Berlin Airlift Veterans Return to Germany for Anniversary
(June 28, 2008)
June 27, 2008
For 50 years, Dub Southers recalled the
grueling hours he worked at an air
base in northern Germany at the start of the
Berlin Airlift, not the historical significance
of what he helped to achieve as a flight
engineer and crew chief.
He remembered well the coal being shipped in
from local coal fields, the 196 missions he flew
over Berlin and being a 20-year-old Air Force
staff sergeant keeping the C-54 Skymaster
"Coal was our basic cargo," said Southers, now
81 and living in Texas. "Occasionally, we flew
flour, but I can't recall anything other than
It wasn't until 1998 that
Southers started really thinking about the
importance of the airlift mission, which lasted
from June 1948 to May 1949 and provided vital
resources to the German city cut in half by
Soviet rule, he said.
As the anniversary
approached, he asked his daughter to search
online for activities happening in Berlin. Her
search found the Berlin Airlift Veterans Association, and he became its
Air Force Staff Sgt. Dub Southers poses
outside a Celle Air Base barracks during a break
in his Berlin Airlift duties. Courtesy photo
He ended up visiting Germany that year for
the 50th anniversary, and he and seven other association
members have returned to take part in 60th anniversary
They will re-enact the first flight of the airlift, he said,
and visit the memorial at Rhein-Main Air Base, get on a C-47
and fly the corridor from Frankfurt to Templehof Air Base in
Berlin, where there will be another memorial service.
"I was amazed [in 1998] how much progress had been made in
the Western sector of Berlin, and how little had been made
in the Eastern Zone at that time," he said. "By the time I
went again in 2004, it was better, though, and quite a bit
more had been done."
In November 1948, Germany was much different. Southers
arrived at Celle Air Base from his duty station at McChord
Field, Wash., as part of the initial group of airmen sent in
for the airlift mission. The Memphis, Tenn., native said he
couldn't believe the amount of fog that blanketed the area.
"That was really surprising to me," he said. "It was
actually a very nice area. After a few months, when we had
enough people, we were allowed to go off base into the town,
where there were actually some good places to eat and catch
The area hadn't been bombed. “I heard that the British
monarchy actually owned a castle in the area,” Southers
said, “and they didn't want that destroyed."
Those short trips to the city were a brief respite from the
busy work hours that dominated Southers' time at Celle Air
Base. The base was located near coal fields, which were
connected to the base. A platform was built right onto the
bays along the flightline so the coal could be stacked and
supplied to the aircraft right away.
The team of airmen was very short of personnel, especially
mechanics, Southers recalled.
"When I first got over there, we were working around the
clock, 12 [hours] on, 12 off, seven days a week. They
eventually hired local German aircraft mechanics who worked
alongside us. I remember them being very good, as they were
older and more experienced."
Southers returned to the United States in July 1949. He left
the military after three years, earned a degree in chemical
engineering and settled down with his family. He now works
as part-owner of a small software company.
"I didn't even think about [the Berlin Airlift] much," he
said. "I'm not even sure that my family knew I was involved
in it until a few years before the 50th anniversary. Of
course, the history books didn't have much about it either."
He said by observing the anniversary and remembering the 31
Americans who died in aircraft accidents during the mission,
Americans learn about the importance of the Berlin Airlift.
"At this point, I'm very proud of being a part of it," he
said. "I know that we affected history big-time. We call it
the first victory of the Cold War. Because of the Berlin
Airlift, Europe is free. All of Europe would have ended up
communist if we were run out."
He said during his first return to Germany, Germans actually
approached him with appreciation.
"We were wearing caps that identified us as Berlin Airlift
veterans, and I don't know how many times we were stopped
and thanked for what we did," he said.
He also pointed out that the Air Force today and the way it
does business is shaped by the Berlin Airlift mission.
"The cargo aircraft today was designed based upon lessons we
learned," he said. "At least, that's what they tell us. The
technology has changed, but a lot about the airlift mission
today is based upon what we learned back then."
Today's Air Force senior leaders agree the Berlin Airlift
was a huge moment for the service.
"The Berlin Airlift was a seminal moment for airpower and a
pivotal event in world history," said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb,
the Air Force vice chief of staff, during a recent ceremony
honoring another Berlin Airlift airman, retired Col. Gail
Halvorsen, also known as “the Candy Bomber” for his drops of
candy and chocolate for local children. "It showed the deep
compassion of the American people and sent a message of hope
and liberty to Berliners and to freedom-loving people around
Southers said he does not feel like a hero, despite the
pride he and fellow airmen share about their role in the
"The real heroes were the German people in Berlin who
suffered the things they put up with in the Eastern Zone,"
he said. "People just disappeared under the communist rule,
because they were speaking out for freedom. We provided what
they needed to get by. They are the ones who held out and
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein
Special to American Forces Press Service
Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein serves in the Secretary of the
Air Force Public Affairs Office.
See special report about the Berlin Airlift
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