WIESBADEN, Germany - French, British, German and U.S. dignitaries gathered at the Frankfurt Berlin Airlift Memorial on June 26, 2018, to commemorate the start of the yearlong humanitarian effort launched seven decades ago.

A host of speakers paid tribute to those who lost their lives during the Berlin Airlift which lasted from June 26, 1948, to Sept. 30, 1949, and stressed the continued need to promote international partnership and friendship.

"The Berlin Airlift was always a symbol … a compass for the future," said Hessen Minister President Volker Bouffier, alluding to the tensions of the Cold War era.

Describing the airlift as a valuable history lesson and a "masterful logistical achievement," Bouffier said, "It was a victory of freedom over dictatorship."

As members of the U.S. Air Forces Europe Ambassadors Band performed popular music from the period, speakers talked about the steadfastness and sacrifices made by former World War II foes of Germany during the Soviet Blockade of Berlin.

"This is a chance to thank those who contributed … and those who have cared for this memorial," said Bouffier, recognizing the members of the local Berlin Airlift Association.

"The airlift reminded the people of Berlin (more than 2 million starving Berliners) that they were not alone and that freedom wasn't a fantasy," said Peter Beyer, federal coordinator for Transatlantic Partnership, praising the Allied crews' "solid courage and commitment."

"Today's ceremony stands as a reminder of the trans-Atlantic partnerships and the bonds that unite us," Beyer added.

Frankfurt Mayor Uwe Becker said the airlift was an important milestone in the "building of a new and democratic Germany" -- and ultimately in the reunification of the nation four decades later.

"There have been many bridges built in the past … bridges of partnership and friendship," said Becker, pointing out that during the airlift that partnership and friendship was epitomized by the efforts of retired (Col.) Gail Halvorsen, the so-called "Candy Bomber." "He put a personal face on it."

While the 97-year-old Halvorsen was unable to attend the ceremony due to health reasons as he has at past commemorations in Germany, two of his children -- Denise and Marilyn -- were on hand to share a few thoughts from the airlift legend, famed for initiating a drive to bring chocolate and other goodies to the blockaded children of Berlin.

"We were working to feed the two-and-a-half million people of Berlin and to keep them free," Halvorsen was quoted as having written. … "The children taught me all the lessons of the airlift."

"The men and women of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe carry on his (Halvorsen's) legacy," said Maj. Gen. John Williams, mobilization assistant to the USAFE commander.

"Our shared commitment to peace and stability is the cornerstone of our shared partnership," said U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, pointing out that some 15 million Americans have lived in Germany during the past seven decades.

"The heroes of the airlift came from many countries," sharing the same goal, said Grenell, in "what would later be called the first battle of the Cold War."

"It was an ambitious plan never attempted before on this scale … through the Allied forces resolve, Berliners began to hope again," he said.

Other speakers included members of the British and French embassies, religious leaders and historian Dr. John Provan who detailed the events leading up to and following the Berlin Airlift. Provan talked about Operation Little Vittles which was inspired by Halvorsen with American school children collecting some 24 tons of candy to be shared with the children of Berlin by the Allied pilots.

"On May 12, 1949 the Soviet blockade ended," said Provan, adding that the airlift continued through September ultimately delivering more than 2 million tons of goods.

The event concluded with French, German, British and U.S. representatives paying their respects to the fallen after wreaths were placed at the memorial which represents the three air corridors maintained by the Allies during the Berlin Airlift -- a replica of a similar airlift monument in Berlin.