Former US pilot Gail Halvorsen - who participated in the Berlin Airlift - distributes sweets to members of a Berlin baseball team and US Scouts at a ceremony at the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin May 11, 2019.

70 Years after the Blockade of 1949, Berlin Honors its Heroes

General News

Tens of thousands in Berlin commemorated Sunday 12th May, 2019 the end of the blockade of their city in 1949, paying tribute including an American pilot.

Tens of thousands of people from Berlin commemorated Sunday, May 12, 2019 the end of the blockade of their city in 1949 , a major episode of the Cold War, including paying tribute to a 98-year-old American pilot .

“Berlin is my second homeland, thank you! Said former aviator Gail Halvorsen at a party on the site of Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport, now a public park.

He was long applauded by the crowd, gathered under a spring sun. “We have a nice day today, but the time of the Berlin airlift was not good most of the time,” he joked, wearing his uniform of the time.

“Operation Berlin Airlift”

The nonagenarian remains a hero for many Berliners, who affectionately nicknamed him “Tonton who flies wings” or “flying chocolate”.

He participated, between June 1948 and September 1949, in the famous “Operation Berlin Airlift”.

Several thousand planes, mostly British and American, had helped to open up more than two million West Berliners by refueling them, thus bypassing the Soviet road and maritime blockade around this part of the city.

It had been set up by the USSR with the ultimate hope of gaining control of West Berlin, under the administration of the Allies, and so of all of eastern Germany.

Former US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen receives flowers from a young girl at a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift on May 11, 2019 in Berlin.
Former US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen receives flowers from a young girl at a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift on May 11, 2019 in Berlin. (© AFP / MICHELE TANTUSSI)

Candy drop

Gail Halvorsen was one of the first pilots involved in the airlift to West Berlin, the “Rosinenbomber”, the Raisin Bomber.

And he wrote a page of history with the idea of ​​dropping treats in small parachutes of its manufacture for the children of the city. An initiative that was later generalized by the Allies.

Gail Halvorsen also explained to the Berlin children he met at the time near the airport that he would tilt the wings of his plane while flying over the city, as a sign of recognition to prevent a drop. That’s what got him called “Tonton who flutters”.

The 98-year-old American aviator, who has come with his daughters, Denise Williams and Marilyn Sorensen, now has a baseball field in Berlin that bears his name on the site of the former Tempelhof airport.

“The US commitment was the outstretched hand of the former enemy to Germany” as well as “an act of resistance against the dictatorship,” said German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Gail Halvorsen poses with a jersey of the local Berlin Braves baseball team during a ceremony at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin on 11 May 2019.
Gail Halvorsen poses with a jersey of the local Berlin Braves baseball team during a ceremony at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin on 11 May 2019. (© AFP / MICHELE TANTUSSI)

“Best ambassador”

The veteran, who was elevated to the rank of colonel and returned to Berlin in the 1970s as commander of the Tempelhof airport, signed several autographs on vintage photos and distributed candies to children at the ceremony. is spread throughout the weekend.

“I urge young people to keep an open mind knowing that some leaders will lead free people in the wrong direction,” warned Gail Halvorsen.

“Freedom is important and sometimes you have to fight for it.”

He remains a much appreciated figure of Berliners who lived at that time, like Mercedes Wild, 78, who at the age of seven had written to the pilot to … complain about not being able to catch a small parachute sugar.

To her surprise, she received a letter from the airman, accompanied by chewing gum and a lollipop, marking the beginning of a long friendship between the two families.

“He has become a father figure for me (…) he is the best ambassador we can have to value the German-American friendship,” she says.

A total of 277,000 flights will have brought some two million tons of basic necessities. The pilots will have traveled 175 million kilometers, and 78 people will lose their lives. And in the end the blockade was lifted without compensation.

70 Years after the Blockade of 1949, Berlin Honors its Heroes 1

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