Monday, November 10, 2014

A Veteran's Day memory

Only one American veteran flying a bomber over Germany after WWII was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit. It was Col. Gail Halvorsen, and here's he won it.

After the war, Germany was divided into sectors governed by the victorious allies. The city of Berlin was also divided, but it was deep inside the Russian sector. Hoping the allies would give up their part of the city, Russia closed all rail and road access to "West Berlin" in June, 1948. The only way residents could receive food or fuel was by air, so Allied forces began the biggest airlift in history. During 15 months, until the blockade ended, they flew in 15 million tons of supplies -- including milk, dried eggs, dried potatoes and coal.  Col. Halvorsen was an airlift pilot.

After landing one day with a plane load of flour, Halvorsen, noticed 30 children outside the fence of Tempelhof Airport. They were ragged and hungry, but didn't ask for food. All they asked was, "Please don't give up on us." He wanted to help, but only had two sticks of gum. When he passed these through the fence, he noticed the children didn't fight. They broke the gum into tiny pieces so each boy and girl could have a sniff! He was so moved that he promised to bring more gum the next day and drop it from his plane as he approached the airport. "How will we know which plane is yours?" they asked in English. "I'll wiggle my wings," he said.

Fellow pilots gave him their candy rations, and he dropped gum and candy daily for two weeks, folding handkerchiefs into small parachutes. The crowd of kids got bigger. He received thank-you notes at the airport addressed to "Onkel Wackelflugel"(Uncle Wiggly Wings). When local media reported favorably on the candy bomber, airlift commander Gen. William Tunner told Halvorsen to keep doing it. Then word got back to the United States.

The National Confectioners Association offered to donate all the candy Halvorsen could drop. The treats arrived at Westover Air Force Base in MA, where local school children assembled the handkerchief parachutes. Before the airlift ended, 21 tons of candy were dropped to the children of West Berlin. As one Berliner told Halvorsen years later, "It wasn't just chocolate you gave us. It was hope."

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