Berlin is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the Soviet blockade that strangled the German capital in the years following World War II and sparked the Berlin airlift, the biggest postwar humanitarian operation of its kind.
Officials and guests, including some U.S. soldiers who helped with plane missions that dropped small packages of sweets attached to tiny parachutes to West Berliners, will meet on May 12 at the Tempelhof airfield to commemorate the date.
U.S. Colonel Gail Halvorsen, known as the "Candy Bomber" for coming up with the idea of dropping candy to those inside the blockade area, attended the celebrations.
"If you lose your freedom, you'll never get it back," Halvorsen, now 98, told students as part of the events commemorating the end of the Soviet move.
The blockade started on June 24, 1948, when Soviet leader Josef Stalin cut off all road, rail, and water routes through communist East Germany into the western portion of the divided city.
His aim -- to conquer what was an enclave inside the Soviet-controlled east. It was the culmination of tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western powers that shared in Germany's postwar occupation.
But two days later, the first planes carrying much-needed supplies began flying in from West Germany. It was the beginning of the Berlin airlift -- the biggest humanitarian operation of its kind.
Over the next year, U.S. and British planes made nearly 300,000 flights, delivering more than 2 million tons of food, fuel, and other supplies in order to keep over 2 million people alive.
U.S. and British planes used an air corridor less than 2 kilometers wide to fly from Celle in to Berlin. Any plane that strayed from that airspace risked the Soviets' wrath.
In May 1949, the Soviet blockade was lifted -- though the Allies' flights continued for several more months.