Usually when a military aircraft drops something over a city there are devastating consequences.

Imagine how Berliners must have felt on a June day in 1948 when hundreds of planes overhead released not bombs but tons of vital food and fuel supplies, including candy.President Clinton paid tribute in Berlin Thursday while commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Berlin airlift, an operation that lasted from June of 1948 to September of 1949. Those who valiantly served in that massive undertaking deserve our thanks and then some.

That airlift, the largest in history, sustained 2 million men, women and children in West Berlin after the Soviet Union blockaded the city in an attempt to gain control. At the peak of the airlift, aircraft were taking off and landing about every minute. Flustered, the Soviets ended their blockade on May 12, 1949.

The 277,000 flights not only provided 2.3 million tons of food and supplies to the people, but hope. What they showed, said Col. Gail Halvorsen, of Provo, who was flanked by Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and became known as the "Candy Bomber" for showering the city with chocolate bars and gum during his missions, is that "freedom is more important than flour."

With freedom comes responsibility. The admirable action of the Western allies, primarily the United States and Great Britain, resulted in another nation, West Germany, remaining free. The price of that freedom was the death of 39 Britons and 31 Americans.

Yet there never was any doubt what America would do. Clinton recalled the words of President Truman at the moment he decided to launch the airlift. "There is no discussion on that point. We stay in Berlin, period."

The Berlin airlift served as a catalyst to bind the United States and Germany in deep friendship.

"This city owes its survival and freedom during the Cold War to the firm resolve of the United States and our other Western allies," Kohl graciously acknowledged Thursday.

That friendship portends a bright future, as Kohl noted while thanking the United States for supporting the reunification of Germany when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. "Our target," he said, "is to complete the building of the European house, but we want our American friends to have a permanent right of abode in this house." America is happy to comply.