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‘Berlin for Lunch Bunch’ bridges Air Force history to modern times

Air Force veteran Chris Jackson and his wife, Desralai Jackson, share a laugh and reminisce at the Air Force Memorial April 21 as they discuss their involvement from 1984-1987 with the Berlin for Lunch Bunch in Germany.

Air Force veteran Chris Jackson and his wife, Desralai Jackson, share a laugh and reminisce at the Air Force Memorial April 21 as they discuss their involvement from 1984-1987 with the Berlin for Lunch Bunch in Germany. Each flew upon corridor missions in West Germany in support of electronic intelligence operations. The visit was part of a biennial reunion the group’s alumni and their families planned and organized. “The Berlin for Lunch Bunch,” was so named by the operations and support squadron members who collected electronic intelligence on the densest concentration of Soviet military forces in the world. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle/released)

Ron McCreary, left, chats with a fellow member of The Berlin for Lunch Bunch at the Air Force Memorial April 21. The visit was part of a biennial reunion the group’s alumni and their families planned and organized.

Ron McCreary, left, chats with a fellow member of The Berlin for Lunch Bunch at the Air Force Memorial April 21. The visit was part of a biennial reunion the group’s alumni and their families planned and organized. “The Berlin for Lunch Bunch,” was so named by the operations and support squadron members who collected electronic intelligence on the densest concentration of Soviet military forces in the world. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle/released)

Former program manager Monty Hand, Berlin for Lunch Bunch member who flew the mission from 1986-1991 with two years at Rhein Main and almost two years at U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, stands before the Air Force Memorial’s signature spires April 21.

Former program manager Monty Hand, Berlin for Lunch Bunch member who flew the mission from 1986-1991 with two years at Rhein Main and almost two years at U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, stands before the Air Force Memorial’s signature spires April 21. The visit was part of a biennial reunion the group’s alumni and their families planned and organized. “The Berlin for Lunch Bunch,” was so named by the operations and support squadron members who collected electronic intelligence on the densest concentration of Soviet military forces in the world. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle/released)

The Berlin for Lunch Bunch members gather for a photo at the Air Force Memorial April 21.

The Berlin for Lunch Bunch members gather for a photo at the Air Force Memorial April 21. The visit was part of a biennial reunion the group’s alumni and their families plan and organize. The Air Force veterans here range from serving as early as the 1950s to closing the unit in 1991.The visit was part of a biennial reunion the group’s alumni and their families planned and organized. “The Berlin for Lunch Bunch,” was so named by the operations and support squadron members who collected electronic intelligence on the densest concentration of Soviet military forces in the world. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle/released)

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hollywood “power lunches,” where entertainment moguls broker lucrative studio deals and catch up with their colleagues, are familiar to the masses.

But just after World War II, lunches of another sort took place, as Army Air Corps and Air Force support and operations squadrons craftily established vital corridors to West Berlin, affording allied forces unfettered access to their garrisons in the former Nazi capital when the Soviet Union imposed its blockade in 1948.

In what appeared to be routine, uneventful trips, cargo and imagery aircraft crews frequently flew in and out of West Berlin using three routes in what some assert was the most significant, sustained, and effective military reconnaissance program of the entire Cold War.

Counterintelligence specialists could not likely allay suspicion when as many as 15 men emerged from one of the planes, had lunch, then returned to Frankfurt and surrounding areas – without delivering a single passenger or cargo, or leaving with them.

And with a “cover” so obviously transparent, thus began “The Berlin for Lunch Bunch,” so named by the operations and support squadron members who collected electronic intelligence on the densest concentration of Soviet military forces in the world.

Today, BFLB alumni and their family members remain part of the now informal Air Force organization of the same name to recognize U.S. military history and reunite every two years in various locales, most recently Washington, D.C.

Reunion organizers filled the three-day event April 20-22 with notable stops to include tours to the Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., and the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va.

One attendee, Tim Meuret, a former Air Force imagery interpreter technician who spent half of his six-year tour in Germany on the BFLB project from 1985-1988, described the role he and his peers took on collectively across six decades to indelibly change the course of history. “We kept an eye on Soviets, kept the pressure up on them, and I can truthfully say that pressure helped to bring the [Berlin] wall down.”

Though some BFLB members have passed away or carried on with their careers, families and retirements, all affiliated with the organization remain committed to staying in touch.

“It’s very difficult to figure out who’s who because we’ve aged so much, but we still get together and just tell old stories about what happened,” Meuret said. “And being here together now at the Air Force Memorial we see a lot of inspiring words that still have meaning to what we do even today.”

For years, units in the BFLB lived by their Latin motto "Veritatem Suppeditare,” which translated means “To Supply the Truth.” And Air Force retired Col. Eddie Mims Jr., a former navigator who flew intelligence imagery platforms aboard C-130s out of Rhein Main Air Base, Germany, did just that with fellow attendees -- some of which he hadn’t seen since his tour there from 1984-1988.

“The visit is meaningful because of the camaraderie and the mission we all shared,” he said. “The contributions we made not only to the military but to the nation in particular, and being able to recount these events make it worth the trip and effort.”

Mims then looked toward the Air Force’s core values: “Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do” etched on the black and jet mist-colored granite wall bordering the memorial’s massive stainless steel-spires.

“I walked to the end of this wall and saw the word ‘integrity,’ and when I think of our nation and things going on, that word means an awful lot,” Mims reflected. “It makes me yearn for the military because that was one thing I certainly felt as an active duty member … you really could count on the highest integrity in the military.”

Ron McCrary, who also flew the corridor in the 1980s, recounted that the Lunch group did much more than just “go in for ice cream every day.”

“To be such a big part of history and bridge that history to the future is incredible,” McCrary said, “and being here is the culmination of it all that keeps it fresh in our minds.”

Former program manager Monty Hand, who flew the mission from 1986-1991 with two years at Rhein Main and almost two years at U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, said members of the latest reunion range from serving as early as the 1950s to closing the unit in 1991.

“This was our first reunion to Washington D.C., but we’ve previously met in Dayton, Ohio, and Berlin, Germany” Hand said. “We plan to carry on this legacy as we decide where to meet up next.”

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the 7405th Operation Squadron was formally inactivated in January 1991 after having flown more than 10,000 missions. The 7499th Support Group, and 7406th and 7407th squadrons were inactivated in June 1974.

Perhaps most remarkable about the 44-year-long BFLB corridor missions was the unit’s surprising safety record, characterized by a complete absence of crashes or aircraft being shot down.