‘Gateway to Europe’ ends 60-year airlift legacy

Airman 1st Class Eric Donner
469th Air Base Group Public Affairs

RHEIN-MAIN AIR BASE, Germany — Although 60 years of airlift legacy came to a close, the “spirit” of this base will endure.

The longtime airlift hub closed during an Oct. 10 ceremony attended by U.S. and German dignitaries.

A C-17 Globemaster III bearing the name “Spirit of Rhein-Main” was
unveiled by Lt. Gen. Christopher Kelly, Air Mobility Command vice
commander; Col. Bradley Denison, 469th Air Base Group commander; and
retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, the famed “Candy Bomber” of the Berlin

More than 800 servicemembers, veterans, civilian employees and
well-wishers turned out to say farewell to the former “Gateway to
Europe.” A C-17 with the moniker, “Spirit of Berlin,” made the symbolic
last flight following the ceremony, dipping its wing toward
Rhein-Main’s hangars in a final goodbye.

Gen. Robert H. “Doc” Foglesong, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander,
said the closure marks an ending and a beginning, referring to
Frankfurt International Airport’s planned expansion. Airport officials
plan to add a third passenger terminal, which will be built where the
base currently stands.
***image2***The general highlighted several groups that have served here over the
years, from the veterans of the 1948 to 1949 Berlin Airlift to the
current Airmen with the 469th ABG tasked with officially closing the
base in December.

***image3******image4***“From a grateful nation,” said General Foglesong, “I’m here to say
thank you to all those individuals that made this base famous.”

U.S. Ambassador to Germany William R. Timken Jr. said although the
base’s legacy will not be forgotten, its closure marks a transition.

“This transition is part of a larger strategy to prepare NATO to meet
the challenges of the 21st Century — to defend freedom, strengthen
democracy and provide a stable environment where prosperity can grow,”
he said.

Since 1949, Rhein-Main and the Frankfurt International Airport worked
together to create the U.S. military’s most important airlift base in
Europe — not only on the military side, but on the commercial side as

Dr. Wilhelm Bender, the airport’s chairman of the board of executives,
said it is with sadness that Rhein-Main comes to a close.

***image5***“Together we safeguarded peace and freedom,” he said. “The closure is
historic and emotional because we have to say goodbye to our American

After the ceremony, guests toured static display aircraft representing airlift and air refueling planes from the base’s past.

The final military mission left here Sept. 26 and the final commercial
flight took off Sept. 30, ending the operational mission of the base.
The base’s vital airlift support mission transitioned to Ramstein and
Spangdahlem air bases Oct. 1.