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Today is October 4, 2022

Grin 'n' Bare It

A cold winter in 1948

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

As Mr. Roy and I were driving to Mobile, Ala., in mid-December, the weather was a mixture of rain and sleet. Our oldest daughter Dawn’s flight was scheduled to arrive at 7:10 p.m. She lives in Salt Lake City.
    I turned to him. “I’m really worried about Dawn flying in this awful weather.” I shivered in fear and said a prayer.
    He shook his head. “Don’t worry. Flying in bad weather is safer than it use to be, say back during the Berlin Blockade.”
    I could feel a story coming on. Mr. Roy was big on telling stories to get my mind off a current dilemma. Especially one about an experience he had, or about someone who had shared an aviation story with him. Roy had worked at Brookley Air Force Base many years ago where he met men who had served in World War II. 
    “Is this story about your old friend Carl Hartley who lives in George County?”
    “Yep, that’s him. Carl enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 and was stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines in 1948. Carl was a flight engineer with a B-29 crew when he got his orders to report to a British Air Force Base in Fassburg, Germany.”
“The war was over in 1945. Why was he sent back to Germany?” I asked.
Mr. Roy turned the windshield wipers up faster. Now it was really raining.
“Well, something had occurred in June that became known as the Berlin Blockade. I know you taught high school history a few years—before you changed to speech therapy—but let me give you a brief history lesson.”
    My driver didn’t give me a chance to answer.
    “When the war ended, Germany was divided into four zones: U.S., Great Britain, French and Russian. Berlin was located in the middle of the Russian zone and it was also divided into the same four zones. An agreement was signed.”
    “Sounds perilous to me,” I said. “I never figured out why Roosevelt agreed to that.”
    Mr. Roy continued. “The Russians had the best deal because Berlin, the largest city, was located in the Russians’ East zone. So all four countries took a piece of the pie. Russia’s plan was to eventually take all of Germany. But for three years they didn’t interrupt the land passage into Berlin.
    “Then in June the Russians closed all land access to Berlin. Without some way to get food and other supplies, two and a half million people that lived in the western part of Berlin could not survive. That’s where Carl came in. He was part of hundreds of air crews sent to fly supplies into Berlin.”
    The massive effort became known as the Berlin Airlift.
    I held my hands up. “Stop! This would make a good column for Today in Mississippi.”
    After Dawn left, Mr. Roy and I were sitting in Carl Hartley’s living room as I asked him one question after another.
    “The first thing I remember is how bad the weather was, worst in decades in Germany,” he said. “It was grueling, hard work. Twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. I was there approximately eight months and didn’t have a day off.
    “Around the clock there were hundreds of aircraft, primarily C54s, flying in and out of Berlin. We took off from three different air bases at three-minute intervals and flew 500 feet apart like a stepladder.”      
    As I listened and thought of the many brave men like Carl who willingly fought and died for our country to remain free from dictators like Stalin, Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini, it made me think of Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.”
    “What did your plane transport?” I asked.
    “Coal. It took the unloading crew 20 minutes to unload 10 tons of coal. Engines were never turned off. Every day crews brought the following items.”
    I read from a list: 646 tons of flour, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat, 180 tons of potatoes, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, three tons of yeast, 144 tons of vegetables, 38 tons of salt, 10 tons of cheese. Also, 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline were flown in daily.
    I said, “Carl, I had no idea what a massive effort overcoming the blockade was. When you look back, what are your thoughts today?”
    “Well, I guess we helped a lot of people and possibly saved West Germany from Communism. To me it was just a job that had to be done. In 1948, that was mine. My six brothers served in the military and my father served in World War I.”
    I sat silent for a moment, then said, “Thank you, Mr. Carl Hartley.”
    Footnote: The Berlin Blockade ended May 12, 1949. Today Germany is free, in part because of the bravery of these airmen. And who knows, maybe we are too.

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