This Day In History


U.S. Begins Berlin Airlift

July 26, 1948

On this day in 1948, U.S. and British pilots begin delivering food and supplies by airplane to Berlin after the city is isolated by a Soviet Union blockade.

When World War II ended in 1945, defeated Germany was divided into Soviet, American, British and French zones of occupation. The city of Berlin, though located within the Soviet zone of occupation, was also split into four sectors, with the Allies taking the western part of the city and the Soviets the eastern. In June 1948, Josef Stalin’s government attempted to consolidate control of the city by cutting off all land and sea routes to West Berlin in order to pressure the Allies to evacuate. As a result, beginning on June 24 the western section of Berlin and its 2 million people were deprived of food, heating fuel and other crucial supplies.

Though some in U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s administration called for a direct military response to this aggressive Soviet move, Truman worried such a response would trigger another world war. Instead, he authorized a massive airlift operation under the control of General Lucius D. Clay, the American-appointed military governor of Germany. The first planes took off from England and western Germany on June 26, loaded with food, clothing, water, medicine and fuel.

By July 15, an average of 2,500 tons of supplies was being flown into the city every day. The massive scale of the airlift made it a huge logistical challenge and at times a great risk. With planes landing at Tempelhof Airport every four minutes, round the clock, pilots were being asked to fly two or more round-trip flights every day, in World War II planes that were sometimes in need of repair.

The Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949, having earned the scorn of the international community for subjecting innocent men, women and children to hardship and starvation. The airlift–called die Luftbrucke or “the air bridge” in German–continued until September 1949, for a total delivery of more than 1.5 million tons of supplies and a total cost of over $224 million. When it ended, the eastern section of Berlin was absorbed into Soviet East Germany, while West Berlin remained a separate territory with its own government and close ties to West Germany. The Berlin Wall, built in 1961, formed a dividing line between East and West Berlin. Its destruction in 1989 presaged the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and marked the end of an era and the reemergence of Berlin as the capital of a new, unified German nation.

Sonny and Cher’s Divorce Becomes Final

July 26, 1975

With a string of pop hits in the mid-1960s that began with the career-defining “I Got You Babe” (1965), Sonny and Cher Bono established themselves as the most prominent and appealing married couple in the world of popular music. Hipper than Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, and far more fun than John and Yoko, Sonny and Cher projected an image of marital harmony that a lot of people could relate to—an image not so much of perfect bliss, but of a clearly imperfect yet happy mismatch. Mr. and Mrs. Bono traded on that image professionally for a solid decade, even several years past the point that it was true. After 13 years together as a couple and six years of marriage—the last three for the cameras—Sonny and Cher were legally divorced on this day in 1975.

By the time they were divorced, Sonny and Cher were primarily known as television stars thanks to their hugely successful NBC variety show, but their romantic and professional relationships started in the Southern California music industry in the early 1960s. In 1962, Salvatore “Sonny” Bono was working as a producer, gofer and sometime percussionist for the legendary producer Phil Spector when he met Cherilyn Sarkasian in a Los Angeles coffee shop. Just 16 years old and recently dropped out of her Fresno, California, high school, Cherilyn was soon singing backup on such legendary Spector-produced hits as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (Righteous Brothers, 1964), “Da Doo Ron Ron” (The Crystals, 1963) and “Be My Baby” (Ronettes, 1963). The couple released one unsuccessful single under the name “Caesar and Cleopatra” before landing a #1 pop hit in 1965 with “I Got You Babe” under their new name, Sonny and Cher.

Ultimately, Sonny and Cher had only a few memorable hits after their first, the biggest of them being 1967’s “The Beat Goes On.” By 1968, in fact, Sonny and Cher were essentially finished as a viable recording act, and Sonny’s efforts to establish a film career for the pair were foundering. A move to Las Vegas, where they developed a nightclub act featuring playful, between-song bickering, is what ultimately resurrected Sonny and Cher’s career. By 1971, they were starring in a top-10 television program built around that act that would run off and on, in various incarnations, until 1977. Two years later, they would be living in separate homes and with new romantic partners, but it was not until two years after that that their split became public and their divorce final on June 26, 1975.

Former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond Dies

July 26, 2003

Strom Thurmond, who served in the United States Senate for a record 46 years, dies on this day in 2003. Thurmond’s long and controversial political career had ended with his retirement one year earlier.

Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902, in Edgefield, South Carolina, where he also died. He graduated from what is now Clemson University in 1923 with a degree in horticulture and became a teacher and coach, and, later, a superintendent of schools. While working in education, he studied law at night, and passed the bar in 1930. He worked as an attorney and, eventually, a judge, before serving in WWII, where he participated in the D-Day beach-storming at Normandy with the Army’s 82nd Airborne division.

Thurmond’s political career began in 1946 when he became governor of South Carolina, a position he held for one term. As governor, as well as in the early part of his Congressional career, he was famously pro-segregation, even saying in a 1948 speech, “I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” It was also in 1948 that Thurmond made his one and only run for the presidency, as the candidate of the Dixiecrat party, in protest of Harry Truman’s nomination by the Democratic Party, of which he was a member. He was easily defeated, but did win the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and their combined 39 electoral votes.

In 1954, Thurmond ran for the United States Senate as a Democrat on a pro-segregation platform and became the only candidate ever elected to the Senate by a write-in vote. Three years into this first term, he notoriously staged a record-breaking one-man filibuster to defeat a civil rights bill that lasted more than 24 hours. Although it is unknown whether his personal beliefs regarding racial equality ever changed, his political behavior became more moderate in the 1970s, perhaps as part of an effort to extend his political career in changing times. This change of heart, whether genuine or not, was exemplified by his endorsement of a renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 1982 and his vote in favor of creating the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday in 1983.

Throughout his career Thurmond was by any account a divisive force in American politics. His critics thought him to be an unabashed racist and condemned his alleged habit of skirt-chasing. Thurmond was married twice, the second time when he was 66 years old to a 22-year-old former Miss South Carolina, but also had a reputation for making frequent advances on a wide variety of women who crossed his path. His fans, however, seemed amused by his reputation as a “rascal” and admired his feistiness and personal discipline–Thurmond never smoked or drank coffee and only rarely indulged in alcohol–as well as his personal strength. Even in his 90s when his health began to fail, Thurmond refused to use a wheelchair or hearing aid in public. He was well known for personally helping out his constituents on a regular basis.

Thurmond retired from the Senate in 2002 and died about a year later in his South Carolina home. In December 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams announced that she was his illegitimate daughter, born to Thurmond and her mother Carrie Butler, a black maid who had worked in his family’s home. Thurmond was 22 when she was born; Butler was only 16. Although he never publicly acknowledged her while he was alive, a representative for his family did confirm Washington-Williams’ statement and it was reported that the two had a relatively close relationship.

Nora Ephron, Director of “When Harry Met Sally,” Dies

July 26, 2012

On this day in 2012, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Nora Ephron, whose credits include “Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “You’ve Got Mail,” dies at age 71 of complications from leukemia in New York City. Known for her sharp, witty writing style, Ephron was an accomplished writer, director and producer as well as a journalist, essayist, novelist and playwright.

Nora Louise Ephron was born in New York City on May 19, 1941, and raised in Beverly Hills, California. Her parents were Hollywood screenwriters whose credits include “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954) and “Carousel” (1956). After graduating from Wellesley College in 1962, Ephron began her career as a mail clerk at Newsweek magazine. She went on to work as a reporter for The New York Post before becoming a magazine journalist and essayist in the late 1960s.

She launched her movie career by co-writing the screenplay for “Silkwood” (1983), based on the life of whistle-blower Karen Silkwood (1946-74), who died under suspicious circumstances while investigating claims of wrongdoing at an Oklahoma plutonium plant where she had been employed. Ephron’s script earned her an Oscar nomination. Her next screenplay was for “Heartburn” (1986), which she adapted from her 1983 best-selling novel of the same name. The book was a roman a clef about the acrimonious breakup of her marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Ephron garnered her second Oscar nomination for best screenplay for the romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), the box-office hit starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.

In addition to her movies, Ephron penned such best-selling essay collections as “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Reflections on Being a Woman” (2006) and “I Remember Nothing” (2010). With her sister Delia Ephron she wrote the play “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” (2008). At the time of her death, which was caused by pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, Ephron had been married for more than two decades to author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (“Goodfellas,” “Casino”).