Berlin Airlift veterans, families reunite: ‘I was doing a job. That’s all’

Veterans who made history have been reuniting and exploring that history this week with visits to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the Springfield Air National Guard Base and other Miami Valley sites.

On the agenda Friday: Lunch at Young’s Jersey Dairy in Clark County for a group of veterans who assisted the Western Allies in the Berlin Airlift, their spouses, children and friends, about 100 people all told.

Starting in late June 1948 and continuing until mid-May 1949, U.S. and Western allies launched a massive, regular airlift to counter the blockade of Berlin by the Soviet Union. Food, coal and other materials, formerly shipped by rail or truck, were parachuted down to some 2 million blockaded Berliners, isolated about 100 miles deep in what was the Soviet occupation zone in East Germany.

In all, nearly 190,000 U.S. and British flights dropping more than 2 million tons of supplies kept Berliners fed and warm until the Soviets abandoned the blockade.

“Soon it became clear that the West had not only won a victory against logistics, but also a moral victory, which drew the admiration of the world,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a retrospective on the effort.

Ralph Dionne, an C-54 aircraft mechanic, said he and his fellow Airmen and soldiers didn’t realize they were making history.

“No,” Dionne said. “I was doing a job. That’s all. I didn’t brag about it. My boys, my children, they didn’t know about the Berlin (Airlift) until later years.”

After three months of working as a mechanic, he said his superiors approached him and asked him if he wanted to be a flight engineer.

“I said, ‘Yes, I would,’” Dionne recalled “‘What do I do, sir?’”

His officer told him: “You just do what the pilot tells you to do. That’s your job. Get on that airplane right over there.”

What followed were 300 flight hours, between England and Germany. “It kept us busy,” Dionne said. “I’ll never forget it.”

The effort “changed the whole complex of Europe, and kept them from all speaking Russian,” he added.

Veteran William DeWalt said he served as an airplane mechanic at Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico supporting the airlift.

“We worked 24 hours a day,” DeWalt said. “I don’t consider myself actually a veteran of the Airlift, but I did my share, my contribution.”

Cathy Young, wife of Dan Young, Young Dairy’s chief executive, is the daughter of an pilot who flew in the Airlift, Larry Baldwin, who left the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel.

“He was very proud, and I was very proud of him, for the service that he did,” Cathy Young said.

In 2003, she and her family visited Germany with her father. She recalled that her father visited an Allied museum, where the docent hugged him out of gratitude.

The docent “was crying,” she said. “He said, ‘We would not have survived if it had not been for you people.’ That’s just what my father wanted to hear — it was appreciated.”

Greene County Commissioner and former Air Force officer Rick Perales spoke to some of the veterans Wednesday evening at the Hope Hotel at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “Amazing folks and achievements,” he said.

Eddie Ide, reunion chairman for the Berlin Airlift Veterans Alliance, said the average age of members is “like 92, 93 years old.” The alliance includes groups of pilots, maintainers, Americans, British and Germans who benefitted from the Allied efforts.

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