by Jessica Marie Ryan
Installation Management Command Europe
WIESBADEN — “All gave some, some gave all” were the words that summed up the courageous feats of military personnel who served in the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949. Community members remembered these acts of heroism during memorial services on June 10 and 11 at Lucius D. Clay Kaserne airfield at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.
The memorial services were a part of the Berlin Airlift’s 70th Anniversary commemoration. During the ceremony, garrison leaders, local officials, time witnesses and retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, the famed “candy bomber” and “chocolate pilot” during the Berlin Airlift, spoke to the audience about the historical significance of the airlift in military operations and its symbolism of friendship and alliance.
“The Berlin Airlift was the first time in history where military air transport was used to achieve diplomatic goals,” said local historian Dr. John Provan. “Only the Berlin Airlift has come to symbolize American resolve in supporting nations in time of need through the use of military air transport.”
During the Berlin Blockade from 1948 to 1949, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control.
The airlift, which started June 26, 1948, and ended Sept. 30, 1949, was a joint humanitarian effort between the U.S., British and French militaries to help those impacted by the blockade.
The airfield on Clay Kaserne served as a hub as pilots made frequent flights from Wiesbaden to Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. The U.S. Air Force transported 1.8 million tons to West Berlin, Provan said.
“A total of 75,000 individuals were directly involved in making the combined airlift task force work,” he added.
The community remembered 81 personnel — 13 Germans, 32 Americans and 36 British — who lost their lives in support of the airlift. A bell rang for each loss.
A lasting friendship
One of the Berlin Airlift pilots was Halvorsen, then a first lieutenant, who became known as the “Candy Bomber” for delivering candy to German children. He constructed makeshift parachutes with handkerchiefs so candy and other goods could drop from his plane into the children’s hands.
At 98 years old, Halvorsen attended the ceremony and spoke about his experiences.
“The real heroes are the Berliners,” he said. “They talked a lot about freedom and how much it meant to the human soul. The spirit of freedom is alive and well. We (the Americans) are glad to be here, and we are proud to be by your side forever if that is what it takes.”
By his side was Mercedes Wild, one of the Berliners, who was 7 years old during the airlift. Wild wrote a letter to the man she called the “chocolate pilot” and told him that his plane scared the family’s chickens. She then asked if he could drop candy by her family’s home.
Her story later became the subject of the children’s book “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.” Wild and Peter Witmer, USAG Wiesbaden school liaison officer, read excerpts from the book on stage.
Decades after the Berlin Airlift, Wild and Halvorsen reunited and formed a lasting friendship.
She reflected on the impact of Halvorsen’s acts of kindness on her life as well as on others’.
“Most of the children in school did not have a father because of the war. Col. Gail Halvorsen was a symbol of a father in my school,” she said.