uniform from decades ago. “I like what I do. Yeah, the travel is there. But it’s not really about that.”
President Harry S. Truman created the Air Force when he signed the National Security Act of 1947.