Admiration, gratitude, and tears: memories of the Berlin Airlift seventy-five years later

By Michael KenfieldMay 31, 2024

Admiration, gratitude, and tears: memories of the Berlin Airlift seventy-five years later
Close to Germany’s Frankfurt Airport a memorial stands in honorarium to the legacy of the Berlin Airlift. Poised majestically, as part of that memorial, in proximity to the frenetic chaos of the autobahn stands a U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrain.

Whenever she sees the memorial, Frankfurt resident Gila Gordon, remembers a part of her life that brings admiration and gratitude to a people she reflects on as more than friends.

“When we became the west sector - the American sector – for us happiness began again (…) in my mind [the Americans] were not only friends, they were really heroes, really heroes.”

(Photo courtesy of SGT Austin Baker, AFN Wiesbaden) (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

Story by Mike Kenfield and Roland Schedel

WIESBADEN, Germany – Following World War II, Berlin was partitioned into sectors that were administered by the allied powers France, Great Britain, the United States, and Soviet Union.

However, beginning in June 1948, as tensions between east and west began to intensify, a rail, road, and canal blockade was put in place by the Soviets to cut off western access to the city. This blockade threatened more than 2 million West Berliners with a lack of food and fuel.

In response to the blockade, two former allied powers – the U.S. and Great Britain – devised a plan to airlift food and supplies to the city’s beleaguered inhabitants.

Gila Gordon, time witness of the Berlin Airlift, speaks about her experience as a teenager during the Berlin Airlift in 1948, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen, DE, March 28, 2024. The Berlin Airlift was a historic humanitarian effort to supply West Berlin with life essentials by air during a Soviet blockade from 1948-1949. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Austin Baker)

“It was a historic event, and the largest humanitarian airlift in history. The Berlin Airlift was also the beginning of a partnership, and eventual alliance, between the United States and Germany that only continues to grow today,” said U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Commander Col. David W. Mayfield.

From July 1948 to May 1949, utilizing nine airfields located throughout west Germany, including Wiesbaden Army Airfield, the air forces of the U.S and Great Britain were able to fly more than 4 million tons of supplies into Berlin’s Tempelhof Airfield.

“U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, previously an Air Force airfield, was one of the main locations that launched aircraft in support of the Berlin Airlift,” added Mayfield.

A schoolgirl’s recollection

For Gila Gordon, who was a young schoolgirl throughout WWII and during the Berlin Airlift, her memories of that time bring happy tears of joy each time she remembers.

Gordon remembered the Berlin Airlift as a deliverance, as it let the west Berliners know that they were not lost and under Russian control.

Witnessing the airlift and seeing the constant air activity that brought life sustaining support to more than 2 million isolated Berliners was exciting for Gordon.

“I always stood in the garden to wave [to] the incoming planes.”

According to the U.S. State Department website, a resupply aircraft landed at the Berlin airfield every 45 seconds.


For Gordon and her family, they were able to subsist on vegetables harvested from her family’s garden, but she remembers the cold that winter.

She remembers beginning her days washing, daily, with cold water, in a home that used bags to block holes in the doors of her home – heated by a single small stove.

“We did not starve, we had a garden, so we had enough food to eat but our house was in a very bad condition,” said Gordon.

School did not improve Gordon’s prospects for more warmth during the winter months.

“In the morning as we got ready for school with icy water, before going to school in poor shoes … once at school we left our coats on because it was so cold,” she recalled.

However, the afternoons brought a nice warm treat in the form of a lunch of hot soup.

“We were lucky … we got a nice lunch that we would had all together … it was provided by the Americans [and] it would change from day to day – it was nice.”

Youth Club

Seventy-five years later, remembering her afterschool activities brought back her schoolgirl exuberance and tears of joy.

“After our lessons ended, in the afternoon, we would go to the youth club that was established in the American sector of Berlin,” said Gordon.

One of the big factors that appealed to the children, besides available activities, was heat.

“It was heated … it was warm.”

Gordon found friends and things to do, at the American youth club. However the opportunity to be warm while having fun was a compelling factor that drew in many.

Gila said the American Soldiers established the youth club for Berliner children in the American sector of Berlin. The club offered children the chance to meet different groups and enjoy various activities. It was there that Gordon was able to, once again, showcase her artistic and performance talents openly and without fear.

“We learned so much.”

Music returns

Throughout the Nazi regime certain music was regulated. Many contemporary composers and some music genres – such as American jazz and swing – deemed to be of Jewish origin or considered anti-German were labeled as degenerate and, therefore, censored by the oppressive government.

Reminiscing of her time during the blockade of Berlin, Gordon spoke about her memory of music, at the American youth center, following the end of the war. Long suffering from the deprivation of contemporary music, several older boys started a big band to bring the joyous melodies to the music- starved senses of Gordon and her friends.

“Very soon, we had the lovely sound of Glen Miller in the youth club, and we danced [the] boogie woogie,” said Gordon with a broad smile and a twinkle in her eye.

Best memory

For the 13-year-old schoolgirl, with the good voice, she fondly recalls her memories of the American Youth Club, with an electric smile.

“I was an opera singer and was in a music group,” she said.

At the American club she was able to showcase her artistic talents starring as Hansel in the club’s version of the Engelbert Humperdinck Opera “Hansel and Gretel.”

“My best memory is of the American Youth Club.”

USAG Wiesbaden Berlin Airlift Observance

“It is important to remember when the airlift came to Berlin,” said Gordon.

U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, together with the State of Hesse, will host a public commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift on June 15 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and June 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There will also be a school-focused day on June 17, which is primarily for surrounding schools.

For more information on how to attend this observance, visit the USAG Wiesbaden Berlin Airlift webpage:

USAG Wiesbaden 75th Berlin Airlift anniversary video:

Berlin Airlift fact sheet, visit: