'Service Before Self': Honoring the Berlin Airlift

Those of us who, while serving in the United States Armed Forces, found ourselves stationed in the American sector of Berlin after World War II and before the demise of the Berlin Wall knew that our mere location was steeped in history and import. One needed only to take a look at the pre-1989 map of Germany to know that our strategic situation was different, typifying the word "unique" -- a word which grated our nerves back then due to repetition.

Our presence in that place and at that time has a complex description but a simple meaning. We, along with the British and the French, occupied West Berlin while our Soviet counterparts occupied East Berlin. And, further, the entire city sat smack-dab in the middle of the USSR's premiere satellite country, the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany. We all know that this state of affairs ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. How the situation came to be is even more complicated; however, the transcendent symbolism wasn't. We were an entrenched island of freedom encircled by a sea of imposed and enforced communism -- a sea of totalitarianism -- and our position was a plum one, so plum that, sixty years ago this month, the Soviets tried to drive us out to make their hold on East Germany complete. We, however, were obliged to push back -- not by any type of treaty obligation, but by our own values. Thus was the first Cold War battle -- the Berlin Airlift of 1948 -- engaged and won.

All too few Americans are familiar with the Berlin Airlift, but all USAF basic trainees, officer candidates, and USAFA cadets can count on being required to recount the details of the mission also known as Operation Vittles. This mission is considered the first major successful venture of the infant United States Air Force, which had been in existence only one year.