Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Candy Bomber/Chocolate Pilot

On June 24, 1948, in response to the Soviet Union blocking all rail, road and canal access to Berlin, the Western Allies (USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa) organized the Berlin airlift and dropped food and supplies to the people of Berlin. This lasted almost a year, until May 12, 1949.  You might know these facts but do you know the story of the US Air Force pilot, Gail Halvorsen?
Gail Halverson, shown here in 1998 on the 50-year anniversary of the Berlin Airlift at Berlin's Tempelhof airport, was the original "Candy Bomber" pilot. He came up with the idea of dropping sweets for the children of Berlin.
 
It's a wonderful story!  Lt. Gail Halvorsen was one of the pilots bringing food and supplies into Berlin but on one of his days off, he spoke with a group of children behind the barbed wire fence at the Tempelhof Airport.  It was a group of about 30 children and all of him thanked him for the food that had been brought to the city.  What really impressed the young pilot was that not one of the children had asked for any candy or chocolate, they were simply grateful for the food and fuel dropped from the planes.
Of course, that made Gail Halvorsen wish that he had something to give to them.  He reached into his pocket and brought out two pieces of chewing gum, breaking each one in half and giving that to four of the children.  The rest of the children just took the chewing gum papers and SNIFFED the sugary sweet smell of the wrappers!  From that encounter, the pilot had an idea...he took handkerchiefs and tied pieces of chocolate and gum to the corners and dropped them from his plane, dipping his wings slightly to let the children know when he was making his candy drop!  The children were delighted and called him "Uncle Wiggly Wings" and the "Chocolate Flier".  Some of the children wrote to him to let them know that he had missed their houses and to those children, he wrote them back, enclosing chocolate and candy treats. He shared a correspondence with them for many years.  (Here is a children's book that I want to read, "Mercedes And The Chocolate Pilot" by Margot Theis Raven.) 
 
At first, Gail Halvorsen was in trouble since what he was doing was very much against regulations, but eventually, the top brass approved and he was given full approval to continue his "candy drops".  It was called "Operation Little Vittles" (the Berlin airlift was called "Operation Vittles" in the USA) and American children helped in making the little parachutes for the candy.   Candy and chocolate companies got on-board and donated Life-Savers, chocolate bars and chewing gum.  25 other air crews worked on this as well and by the end of the airlift over 23 TONS of sweets had been dropped to the children of Berlin.
 
(On a personal note, my Dad was in Berlin just after the war ended in 1945 and he very much remembers the poverty but also how grateful and happy the German people were to have the American GI's there. You can read about my Dad in this post.)
 
 Happily, I can tell you that Gail Halvorsen retired as a Colonel and is still going strong at the age of 93.  You may read more about Col. Halvorsen here.
Here's another book I want to read..."The Berlin Candy Bomber" written by Col. Gail S. Halvorsen!

30 comments:

  1. What a great story! Sometimes it's the little treats that help get people through the hardest times.

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    1. Thanks, Debra! I'm glad to have you back!
      I love this story and I wish more people knew about it!

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  2. Another interesting post, Kay. Can you imagine how exciting it must have been for those children. Reading up about him, Uncle Wiggly Wings sounds like a thoroughly decent man.

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    1. Thanks, Tracey! I don't know if I can imagine what it was like for them, the thought of someone dropping candy to them by airplane in tiny parachutes! And I agree, such a nice guy, I wish I could meet him and tell him so!

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  3. What a kindly man! There are so many interesting unusual and downright amazing stories from that period of the 20th century! I'm glad to know he progressed well in his army career.

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    1. This is why I don't like to read fiction, too many true stories like this one that I miss!
      Still waiting for your book on The Victorians!

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  4. Oh, what a wonderful heartwarming story! I love that kind pilot.

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    1. It is, and I hope to check out those two books that I mentioned to you. I will let you know about them in a future post, hopefully!

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  5. I have never heard of this,Kay, but I am glad you posted about it. What an interesting story. I would love to read one or both of those books.

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    1. Isn't it a wonderful story? I wish we could know more stories like this one!
      Hope you are enjoying a beautiful autumn, aren't the leaves gorgeous?

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  6. Some friends and i were discussing what would be in the ideal food pantry for those in need, and someone mentioned how appreciated sweets can be sometimes. Once someone's basic needs are met, these little extra blessings, the things that can help make happy memories, are so appreciated. That transcends culture, as you've shown here.

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    1. Very often, people don't think to give sweet things to the food banks but I have read that they are much appreciated, especially since so many families are dependent on them.

