Jack Coulter, Colorful Airlift Commander

 

by

 

   Edwin Gere

 

In the early weeks of the Berlin airlift, many American airmen moved to Fassberg RAF station in northern Germany, an air base much closer to Berlin than either Wiesbaden or Frankfurt, and therefore more strategically situated for shorter and more frequent deliveries to the blockaded city.  Named to command the American operation there was Colonel Theron “Jack” Coulter, an affable young officer, not quite 35 years of age.  He was selected for the Fassberg post because of his ability to work well with the British, who maintained a strong presence on the base and directed numerous ground operations, including the loading of coal onto Berlin bound aircraft. 

 

One airlift veteran who remembers both Colonel Coulter and his glamorous movie star wife, Connie Bennett, is Staff Sergeant Calvin R. Haynes of Biloxi, Mississippi, who was assigned as a crew chief to flight line duty at Fassberg.  Cal clearly remembers one occasion in the early autumn of 1948 when a C-54 pilot aborted his impending flight to Berlin after he had started engines, muttering something about inoperative warning lights.  When Colonel Coulter heard about it, he and Connie hurried to the flight line to see what might be wrong with the aircraft, parked at an odd angle, out of line with other C-54s neatly arrayed on the tarmac.  After carefully looking over the Skymaster, Coulter exclaimed, “Why this bird is all right; I can fly it to Berlin right now.”  Sergeant Haynes was pressed into service as fire guard, Coulter climbed into the left seat to take the controls, Connie slipped into the copilot’s seat, Coulter barked to the flight engineer, “Let’s go,” and together the three hauled ten tons of coal to the blockaded city.  News of this act of derring-do spread quickly around the air base, adding to Coulter’s growing image as a colorful military commander with a flair for the dramatic.  Base airmen loved it.

 

Always ready for a good time, Connie and husband Jack on another occasion organized a party for Fassberg NCOs and airmen at the Sudbahnhof in Celle, a favorite haunt of both RAF and USAF airmen.  A special train carried the partygoers from Fassberg to Celle on that evening in autumn 1948, and the gaiety of the occasion was enlivened by a noisy oompah band.  The few wives present with their husbands were happy, but many bachelor airmen attending were alone, so an army truck was dispatched to the Ratskeller to round up some German fräuleins to help balance out matters.  In short order about two dozen girls arrived, and the party picked up speed.  Connie asked Sergeant Bill Korndorfer for a dance and under the increasing tempo of the oompah band the couple staggered and fell down.  Moments later another dancing couple slipped and almost fell but kept their balance.  Connie’s apt retort was “Copycats!”  Jack Coulter and his NCO friends roared.

 

These stories are adapted from chapter three of my new book, The Unheralded: Men and Women of the Berlin Blockade and Airlift.  Trafford Publishing.