In 1948, with a victory in World War II still fresh on their minds, American pilots, navigators and mechanics started receiving calls to report back to duty. This time, though, they were called to help the citizens of West Berlin instead of go to war with them.
Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of the Berlin Airlift (Simon & Schuster), a book by journalism professor and acclaimed author Richard Reeves, explores the stories of the men who left their new jobs, houses, wives and babies to fly dangerous missions in aging cargo planes in and out of a city blockaded by 400,000 of Joseph Stalin's Red Army.
"Historically, people say it was first battle of cold war," Reeves said. "That may all well be true, but that was not how it was thought of at the time. It was young men risking their lives because they thought it was the right thing to do. We saw ourselves as the good guy trying to help people, including the people who had been our enemy."
The book tells the stories of young men such as Captain Arlie Nixon, who left his job as chief pilot at TWA that paid $750 per month to go back to a military job that paid $150 per month.
"Arlie tells the story of before the Airlift really got underway, he would go into a restaurant in Frankfurt and every German would stand up and walk out when he went in," Reeves said. "Two weeks after the airlift was underway, he went back and walked into the same restaurant and everybody stood up and went to the bar and bought him a stein of beer and cheered him as he drank the first one."
Reeves said he was talking to television anchor and author Tom Brokaw recently when Brokaw said the Airlift really was the last act of the "greatest generation" — which Brokaw chronicled in his own award-winning book.
"In so many ways the Berlin Airlift was one of the pivotal air battles of World War II — even if it did come after everyone thought all the fighting was over," Brokaw said. "Richard Reeves' account of Daring Young Men is a dazzling story of bravado, management genius and the perilous circumstances of our first great showdown with Stalin's Russia. I loved every page."