Guest columnist William Lambers: Honor Air Force’s birthday by reproducing mission of hope

  • U.S. Navy and Air Force aircrafts unload at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift. U.S. AIR FORCE

  • West Berliners watch a C-54 land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport in 1948. HENRY RIES, USAF/VIA WIKIMEDIA

Published: 9/18/2023 6:00:20 AM

As we celebrate the birthday of the U.S. Air Force, let’s remember what one of its first missions represented: hope.

For today with so much suffering abroad from conflict and climate change, the world needs hope.

The Air Force was officially established on Sept. 18, 1947 as an independent branch of the military. Stuart Symington was sworn in as the first secretary of the Air Force on that date. During World War II, the Air Force was part of the Army.

Less than a year after its official creation, the Air Force was called into action to save a city from starvation.

It was June 1948 and the Cold War was now taking hostile shape between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets blocked access to West Berlin, which was one of the U.S. areas of occupation within Germany following World War II. The city of Berlin was split into West Berlin, which was with the Allies, while East Berlin which was under Soviet control.

Berlin was deep inside the Soviet zone of occupation in East Germany. This meant West Berlin could potentially be starved into submission by the Soviets through a blockade. By stopping road and rail access to West Berlin, the Soviets were attempting to do this. U.S. Gen. Lucius Clay wrote “it was one of the most ruthless efforts in modern times to use mass starvation for political coercion.”

But the U.S. Air Force would not let that happen. The Berlin Airlift was started in June 1948. Supplies would be brought in by air to West Berlin, avoiding the Soviet blockade. One of the first deliveries to West Berlin was milk to prevent hunger and malnutrition among children.

There were more than 277,000 flights to follow from the U.S. and the Allies, all bringing precious supplies to West Berlin to keep the city alive. Food, coal, clothing and other necessities were landed inside West Berlin on constant daily basis, even by the minute. There were tragically over 100 fatalities among pilots and crew in the airlift.

Eventually the Soviet Union gave up on the blockade in 1949. They had been defeated in that round of the Cold War. West Berlin was saved and could remain free because of the airlift.

At one point, a German boy in West Berlin saw a parachute drop from the sky with a Hershey chocolate bar. The chocolate bar represented what all the aid meant for Berlin: hope. They knew somebody cared to rescue them. As U.S. pilot Gail Halvorsen said, “Without hope, the soul dies.”

Today millions of people around the world are losing hope as they face starvation because of conflict and climate change. Conflicts in Yemen, Sudan, D.R. Congo, Haiti, Syria and so many other areas have led to increasing hunger. Drought in Somalia and the Horn of Africa is increasing the risk of famine. The Sahel region of Africa is suffering hunger from conflict and drought.

Ukraine’s precious supply of wheat has been under siege since Russia’s invasion, which is worsening hunger everywhere.

Food aid budgets are not keeping up and rations have been cut in many relief missions. People are losing hope worldwide. Children are starving to death in these hunger-afflicted nations.

They all need their own “Berlin Airlift” of sorts. A continuing steady and robust stream of aid needs to be supplied to save millions from starvation.

What inspires us about the U.S. Air Force is their dedication and planning to complete a mission. This is what happened in the Berlin Airlift and what needs to happen for other nations today.

You can help by being an advocate for global food aid. You can bring hope to nations under siege the same way the U.S. Air Force did for West Berlin in one of its first and greatest missions.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.”


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