Monday, December 9, 2013

Berlin Airlift Candy Bomber

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The Monroe Veteran's Day Air Show was honored to have the Douglas C-54 "Spirit of Freedom", a flying museum for Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation. The Berlin Airlift was the greatest humanitarian / aviation event in history, named "Operation Vittles".

The most famous Airlift Hero is Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, "The Berlin Airlift Candy Bomber". He was aboard as part of the crew to fly their reenactment of Col. Halvorsen's now famous "Operation Little Vittles" candy-parachute drops. As part of their "Mission of History, Education, and Remembrance", these candy drops are more significant than ones done in the past as only 31 parachutes are dropped on each pass, each parachute representing an American Serviceman lost in aviation accidents during the Berlin Airlift.

The Berlin Blockade (24 June 1948 – 11 May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the three Western powers' railroad and street access to the western sectors of Berlin that they had been controlling. Their aim was to force the western powers to allow the Soviet controlled regions to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving them nominal control over the entire city.

In response, the Western Allies formed the Berlin Airlift to supply the city over pre-arranged air corridors. The effort was initially viewed with skepticism even in the countries mounting the attempt, as this sort of logistical effort had never been mounted before. However, America's president at the time was Harry S. Truman, who had this to say about the crisis, "There is no discussion, We stay in Berlin, Period!" The airlift to supply the German 6th Army at Stalingrad required 300 tons per day and rarely came even close to delivering this; the Berlin effort would require at least 5,000 tons a day, well over ten times as much. In spite of this, by the spring of 1949 the effort was clearly succeeding, and by April the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously flowed into the city via rail.The success of the Airlift was humiliating to the Soviets, who had repeatedly claimed it could never possibly work. When it became clear that it was, the blockade was lifted in May. One lasting legacy of the Airlift are the three airports in the former western zones of the city, which served as the primary gateways to Berlin for another fifty years.

I was fortunate to meet Col Halvorsen after his Candy Bomber drop at the 100th Anniversay of the Wright Brother’s first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC. After seeing the event a close friend introduced me to Col Halvorsen and we had a most interesting visit! Someone asked Col. Halvorsen, did you ever seriously fear that you would be shot down while flying in the airspace of the Soviet sector? Did you ever have a moment when you said, "My God, I'm not going to get out of this alive?" Gail Halvorsen: "In the beginning, when we were first buzzed by Russian fighters, we wondered if we would be shot down, we wondered if we would be shot at by the Russian fighters that buzzed us. But they didn't shoot because President Truman put 60 B-29 bombers on the runways in England and told Stalin he would have a problem if he shot at our transport aircraft. So we voted for Truman every flight!

I shared with him my experience when I was a Company Commander in Germany and how I, then later my troops, went thru Check Point Charlie of the Berlin Wall, less than four years after the wall went up, to see the communist side of East Berlin. Upon returning back to the base I gave a 3 day pass to each soldier that wanted to make the free trip on the troop train to Berlin. I then wished that I had a rubber stamp with my signature. I promised them if they made the trip and experienced the difference between East and West Berlin that they would then know why they wear the uniform of the US Army! Col Halvorsen immediately said, “Now that is what I call leadership” I received an autographed copy of his book The “Berlin Candy Bomber

I highly recommend reading to your children "Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot", a true story of a seven-year old girl named Mercedes who lived in West Berlin during the airlift and of the American who came to be known as the Chocolate Pilot, by Margot Theis Raven.

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