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Posted on Apr 24, 2004 in Stuff We Like

A Reservist Flies the Berlin Airlift

By Edwin A. Gere (Jr.)

As January and February eased off, I was certified as a first pilot, and March turned into a good month for flying and building up tonnage deliveries. Then wonder of wonders, my wife, Doris, arrived in Bremerhaven from the states, along with a large group of military dependents. The catch, however, was that due to the relative absence of dependent living facilities in Fassberg, she and others were sent about 250 miles south to Bad Mergentheim, a dependent housing center just south of Wurzburg on the Tauber river.

On April 16, 1949 the renowned airlift Easter Parade produced a record 12,941 tons of coal delivered in 1398 flights, or almost one landing in Berlin each minute of the 24 hour period. Total deliveries were the equal of 22 freight trains of 50 cars each. We knew then that we had broken the back of the blockade. The Soviets eased off on their pressure, and high level talks initiated in February between Philip Jessup, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, and Jacob Malik, Soviet ambassador to the UN, designed to bring matters to an end, resulted in the eleven-month-long blockade being lifted on May 12. The airlift and build-up of supplies continued, however, until the end of September, just in case.


With the blockade at an end, having served on the airlift for more than eight months, and having made 184 round trips to Berlin, I was transferred to the 7350th Air Base Group at Tempelhof air base in Berlin with assignment as assistant operations officer. This time Doris went, too. It was a new and intriguing experience now to be involved in the airlift on the ground level, although I did continue to fly several times a month. Yet in the post-blockade winding down phase of the airlift, a changed, relaxed mood seemed to prevail whereas just a few months previously all had been tension. Doris and I went on a short leave to London, Paris, Austria, and Switzerland, during which time I reflected on events of the past year, a year in which I felt great pride to have taken part in such a massive humanitarian enterprise. In contemporary cold war discussions, when people are often more prone to remember the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 than the defeat of the Berlin blockade by the airlift in 1949, the question is often asked, Was the Berlin airlift a massive humanitarian undertaking or was it more accurately a political chess game of the cold war? My answer is that, given the diametrically opposed political philosophies of the western allies and the Soviets, there is no doubt that the two cannot be divorced. General Lucius D. Clay, the American commander in Germany, initiated the airlift in concert with General Sir Brian Robertson, the British commander. The two were determined that the west would remain in Berlin, while the Soviets were fully as intent on throwing us out. The western allies’ resolve converted itself into a memorable act of humanity–keeping the people of West Berlin alive. All of Berlin, all of Germany?and one might say, all of Europe– is alive, free and well today because of that resolve.

This article was originally published in The Friends Journal, the official journal of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Summer 2003 issue. Edwin A. Gere, Jr. has a book, The Unheralded: Men and Women of the Berlin Blockade and Airlift, which will be featured in an upcoming book review here at Armchair General.

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