Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson discussed the significance of the 70th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift during a commemoration ceremony at the Air Force Memorial Sept. 16, 2018, in Arlington, Virginia.
The operation was initiated by the U.S. Air Force, the Royal Air Force and other allied forces in 1948 after Soviet occupational forces cut off supply channels to West Berlin. Lasting from June 26, 1948 to Sept. 30, 1949, the airlift provided over two million residents of West Berlin with food and other supplies.
“During the height of this remarkable operation that we commemorate today, American and British planes took off from, or landed at, [Berlin] Tempelhof Airport every 45 seconds,” Wilson said. “It took 60,000 Airmen to keep the Berlin Airlift going, and in doing so, we helped keep them alive.”
The Berlin Airlift is considered a building block and symbol of the alliance and friendship between the U.S. and Germany, and demonstrated the mission capability of the U.S. Air Force.
“We actually delivered more than two million tons of merchandise, which included coal, food and more, and we did this over more than 200,000 flights,” said Maj. (ret.) Ray Roberts, now president of the Berlin Airlift Veterans Association.
Wilson also shared a story when then-Gen. Lucius Clay, the commander in chief of U.S. Forces in Europe, at the time, asked then-Col. Curtis LeMay if he had any planes that could carry coal.
“[He answered] well, general, the Air Force can deliver anything, anytime, anywhere.” Wilson smiled. “Some things never change.”
During her speech, Wilson reflected on some of the artwork in the Pentagon that depicts the historical event.
“There’s one that always catches my eye when I walk by,” she said. “It is the iconic photograph of children standing on rubble, looking up as a C-47 comes in to land, bringing food and hope to Berlin. It’s a reminder of the ties that bind our nation together and have for 70 years.”
For more information about the Berlin airlift, visit: