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Coming Attractions: Revisit a Critical Historical Moment at Wings Over the Rockies

By Clarke Reader

When people think of the Cold War, images of nuclear bombs and covert spies are probably among the first images that come to mind. But for Stewart Bailey, collections manager at the Wings Over the Rockies museum, there’s something else he likes to focus on.

“The first battle of the Cold War was won by the Western Allies and was won with airplanes,” he said. “Not only that, but those airplanes didn’t have guns or bombs. Instead, for 11 months the Allies worked to support a city of 2.6 million people entirely by air.”

The story of that battle is told in the Air and Space Museum’s, 7711 East Academy Blvd. in Denver, new exhibit, The Berlin Airlift: Supplies from the Sky. The exhibition runs through Monday, May 27, and marks the 75th anniversary of the Airlift.

The exhibit tells the story of the nearly year-long effort by the United States, Britain and other countries to keep the people of Berlin alive during the Berlin Blockade, when the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control.

“At the beginning, the Allies were using any kind of plane that could handle cargo and there were some accidents and a lot of confusion,” Bailey said. “Eventually it got better and the efforts were extremely efficient. There were planes coming in with materials like coal on average of every three minutes.”

The creation of the exhibit is largely due to donations from two families who had members who participated in the Airlift, including Denver resident Thomas Moss, who was a C-54 pilot during the events. His daughters Barbara Drury and Linda Lewis donated many of their father’s artifacts to the museum and that provided the backbone for the story told in the display.

“This exhibit isn’t so much about the planes and technology as it is about the people and the human experience of what they went through,” Bailey said. “I think it’s powerful because it shows how people’s opinions can change — we went from years of fighting the Germans to helping them and Germans went through years of fearing the sound of Allied planes to finding hope in it.”

As well as donated artifacts, the exhibit features a lot of photos and creative set dressing to give just a taste of what being in bombed-out Berlin would be like. The aim was also to make it interactive for all ages, so it includes activities like weight and balance exercises and more.

In addition to learning more about a historical event that many people might not be aware of, Bailey hopes visitors come away with a greater appreciation of the many ways the Berlin Airlift influenced the ensuing decades.

“One of the key takeaways from this exhibit is that freedom is something to be valued and supported,” he said. “In many ways, the Airlift still echoes through our world today.”

Tickets and details can be found at https://wingsmuseum.org/exhibits/berlin-airlift/.

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