Danville man honored for role in Berlin airlift


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"When I went over to Germany in 1948, I was 18-years-old," said Mike Doyle, Air Force (retired).

In 1948, Danville's Mike Doyle had been in the Air Force nearly a year, which was about the length of time the new service had been in existence. And the Air Force was looking for volunteers to help with the first crisis of the Cold War.

"I had no idea where we were going or what we were going to do or what we were getting into," said Doyle.

The Soviets had blocked off rail and road access to the German city of Berlin. No food or medical supplies in -- no people getting out -- at least not on the ground. That meant the possibility of starvation, sickness and a cold, dark winter ahead for two million Berliners unless something was done.

"Over two million people would have died if we had not done this," said Doyle.

What they did was unprecedented; supply a major metropolis with food delivered exclusively by airplane -- up to 12,000 tons per day. It required hundreds of planes and thousands of U.S. and British pilots. At the height of it, a plane was landing or taking off from Berlin area airports every 60 seconds. It was dangerous work:

After World War II, Germany was divided into four zones; the U.S. controlled one, the British another, one for the French and one for the Soviet Union. Berlin was located entirely inside the Soviet sector. And allied planes had to stay inside one of three narrow air corridors, or face Soviet fighter planes. From June of 1948, to May of 1949 the air-bridge continued bringing food for adults, formula for babies, and coal to keep everyone warm. And finally, the Soviets saw the writing on the wall:

"When the Russians saw that they said, and May 12th, that's the anniversary, if they're that dedicated then we'll quit," said Doyle.

The Soviets opened the roads, but the air bridge continued till November just in case. Sixty years on, Mike Doyle is the vice mayor of Danville -- and one of only 35 air force veterans of the Berlin airlift invited back by the German government to be honored for the work they did.

"The mayor of Berlin is going to have a party for us along with 2,000 of his personal friends. He must be running for re-election," said Doyle.

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