A Moment in Air Force History

***image1***A Berlin Airlift memorial and its corresponding monument at Rhein-Main Air Base are present reminders of the U.S. airpower’s greatest Cold War victories.
Not long after the end of the airlift, the city of Berlin wanted to erect a monument to show gratitude to those who safeguarded its freedom. Professor Eduard Ludwig provided the half-bridge design with three tines of the monument signifying the three air corridors used to supply the city. The base was inscribed with the names of 31 American, 40 British and five German men who lost their lives while flying the airlift missions. The monument was dedicated at a huge ceremony at Tempelhof Airport July 10, 1951.

Its corresponding monument at Rhein-Main, however, was not built until 33 years later.

In the 1980s, the Luftbrücke Chapter of the Airlift Tanker Association in Frankfurt felt the monument was not visible to the rest of Europe, as West Berlin was still surrounded by a communist East Germany. They proposed construction of a replica at Rhein-Main facing West Berlin to raise awareness of the airlift.

It was a major undertaking. In addition to raising more than a half-million dollars in donations, the association had to obtain countless official approvals. One was needed from West Berlin itself in order to copy their monument. Another had to secure permission to build it on Rhein-Main, which meant convincing the Air Force of the monument’s value and to accept it as an unconditional donation. The monument’s value was easily seen, and the generous donation was happily accepted on behalf of the U.S. Air Force by the Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr.

With approvals cleared and fundraising secured, the groundbreaking ceremony took place Oct. 16, 1984. In honor of the event, one of the 435th Tactical Airlift Wing’s C-130s made a symbolic candy airdrop and a delivery of coal and flour to West Berlin. They returned with a ceremonial plate, a rose bush for the monument and a case of light bulbs – symbolic of Berlin’s main industry in 1949.

Less than six months later, Rhein-Main’s 62-foot monument was dedicated, but the monument was not finished. A C-47 Skytrain, nicknamed Gooney Bird, was added June 26, 1987 and a second aircraft, the C-54 Skymaster “Rosinen Bomber,” was added Aug. 30, 1990. Both were the type of aircraft used in the airlift.

In 1999, the ownership of the monument officially transferred to the Frankfurt Airport with the closure announcement of Rhein-Main. The ownership transfer of aircraft took place at a special signing ceremony on Dec. 23 at the Air Force Museum, which is now the National Museum of the Air Force. At the ceremony, the museum received several Berlin Wall sections and other artifacts for its new Cold War Gallery. With the ownership transfer completed, the airlift monument’s future was secured.

“The brave deeds of the Airmen of 1948 and 1949 must never be forgotten,” said Gen. John Vessey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, at the 1984 groundbreaking. ”This memorial will help a new generation of Americans and Europeans to remember the courage, compassion and professionalism of our predecessors.”
(Courtesy 435th Air Base Wing and 86th Airlift Wing history offices)