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DoD News Briefing: 50th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. John Hamre
July 23, 1998
I would like to join first of all in thanking all of the sponsors tonight who have been so gracious and willing to host this ceremony: The USO of Metropolitan Washington, the German Embassy, the City of Berlin, the German Marshall Fund, the American Council on Germany and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. We are very grateful that you would recognize these American heroes who fifty years ago sought to serve their country and sought to serve freedom.

May I also say thank you to the German people for how graciously you have received and welcomed American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines these last fifty years. We are very grateful. Thank you.

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, so do we also celebrate 50 years of the enduring friendship between Germany and the United States. It is a friendship grounded in our shared sacrifice, our shared success and our common vision of democracy and freedom. It is a friendship which Americans treasure and which we look forward to carrying into the next century.

The friendship between Germany and the US was born in one of this century's defining events. Fifty years ago, as Joseph Stalin's Iron Curtain descended around a free Berlin, the last battleground of a World War turned into the first battleground of the Cold War. In the early days of the blockade, Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter implored, "People of the world, look at Berlin!" "Volker der Welt, schaut auf Berlin!"

The world did indeed look at Berlin. And what it saw was not just a city, but a symbol; a symbol of resolve, a symbol of defiance, and, ultimately, a symbol of freedom. When the world looked at Berlin, it saw Berliners facing overwhelming odds, turning fields into runways and unloading the food and fuel of freedom from a bridge in the sky.

When the world looked at Berlin, it saw Allies committed to a free Germany. When the world looked at Berlin, it also saw the future, for the Airlift truly shaped the Cold War period.

Every day of the Airlift our pilots were thundering across the German sky into a battle not of bullets, but of ideas -- of liberty, of freedom and of democracy. And they turned one of freedom's darkest days into one of its brightest triumphs.

For America, the Airlift was a wake-up call. It made us realize that unlike the past, we could not withdraw safely behind our shores, secure behind an Atlantic barrier. After two World Wars, the Airlift confirmed that American and European security were inextricably bound together. The Airlift proved that the cost of avoiding tyranny and destruction tomorrow was vigilance and commitment today. And it confirmed, yet again, that freedom is never free.

Let there be no doubt: History will remember the story of Berlin; a story about how the spirit of liberty can tear down the mightiest walls of oppression. Today, that spirit reminds us that America must remain engaged in the world and in Europe. That spirit lives on, inspiring and nurturing the trans-Atlantic alliance and energizing our efforts to help Europeans shape their own future. It is alive as we build new bridges and extend the hand of NATO friendship and membership to Hungary, to Poland and to the Czech Republic. It is alive in the Partnership for Peace, and in our efforts to build a foundation of cooperation with countries in transition, like Russia and Ukraine. And it is alive as we cool the cauldrons of hate in places like Bosnia. Indeed, the spirit of Berlin, the spirit of liberty, is helping us reach across old divides to help European friends build a new Europe for a new century.

Just last month, I was privileged to participate in the opening of the Allied Museum in Berlin. The Allied Museum is now the home of one of the most poignant symbols of the Cold War, the guardhouse called Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie is one of those symbols that resonates in the hearts of Americans and all our allies. It was a passageway to freedom and a fragile, yet defiant, outpost against tyranny.

Checkpoint Charlie now sits in that museum in Berlin, its job as a guardhouse is done. Now, let us commit to build a Europe in which we need no new Checkpoint Charlies. Let us commit to build a Europe where there is no need for concrete walls and barbed wire to keep people in and to keep ideas out. Let us commit to build a Europe that is itself a gateway to openness and freedom for all mankind. Let us Americans recommit ourselves to be active partners in Europe. Let us take the bravery of those who flew the Airlift as a symbol of that commitment. And let us always remember Berlin as the ultimate symbol of that freedom we cherish and must always defend. Thank you very much. (Applause.)