October 10, 2005

US says farewell to famous German air base

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The United States returned the
Rhein-Main air base to Germany on Monday, ending a 60-year
chapter of Cold War history with a brass band ceremony on the
runway that lies opposite continental Europe's busiest airport.

The air base that has served as a central hub for U.S.
forces in Europe since the end of World War Two will be
officially turned over to Frankfurt airport at the end of the
year, nearly three months after Monday's ceremonial handover.

The airstrip south of Frankfurt airport was used to keep
West Berlin from the Soviets during the 1948 blockade and
served as a major staging point for later conflicts, including
Vietnam, the 1990 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

U.S. hostages held captive in Iran and throughout the
Middle East during the 1980s and 1990s also passed through
Rhein-Main on their way to freedom back home and Elvis Presley
went through the air base after finishing his military service
in 1960.

"We are putting an exclamation point at the end of a
chapter in a proud moment of history of the U.S. Air Force,"
said General Robert Foglesong from the air force's European
command. "And one final salute to you from your United States."

The airbase, which on the inside had the dusty feel of a
small 1960s-era U.S. airport, will be incorporated into an
expansion of Frankfurt airport, one of the world's busiest
airports. A third terminal is planned at the site.

Tens of thousands of young American soldiers who served in
West Germany during the Cold War got their first glimpse of
Europe at Rhein-Main. More than 300,000 American soldiers were
stationed in West Germany at the end of the Cold War in 1989.

There were once 12,000 servicemen at the air base, but
their numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred in recent
years. The U.S. will now use the Spangdahlem and Ramstein air
bases further west.

Washington said last year that a total of 30,000 troops
would leave Germany as part of plans to bring forces back from
Europe and Asia over the next decade, reflecting revised
priorities after the end of the Cold War.