Memorial honors American, Russian pilots
By Senior Airman Justin Weaver, 354th Figther Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 15, 2006
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Eielson's base honor guard was on hand to post the colors and raise the United States, Russian and Alaskan flags during the official ribbon cutting of the Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Memorial Sunday at Griffin Park in Fairbanks.
American, Russian, French and Canadian dignitaries, to include Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, gathered here to honor American and Russian aviators and troops responsible for ferrying more than 8,000 American-built warplanes from the Midwest through Canada to Fairbanks during World War II.
The agreement identified Alaska as the exchange point between the United States and Soviet Union from 1942 to 1945. Nearly 8,000 aircraft were flown by the U.S. Army Air Corps' 7th Ferrying Squadron from Great Falls, Mont., across various bases in Canada to the Army's Ladd Field in Fairbanks, now Fort Wainwright.
From Fairbanks, members of the Soviet Air Force piloted the planes across Alaska and Siberia to the Russian warfront. Due to the severe weather conditions and mechanical problems, 133 airplanes crashed in North America and 44 in Siberia along the Alaska-Siberia Airway.
"If you were standing on the runway here at Ladd Field some 64 years ago, you would have seen our pilots getting into a plane, and they knew they were tempting fate," U.S. Senator Ted Stevens said. "They were really ordinary men asked to do an extraordinary job."
Senator Stevens, a World War II pilot, said those who flew through Canada, Alaska and Russia faced harsh weather and rudimentary instruments, often flying into a cold headwind with only their own dead reckoning for navigation.
"The way to pay proper tribute to the achievements of those we honor today is to answer the new dangers that we face with the clarity, unity and courage those aviators and the men and women who served here demonstrated in those desperate times," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said. "We hope we will face the troubled world as it is, and not as we wish it would be."
More than a dozen Russian dignitaries were also present for the ceremony, led by the deputy of the Russian government and Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov.
"By overcoming improbable and incredible difficulty, the American and Soviet pilots went around half the Earth, over a very difficult route, in order to deliver military aircraft to their destination," he said.
"The experience of cooperation that came from the war is a great example for the new generations of defenders. That experience should not be lost, but preserved," Mr. Ivanov said. "It is our sacred duty to have the memories of the past live on forever. Glory to the winners of the second World War."