Saturday, November 01, 2008

Peace As A Profession

I grew up in the United States Air Force, a good part of it in Strategic Air Command, the command that handled nuclear deterrence, including heavy bombers and missiles. I can still clearly recall the powder blue diagonal stripe, the mailed fist, and the proud motto, “Peace Is Our Profession.” I went on to serve in the Navy, but not due to any lack of respect or affection for the USAF.

What brings that to mind is that Templehof Field in Berlin closed yesterday, and Templehof evokes memories of the “Berlin Airlift,” one of this nation’s finer moments, and certainly one of the most glorious accomplishments of what would become the USAF. That airlift was one of those “it can't be done” things that got done because the alternative was unacceptable.

For those of my readers too young to recall, early in the Cold War the Russians closed the highways and railroads to Berlin in an effort to force us to concede that city to them by denying vital supplies to the citizens living in the half of the city controlled by the US and Britain. The only access to Berlin was by air, and the only operable airfield was Templehof.

Truman was determined to neither surrender Berlin nor go to war with Russia, so he determined that we would supply Berlin by air. The task seemed impossible. The airplanes were designed to fly long distances with few takeoffs and landings, and this was a very short with incessant takeoffs and landings that, it was believed, neither crews airplanes could withstand.

Withstand they did. For almost a year Templehof was the scene of ceaseless activity, day and night, 24/7. Not just food, they flew in thousands of tons of coal. More than a quarter million flights brought in more than two million tons of supplies that saved a city. Russia blinked, and West Berlin remained in our control.

The Air Force remained a proud and effective service for many years. I still remember watching flights of BUFF’s departing at precise thirty-second intervals; alternating right, left and center; each one wobbling in the wake of its predecessor. Zero failure. A scene repeated twice daily like clockwork, and the thought that one of those airplanes might not show up or even might not be on time, never imagined in a million years.

But something has gone horribly wrong.

A B-52 flies across the country with live nuclear weapons aboard and, worse, the flight crew does not know that they are live. At the destination the plane, weapons still aboard, sits untended for hours after the crew departs.

Just this week we learn that a fire occurs in a missile silo that contains a nuclear-tipped missile. No one on duty knew about the fire until it had already burned itself out.

I think I’m glad that my father is gone. I wish he were still here, but I think I’m glad he did not live to see this happen to his service.

1 comment:

bruce said...

The USAF chief of staff among others was made to leave the service because of the B-52 thing. Many heads rolled over this one. And yeah, Grandpa would have s**T a brick if he had heard of that one.

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