Speech from former Federal Minister Dr. h. c. Dirk Niebel to award the Rainer Hildebrandt Medal 2018

14. December 2018

Speech from former Federal Minister Dr. h. c. Dirk Niebel to award the Rainer Hildebrandt Medal to General Lucius D. Clay

Dear Madame President Hildebrandt,
Dear Mr. Charles C. Clay and family,
Dear Madame Deputy Ambassador Ms. QUINVILLE,
Your Excellences,
My dear generals and admirals,
Dear Antonia Rados,
Honourable ladies, honourable gentlemen, dear guests!

I am pleased to meet your request, Madame President Hildebrandt, to hold a laudatory speech about General Lucius D. Clay. At this historic site, just a stone’s throw away from the former crossing point at Checkpoint Charlie, we are able to honour him as this year’s recipient of the renowned Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Medal.

General Lucius Dubignon Clay is remembered to this day as the “Father of the Airlift”. Its 70th anniversary was celebrated on 25 June 2018.

At the time when the Airlift began, Lucius D. Clay was 50 years old – at the midpoint in his life.

He came into the world on 23 April 1898 in Marietta, Georgia. The sixth child of Senator Alexander Stephens Clay attended the famous military academy at West Point. Lucius D. Clay subsequently began his military career in the proud combat engineer troop of the United States Army, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Combat engineers are not only considered bold and versatile, but also extraordinarily technologically skilled. It is no wonder that the word “engineer” also applies to technicians and members of the combat engineer corps. Their skills include, among other things, fortress, field camp and bridge construction. The tactical sign for engineers used by NATO even depicts a stylised bridge.

Up until June 1948, Lucius D. Clay surely never thought that he would go down in history as the “airlift builder“. Yet there can be no doubt that he met the necessary qualifications. As an instructing officer in engineering at West Point, one of the things that he taught in the 1920s and ’30s was how to design airfields.

Toward the end of World War II he stabilised the French port of Cherbourg, one of the hubs of Allied logistics and thus vitally crucial to the liberation of Europe from National Socialist tyranny.

Yet Lucius D. Clay was a builder of bridges in another sense as well. As deputy to General Eisenhower and eventual deputy military governor of the American occupation zone, he quickly set to work on reconstructing former wartime opponent Germany. He recognised early on that if he did not, Europe was at risk of suffering under another dictatorship.

He consistently maintained this course of understanding with his former opponent after he was appointed military governor of the American occupation zone and Commander of U.S. Armed Forces in Europe on 15 March 1947.

Just a few months later Lucius D. Clay would be faced with an immense task that would test him.
Shortly after the beginning of the currency reform, the USSR closed land and water connections to West Berlin on 24 June 1948. The Western Allies could thus no longer supply their locations in the enclave in the middle of the Soviet occupation zone.

Firmly determined not to let this oppression bring him to his knees, Lucius D. Clay ordered the establishment of the Airlift one day later. The first supply flight happened one day after that.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As a reserve officer in the paratroopers I am used to leaving even functioning aircraft in the air before landing when possible. So pilots do not necessarily believe that paratroopers have a lot of flying expertise. But the boldness, the deftness with aircraft and the logistical output of the Airlift planes in “Operation Vittles” must be deemed outstanding to this day.

From 25 June 1948 to 30 September 1949, mainly Americans and Brits but also French, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans made 277,560 flights to deliver over 2.1 million tons of aid goods to Soviet-occupied Berlin. The raisin bombers, as they are affectionately known locally, also transported 227,655 passengers.

The Airlift absolutely made a significant contribution to German-American friendship, which still remains one of the pillars of freedom in Europe. Lucius D. Clay is thus rightfully known as one of its most important founders.

Not only for Berliners but also for all Germans, and our American friends, he still downright personifies openness, boldness and a love for freedom, and we all remember him.

The friendship between Germany and America is multi-faceted:
From personal and familial connections to political partnership and military alliance, to economic and industrial cooperation. For example the technology company Rheinmetall, for which I now work, works closely with American companies, such as Raytheon or Lockheed Martin – which produces state-of-the-art aircraft in Clay’s hometown of Marietta. Our claim is clear: we wish to provide those who stand up for our freedom and security every day with the best possible equipment. We protect them, and they protect us.

Ladies and gentlemen, the German-American partnership was not only established through the Airlift itself, but also through many small gestures on the margins of this aerial and logistical feat. “Operation Little Vittle”, established by U.S. Air Force pilot Colonel Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, remains legendary. During his raisin bomber flights he dropped sweets with mini-parachutes for the children of Berlin. You can see why, as a paratrooper, I find this act to be especially kind.

Yet I bring it up here for another reason. Since 2015, “Hal” Halvorsen has been a recipient of the Lucius D. Clay Medal, created in 1980. With it we distinguish individuals who have rendered services to German-American friendship. It is only one example of how the architect of the Berlin Airlift is honoured to this day.

And so I am very excited that today we are able to posthumously award General Lucius D. Clay with the Rainer Hildebrandt Medal.
I am also very pleased that Charles Clay, the grandson of the Father of the Airlift, is accepting it on his behalf. And that we are able to do this here in the Museum Haus at the former Checkpoint Charlie, which not only performs outstanding documentation of Berlin’s contemporary history, but also continues to work for freedom and international understanding.

Ladies and gentlemen!
Whether in a political, military, economic or industrial aspect, international understanding and friendship are always based on approaching one another. Combat engineer Lucius D. Clay had the courage to do it, in line with the motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “Essayons – let us try!”

The first steps result in more personal contacts and connections, which form the foundation for international understanding and friendship. In this regard, ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy about your participation in this ceremony here in Berlin. I wish for a pleasant event and stimulating conversation!

May our nations always remain bound together in friendship, no matter who is governing on either side of the Atlantic!

I thank you for your time!