Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heroes and Saints: GAIL HALVORSEN,

I just read this exciting book, Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's Chocolate Pilot by Michael O. Tunnell

Remember The Berlin Airlift - that momentous event in 1948 and 1949 when America and its allies delivered tons of food, fuel, and coal to West Berliners because the Soviet Sector of Berlin cut off their supplies?

Sixteen months and nearly 277 thousand flights later the allies had delivered 2.3 million tons of supplies.

During that time, grateful Berlin children gathered at Templehof Airport to watch the flights come in.  One day an American pilot, Gail Halvorsen engaged a group of 30 children in conversation and because they were so grateful for flour and powdered milk, he got an idea. Right then and there Halvorsen promised the children that very soon he would drop candy for them. He told them he'd wiggle his wings so they would know which plane was his.

Sure enough! On his next daylight flight, he dropped Hershey bars via 3 handkerchief parachutes.

The parachutes found their intended audience and one thing led to another so that by January of 1949, "Operation Little Vittles" was a busy enterprise with its own headquarters and plenty of community volunteers.  It shipped eight hundred pounds of sweet supplies to Germany every other day.  Businesses and individuals donated eighteen tons of candy and gum - also two thousand sheets, three thousand hankies, and eleven thousand yards of ribbons for parachutes!

Don't forget that just a few years earlier America was bombing the Germans, a fact that makes The Berlin Airlift and the Candy Bomber story that much sweeter! Halvorsen went out of his way to build relationships with the people of Berlin, especially the children. He responded to letters and requests from children who called him Uncle Wiggly Wings, The Chocolate Uncle, and The Chocolate Pilot.

Margot Theis Raven tells one child's true story in Mercedes and The Chocolate Pilot.

Over the years, Halvorsen has reunited with Mercedes and other Berlin children, participated in commemorative candy drops, and even led the Berlin athletes into the stadium during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Somewhere along the way, ABC honored Halvorsen as their person of the week - hence this great clip.  Watch it and be grateful. Because as Gail Halverson demonstrates, a little gratitude goes a long way!

PBS also created a documentary about The Berlin Airlift.  It's in my public library.  Or will be when I return it!  Maybe yours has it too.


  1. You had me at the word: CHOCOLATE. :) I vaguely remember reading something about this when I was in college. You've made it sound much more exciting! :) Why must you keep giving me such great books to look up? My TBR list is longer than the Mississippi right now!

  2. Donna, think of it as another exciting homeschool learning experience. Let the girls do the reading!

  3. FABULOUS! Your books are already on Kaiti's list for this semester. I'll add this to it, too!

  4. Cool story. Chocolate and sweets in general hold such a dear place in the hearts of Germans. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Emily, I'll be curious to see if you run across traces of this story in your travels or daily life there. It's phenomenal to me to see how attitudes between US and Germany changed after the war. Food in general and chocolate in particular had a lot to do with that. Not that it was all about big heartedness. For the government, there were political interests at stake. But in Halvorsen we see a man who connected at a very human level.

  6. Donna, I think she'll love it - especially if there is any real chocolate involved. One of my FB friends told me she conducted a camp around this piece of history. Bet there is tons that could be done with it. Ideal for a homeschool group project, don't you think?

  7. very cool! I can see why you got caught by this story.