Former Pilots, Crews Gather to Remember Berlin Airlift
RHEIN-MAIN AIR BASE, West Germany (AP) _ Veterans of the Berlin airlift on Tuesday commemorated the crews who daily flew tons of supplies to break a Soviet blockade of Germany’s former capital that ended 40 years ago.
Among the 350 people attending the ceremony were former U.S. Navy and Army Air Force teams who risked their lives ferrying food to West Berliners during the 462-day Soviet blockade that began on June 26, 1948.
At least 79 aviation crewmembers lost their lives during the dramatic airlift that ended on Sept. 30, 1949, after 2.3 million tons of food and life- sustaining equipment were dropped into the city surrounded by what is now East Germany to keep 2 1/2 million West Berliners nourished and warm.
″It would take about 20 hours to fly here in a C54,″ recalled former Navy pilot A.L. Jones of Phoenix. ″We’d land in Newfoundland, the Azores, then on to Rhein-Main (West Germany) to get here.″
Jets now make the flight in one-third that time.
″No other event shows the turning point of German-American relations as impressively as the Berlin Airlift,″ said Wilhelm Knittel, deputy West German transportation minister, at the memorial ceremony.
″With the aid of the United States of America and through the strong will of the Berliners to remain free, the city became a symbol of freedom in the world,″ Knittel said.
Tommy Tomlinson, a 92-year-old former U.S. Navy captain, laid a wreath at the foot of Rhein-Main’s airlift memorial, a large cement monument pointed in the direction of Berlin.
Tomlinson, of Silverton, Ore., is the oldest surviving Berlin airlift pilot, and was in charge of U.S. Navy squadrons VR6 and VR8 based at Rhein- Main during the airlift.
Some pilots rose to fame during the dramatic 15-month airlift, like retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, known as the ″Candy Bomber″ for his idea of dropping raisins and sweets to Berlin children. But the airlift was a success because of the involvement of thousands behind the scenes.
″I was a store keeper in charge of ordering parts to repair and help keep those airplanes flying,″ said 68-year-old Ellis Dickson of Cupertino, Calif., as he watched the ceremony. ″We worked a lot of long, hard hours doing it.″
The reunion of former airlift crews was organized by the Airlift Associations in Frankfurt and West Berlin.