Scattered throughout the Metro system, nondescript white posters celebrate the friendship between Germany and the United States and mark the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, when the U.S. saved West Berlin from starvation at the hands of the Soviet blockade in 1948.
I’ll admit that my American pride has suffered a bit over the last couple of years. During my year in Europe, I had to listen to the ranting and raving of countless holier-than-thou Europeans who never had a shortage of criticism for the United States. As those of you who have spent time abroad know, it can be a little depressing.
But the anniversary of the Berlin airlift this year gives us all the chance to be proud.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Gail Halverson, one of the American pilots to fly in the airlift, and his story reminds us of the role our nation played in shaping the 20th century. Wearing his former U.S. Air Force jumpsuit, Halverson stood proudly as he told me about his first airlift flight over the rubble of postwar Berlin.
“We had been trying to destroy each other,” he said, referring to the Americans and the Germans. He added that any reservations about helping his former enemy disappeared when a German put out his hand in friendship.
“He looked at me like I was an angel,” he said with tears in his eyes. “We had food and freedom, and Berlin wanted both. Most of the people in Berlin were women and children, and we just had to help.”
“It was a hell of a lot better to feed them than to kill them,” said Halverson, who is known in Berlin as the “Candy Bomber.” After seeing the throngs of children who gathered at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport to greet the airlift pilots, Halverson started delivering them candy.
I watched as thousands of Berliners gave Halverson – a living legend for Berliners – a hero’s welcome at a rally. Several in the crowd told me about the near-starvation they faced as a result of the Soviet blockade and expressed tearful thanks for the Americans like Halverson who saved them from starvation and guaranteed their freedom.
The U.S. opened a new embassy this summer on July 4, coinciding with the anniversary of the airlift. After having to leave Berlin during the Cold War – the West German capital moved to Bonn – the U.S. embassy has now returned to its original pre-World War II location.
Our new embassy overlooks the Brandenburg Gate, where Hitler marched his storm troopers, where the Soviet-backed East German regime built the Berlin Wall to imprison its people, where Ronald Reagan spoke out for freedom, and where thousands scaled the Berlin Wall to celebrate the end of the Cold War.
The embassy not only serves as a reminder of the historic sacrifices America has made, but it is also a symbol for the future that the United States remains committed to the principles Americans like Halverson so valiantly defended.
So as you run through the Metro, plowing your way through the hordes of clueless tourists, if you spot one of the airlift anniversary posters sandwiched between Viagra ads, take a moment to remember what this nation stands for.
Because of folks like Halverson, we can all be proud to be American, today and every day.