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Clinton Rekindles Airlift Spirit

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BERLIN, May 18, 1998 – Rekindling the spirit of the Berlin Airlift, President Clinton told cheering Germans and Americans here European allies must remain united in the quest for peace.

"Today a new generation must relearn the lessons of the airlift and bring them to bear on the challenges of this new era, for the Cold War is history," Clinton said at Tempelhof Airport here. "A democratic Russia is our partner, and, for the first time, we have a chance to build a new Europe, undivided, democratic and at peace."

Today's possibilities are not tomorrow's guarantees, Clinton told those gathered to commemorate the airlift's 50th anniversary. "For all the progress of our time, we are not free from peril. That is why I hope both Americans and Germans will always remember the lesson of what happened here 50 years ago. We cannot relinquish the responsibilities of leadership, for the struggle for freedom never ends."

Clinton appeared with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who described the airlift as "one of the greatest deeds in history."

Standing in front of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III renamed "The Spirit of Berlin" at the ceremony, Clinton recapped highlights of the post-World War II relief effort:

The Russians blockaded Allied road and rail access to Berlin on June 24, 1948. "It was war by starvation, with more than 2 million lives hanging in the balance," Clinton said. "Some saw no solution and reluctantly advised evacuation. The fate of free Berlin hung by a thread.

"No one really thought it was possible to supply a city by air," he said continued. "A few visionaries, however, were convinced it could be done. They had no precedence, just the simple rules of conscience and ingenuity that determine all our best actions."

President Harry Truman rejected evacuation on June 28: "There is no discussion on that point. We stay in Berlin," he said. Between June 1948 and May 1949, allied airmen flew more than a quarter million sorties day and night -- a supply plane landed at Tempelhof roughly every 90 seconds at the operation's height.

The planes carried food and fuel, and "the most precious cargo -- hope," Clinton said. He hailed American veterans who participated in the massive effort, including Army Gen. Lucius D. Clay, military governor of Germany's U.S. Zone; Air Force Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, airlift commander; and bomber pilot Gail Halvorsen, whose habit of dropping tiny, candy-laden parachutes for Berlin's children earned him national headlines.

He also saluted Berliners. "Your fearless mayor, Ernst Reuter, inspired Americans and Germans alike when he stood before a rally and said, 'We cannot be bartered. We cannot be negotiated. We cannot be sold.'"

"The airlift came to represent a sharing of the soul," telling people to never to give up or lose faith, Clinton said. "Adversity can be conquered, prayers can be answered, hopes realized. Freedom is worth standing up for."

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