Event Pays Tribute To Berlin Airlift Of 1948




 
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May 18th, 2008  
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Topic: Event Pays Tribute To Berlin Airlift Of 1948


Washington Post
May 18, 2008
Pg. C1
Visitors See Plane That Delivered Aid
By Matt Zapotosky and Hamil R. Harris, Washington Post Staff Writer
Helga Johnson, 73, remembers fleeing her Berlin home in 1944 with the Russian army hot on her trail. She remembers coming back to Berlin a year later and nearly starving in the aftermath of World War II.
And she remembers the American airplanes, part of the Berlin Airlift, that flew over once every three minutes in 1948 to bring food and other supplies to the city enduring a Russian army blockade.
"The war was only over three years and we were hungry," Johnson said yesterday from the cockpit of the C-54 "Spirit of Freedom," a Berlin Airlift plane on display yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base's annual open house. "It brings back memories."
More than 150,000 visitors flocked to the air show to see modern fighter jets and antiques such as the "Spirit of Freedom." Attendance was so high, said Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy, a spokeswoman for the Joint Service Open House, that FedEx Field and the Branch Avenue Metro station, where visitors could catch buses to get to the base, had to turn people away.
The event was headlined by the Navy's Blue Angels. But the C-54 and Johnson, its self-proclaimed "Berliner mascot" -- there to mark the 60th anniversary of the airlift -- drew many sightseers.
"This is the main reason why I came out for the air show," said Mary Cocke, 53, an animal caretaker from the District's Adams Morgan neighborhood. "I'm not much of an airplane enthusiast."
Johnson was 14 when the Russian army blockaded Berlin, cutting off food as the war-torn city struggled. She always remembered the Americans that fed her during desperate times. When she became a U.S. citizen and met up with the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation at an air show in Reading, Pa., she knew she had to join.
"I gave them such a hug the first time I saw them," she said.
Johnson travels with the New Jersey-based foundation, sharing her story with anyone who comes to see the C-54.
"I'm a very proud American citizen," Johnson told a group yesterday, explaining how her immigration was in part a show of gratitude. "It's the best country in the world, no matter what."
The occasion was marked by much fanfare, including an appearance by Gail S. Halvorsen, a former U.S. airlift pilot known for throwing candy from the cockpit window to hungry children. There also was a presentation by German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth.
Halvorsen, too, is part of the flying classroom that travels to air shows across the country to tell a new generation what happened at the end of World War II.
"Flying this plane teaches young people that freedom doesn't come free," he said. "This airplane had a major role to play in the Berlin Airlift."
The foundation was the brainchild of Timothy Chopp, 64, the group's president and the C-54's pilot. He said he was always fascinated by the airlift, and when his mother died in 1988, he decided to find a real plane used in Berlin.
"It was a wake-up call for me that time moves on," said Chopp, who once worked as a commercial airline pilot. "I savor every second of it. The airplane talks to you as you're flying."
But his personal quest has become something more. Remembering the airlift reaffirms a German-American friendship that began in 1948, said Georg Schulze Zumkley, deputy director of the German Information Center at the German Embassy.
"It developed into a wonderful gift for the German people," he said. "We want to tell the American people that the German people are really grateful for what happened 60 years ago."
 


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