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'Gateway to Europe' ends 60-year airlift legacy

by Airman 1st Class Eric Donner
469th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Photos by Staff Sgt. Marie Cassetty

"The Spirit of Berlin," a C-17 Globemaster III, takes off during the base-closure ceremony Oct. 10, officially marking the an end of 60 years of airlift history Rhein-Mein Air Base Germany. (Inset, from left) Lt. Gen. Christopher A. Kelley, Air Mobility Command vice commander; Lt. Col. (ret.) Gail Halvorsen; and Col. Bradley Denison, 469th Air Base Group commander, unveil the newly named C-17 Globemaster III "Spirit of Rhein-Main" during the ceremony.

RHEIN-MAIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Although 60 years of airlift legacy came to a close, the "spirit" of this base will endure.

The long-time airlift hub closed during an Oct. 10 ceremony attended by U.S. and German dignitaries.

A C-17 Globemaster III bearing the name "Spirit of Rhein-Main" was unveiled by Lt. Gen. Christopher Kelly, Air Mobility Command vice commander; Col. Brad Denison, 469th Air Base Group commander; and retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, the famed "Candy Bomber" of the Berlin Airlift.

More than 800 servicemembers, veterans, civilian employees and well-wishers turned out to say farewell to the former "Gateway to Europe." A C-17 with the moniker, "Spirit of Berlin," made the symbolic last flight following the ceremony, dipping its wing toward Rhein-Main's hangars in a final goodbye.

Gen. Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, said the closure marks an ending and a beginning, referring to Frankfurt International Airport's planned expansion. Airport officials plan to add a third passenger terminal, which will be built where the base currently stands.

The general highlighted several groups that have served here over the years, from the veterans of the 1948 to 1949 Berlin Airlift to the current Airmen with the 469th ABG tasked with officially closing the base in December.

"From a grateful nation," said General Foglesong, "I'm here to say thank you to all those individuals that made this base famous."

U.S. Ambassador to Germany William R. Timken Jr. said although the base's legacy will not be forgotten, its closure marks a transition.

"This transition is part of a larger strategy to prepare NATO to meet the challenges of the 21st Century -- to defend freedom, strengthen democracy and provide a stable environment where prosperity can grow," he said.

Since 1949, Rhein-Main and the Frankfurt International Airport worked together to create the U.S. military's most important airlift base in Europe -- not only on the military side, but on the commercial side as well.

Dr. Wilhelm Bender, the airport's chairman of the board of executives, said it is with sadness that Rhein-Main comes to a close.

"Together we safeguarded peace and freedom," he said. "The closure is historic and emotional because we have to say goodbye to our American friends." After the ceremony, guests toured static display aircraft representing airlift and air refueling planes from the base's past.

The final military mission left here Sept. 26 and the final commercial flight took off Sept. 30, ending the operational mission of the base. The base's vital airlift support mission transitioned to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases Oct. 1. (Courtesy of United States Air Forces Europe News Service)

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