Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Berlin Airlift: Cold War Heroism, Sixty Years Ago

A headline in today’s New York Times (registration required) mentioned the Berlin Airlift, a bright and shining moment of our nation’s humanitarianism nearly 60 years ago.

The Berlin Airlift was the US response to Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin, when he halted surface traffic into the city, cutting off food and fuel to two million West Berliners, already pummeled by war.

As you may recall, Germany was divided into four sections as World War II was winding down. The northeastern section went to the USSR and that included the crown jewel of German culture and government, the capital city of Berlin. In addition to dividing Germany, the Allies and Soviets also quartered Berlin among themselves. As a result, West Berlin was a political island of sorts, under Allied control but surrounded by Soviet occupation. That was no enviable position, with the Soviets controlling all roads and rails leading to the area.

And so it was that in June, that the mischievous Joseph Stalin – God will be his judge – halted surface traffic into West Berlin, making life quite difficult for civilians there.

The US response to that was to deliver food and fuel to West Berlin by air, thus the Berlin Airlift.

Last summer I was fortunate to be in Berlin for a missions-related lectureship. Our hotel was near Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing between the US and Soviet sectors of Berlin, the spot at which many people escaped to freedom after the Berlin Wall was erected in the 60's.

During the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, a heroic Captain Jack Bennett flew 24,000 flights between West Germany and West Berlin. His story is featured in the museum there.

His uniform is on display and as are his words: Flying a plane is such a privilege. It can be compared with the feeling of sitting on a throne, only a step below God.

During the airlift, men and women of the armed forces transporting many tons of food and fuel. A salute to those fine folks for their creativity and compassion.

So how about you, dear blog reader? Ever been to Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie? Know anyone who escaped from East Berlin?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The story of the Berlin Airlift was incredibly popular when I was a kid many moons ago [substitute the word "moons" for "decades" here], and now, like WWII, it's slowly being forgotten by younger generations, with the passage of time and the demise of it's facilitators [ground and air crews].

Try this site, if you're interested:

Prominently featured on this site is a bio of USAAF Colonel Gail Halvorsen, a giant of a man we joyously knew in my childhood as "der Shokolade Flieger."

With the collapse of the USSR now well behind us, it's likely difficult for younger generations in the West to fathom that we [free peoples] once devoutly listened to Radio Free Europe and believed we were about to be invaded and conquered by Zhukov's Red Army. Stranger things have happened.

I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I saw your photograph of Checkpoint Charlie and just wanted to tell your that you're very cute!