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  7. A truly sweet guy. I hope that somewhere in the world today an American is making as many people happy as this one did.

    P.S. What a gorgeous header photo!

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    1. I am certain that there are just as many nice guys in this generation as there were in the generation of World War II. If you ever get a chance, read this book..."An American Nightingale" by Bob Welch. There is a letter written to Stars & Stripes that perfectly describes the American soldier...one, that I totally agree with.
      And thanks for the header photo compliment, Richard took it, of course! It is sunset over Lake Alexander at Panola Mountain State Park.

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  8. What an awesome story and an amazing man! He is the sort that should be on the front of "People" magazine and on every talk show....a real hero in a world that needs heroes. Thanks for sharing this wonderful real story!

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    1. I KNOW!! I totally agree! Instead of this wonderful man who is still with us, we have to hear about the Kardashians, Lady GAGA, and Katy Perry...who cares!

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  9. So touching! Halvorsen is a common Norwegian surname, wondering if he has relatives here.. There was much poverty in Norway also during the war and my grandparents told me many times about how the Swedes gave them oranges. Guessing that they were lucky that lived close to the border,

    Wish you have a happy week!

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    1. Very possible that his family came originally from Norway. We Americans come from all over you know!
      Thank you for telling me the memory of your grandparents receiving oranges from the Swedes. I am glad that they did that for them, that they shared when food was so scarce.
      Hope you have a great week too! xx

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  10. I'm inspired to read about this good-hearted man! And thrilled to hear he is still with us. Thank you for telling us about this story.

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    1. I am pleased that you liked this story too. I wish so much that we could know of more people like this, especially since they are still here for us to tell them how much we appreciate them!

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  11. Of course I know about the Berliner Luftbr├╝cke (air bridge), as this is known to us in Germany, but since none of my family lived in Berlin at the time, nobody has ever told me personal memories of it. But I think I have told you the story of my Dad's first orange before, haven't I?

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  12. Thanks very much for your comment from Germany! Meike, I was hoping you would see this post!
    Yes, but I wonder, could you please write this in a comment? (About your Dad's first orange, I mean.) Thank you! (Say hello to your Mum & Dad for me!)
    Did you know about the Candy Bomber? I think that most people here have never heard of him and I think that they should know!

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    1. Yes, Kay, I knew about the Rosinenbomber (raisin bombers, which is what they were called here in Germany), but not about any specific individual, or the man who had started it all. So, as often, your post taught me something new!

      My Dad was born in 1942 and when he was a toddler, the war ended and the Americans were in our area. One day, when he was walking in town with his mother, my Dad saw a black person for the first time in his life. Imagine the little lad staring at what to him was a total novelty, and his mother, being embarrassed, wanting to move him along as fast as possible!
      The black GI saw the little boy looking at him with big eyes and, in a friendly gesture, took an orange out of his pocket, meaning to hand it to the little boy. My Dad was too scared - this was a stranger, and a very strange-looking stranger at that! - and he did not dare take the orange from the man. The GI bent down and put the orange on the ground, tipping it gently so that it rolled across the short stretch of pavement to where my Dad stood. Only then did the toddler dare to pick up the fruit, after his mother had told him that it was OK.
      This was my Dad's first encounter with a black person, and his first orange.

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    2. I did read that the following pilots who followed his lead were called "Raisin bombers", but I forgot to mention it in my post so thanks for leaving that here as a comment!
      And I can't thank you enough for leaving this great story about your Dad and his meeting with the American GI and the orange! At the tender age of three, for your Dad to remember this! I think this would make a great children's book, Meike. Thanks again for taking the time to leave this here so that others can read it.

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  13. Yay! I just read the details of the Ryan Ferguson proceedings from a link on facebook!

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    1. Yes! Isn't it great news? I am hoping that the State of Missouri will do the right thing and that Ryan Ferguson will be home in time for Thanksgiving!

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  14. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story Kay. I love to hear stories like this where real life heroes break the rules a little to do something fantastic for others.

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    1. Hey Mairead!
      isn't this just a great story? Like you, I LOVE it when people bend the rules to do something that is right and good!
      Thanks so much for your comment! Hope you are doing well this Autumn! xx

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  15. This is the kind of story that I enjoy reading! Thank you for sharing this I emjoyed the read and now want to read The Candy Bomber too. Awesome!!!

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  16. This was definitely a very sweet story, Kay, and one in which breaking the rules had a happy ending too.

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