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Reader's Corner Idaho Statesman Column
Sun May 27, 2012
"Daring Young Men: The Heroism And Triumph Of The Berlin Airlift" By Richard Reeves
They had returned home to America from World War II victorious and ready for a new life that included wives, children and hastily constructed homes with Buicks parked out front. On June 26, 1948, all of that changed. Hundreds of former pilots, mechanics and navigators were suddenly recalled to duty, many with only 48 hours’ notice.
Their assignment? To keep the war-torn populace of West Berlin alive and out of the hands of the Communists. Three years earlier these same men had bombed the city. Now they needed to put aside their personal differences and give all they had to the Berlin Airlift.
Author Richard Reeves captures the sheer improbability of the operation, along with the tenacity and determination of those who made it happen anyway, in his informative and entertaining book “Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of the Berlin Airlift — June 1948-May 1949.”
From the Candy Bomber who dropped sweets to German children on the ground by fashioning parachutes out of handkerchiefs, to the former fighter pilots who risked their lives to navigate blindly through thick fog, Reeves details the bluster, pluck and downright inventiveness of the thousands of men and women who were called to assist the effort.
The airlift was the first “battle” in the new Cold War, precipitated by the introduction of a separate West German currency. Sensing an impending economic backlash, the Soviets imposed an immediate and total blockade on all ground traffic into the Allied sectors of the city.
Located more than 100 miles inside the Soviet-controlled zone, the German capital — divided into four sectors controlled by the Soviets, French, British and Americans — was instantly divided into “haves” and “have nots.” Without assistance, West Berliners would starve.
But the British had a plan — fly over the blockade using the large “workhorse” cargo planes from World War II, delivering food, clothing, coal, medical supplies and various other necessities to rescue residents and keep West Berlin free from Soviet domination.
By the end of the airlift, despite the political nay-sayers, “Operation Vittles” had ferried in about 2 million tons of desperately needed cargo, earning the undying gratitude of millions of Berliners and the admiration of an entire generation.
In April 1949, Stalin realized the futility of continuing a losing proposition and agreed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On May 12, supply trucks again rolled into West Berlin, greeted by thousands of citizens who thronged the streets, shouting “Hurra! Hurra! Wir leben Noch!” (“Hooray! Hooray! We are alive!”).
The book relies on firsthand accounts from American, British and German airmen, military records and contemporary news accounts to construct this amazing story of what might be termed the “curtain call” of the Greatest Generation. It’s a story worth telling and one we should never forget.
Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/05/27/2132396/the-astonishing-berlin-airlift.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy