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I'm not someone who customarily says, "I told you so," but I prepared you yesterday for the likelihood that last night's Trump-Biden debate would put no one in mind of the Kennedy-Nixon match-ups of 1960 and, well, I was right about that.

Reaching back even further into history, however, the Berlin Airlift officially ended on this date in 1949 at a time when both future presidents, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, were serving in the House of Representatives. But the commander-in-chief who ordered this little-remembered but highly heroic endeavor was Harry Truman. It was a seemingly impossible undertaking, sending 2 million West Germans enough food, clothing, and medical supplies through the air -- for more than a year. But years of war had made the impossible not only possible but routine for American and British military pilots and dedicated mechanics, quartermasters, and ground crews who had hurriedly been mustered back into service.

* * *

No matter what your view of aerial warfare -- and American public opinion in the aftermath of the destruction of cities ranging from Dresden and Hamburg to Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki -- the story of the Berlin airlift is one of heroism and triumph, two words in the subtitle of "Daring Young Men," Richard Reeves' splendid 2010 book chronicling the effort.

In June of 1948, with Germany and its largest city divided, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin decided to starve West Berliners into capitulation. That half of the city was free. It had been walled off as the eastern-most outpost of liberty behind what we would come to know as the Iron Curtain. At starvation, though, Harry Truman drew a line.

"Give 'Em Hell Harry" launched this effort with his characteristic straight-forwardness. After being told by his military and diplomatic advisers that it was virtually impossible for the U.S. to remain in the city, Truman replied: "We stay in Berlin, period."

Bunking in barns and muddy tents, the allied crews flew over Soviet-occupied East Germany day and night, dodging sporadic anti-aircraft fire, evading Russian fighter planes, and bringing in enough food, coal, and other essentials to provide for those 2 million people for more than a year.

In the end, these men would fly 277,569 missions into Berlin before the Soviets ended their blockade, delivering 2.3 million tons of materiel, mostly inside C-47s and C-54s that traveled 92 million air miles. One hundred and one fatalities were recorded in the operation, including 31 Americans, mostly caused by airplane crashes.

Fourteen years later, President Kennedy would go West Germany and give his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. In 1987, President Reagan went to Berlin to urge the last of the Soviet rulers to "tear down this wall." But if it hadn't been for Harry Truman and those daring flight crews, JFK and the Gipper would have had no Berlin speeches to make.

After the successful airlift, West Germany was reorganized into a functioning nation, and the NATO alliance was forged. As for the pilots and crews who had scrambled to active duty in the middle of the night, often when a local policeman knocked on their door and handed them a telegram, they simply went home again when it was over. Some of them, Dick Reeves noted, had forgotten where they had parked their cars the night they answered the call. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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