Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Candy Bomber

A story from our current book, Daring Young Men by Richard Reeves about one of the Berlin Airlift pilots, Gail Halvorsen. P89:

He trotted around the perimeter of the [Berlin air) field and saw a bunch of kids, perhaps thirty of them, standing on the other side of the fence watching planes land.  "Guten Tag" said Halvorsen, using about half the German he knew.  A number of boys and girls there, the oldest was fourteen and the youngest eight, immediately began to ask him questions about the airlift.  "How many planes?...How much flour could they carry?...What about milk?"  He stayed about an hour - Halvorsen loved kids - and when he was leaving he realized none of them had asked for anything and he had not given them anything.  He had two sticks of Wrigley's Doublemint gum in his pocket, so he went back and broke them into pieces, handing them to the kids up front, who took their gum and them passed the wrappers back for others to lick.  Halvorsen had never seen such happy children and he said, "Look, if you're here tomorrow, I'll drop some gum and candy from my plane, but don't tell anyone else about this."

He was back in the air from Wiesbaden the next day, taking off at 2am.  On the way to Berlin, he told his crewmates what had happened and what he promised to do.

"You're going to get us into a mess of trouble," said his co-pilot, Captain John Pickering.  But Pickering and the flight engineer, Herschel Elkins, agreed to go with Halvorsen to the Wiesbaden Post Exchange and let him use their ration cards to buy sweets.  They also collected some handkerchiefs to make little parachutes so the stuff would float down and not break up - or crack some kid on the head.

Their next flight to Berlin was in daylight.  At noon, [Berlin landing strip] Tempelhof was in sight and so were the thirty children.  Elkins crouched at the plane's flare chute, holding the three parachutes tied to bags full of Hershey bars, Mounds bars, gum, whatever they had.  Halvorsen wiggled the wings of the C-54 a bit, the signal he had told the children below would identify his plane, so get ready - and don't forget to share!

"Now," Halv orsensaid, and Elkins pushed out the little chutes.

Ten-year-old Rainer Baronsky was one of the German kids at Tempelhof when the tiny parachutes opened.  "One parachute got snagged in a tree, so we took a long stick and jarred it loose.  My little brother and I opened up the package dangling from the chute and found candy.  What was candy?  We would later find out about its sweet chocolate - Hershey bars, Butterfingers."  The boys brought the cache home.  Their father divided the chocolate in five neat slices for the family and then let the boys chew gum.  Taking it from them later, he put the little wads in a bowl of sugar, to be chewed the next day and the next.

Halvorsen and his crew did the same thing twice more over the next two weeks, candy-lifting on the days their new ration cards were issued.  The crowds at the fence were getting bigger, of course, and the American flyers were afraid someone would check out their tail number - and then the trouble would begin.  So they decided to stop after a final drop of six parachutes.  After that drop and landing, Halvorsen had to go into the operations office at Tempelhof for a weather map.  There, piled on a table, were dozens of letters, addressed to "Uncle Wackelflugel." "Wiggly Wings," and the "Schokoladen Flieger," the Chocolate Flyer.  The next day at Rhein-Main, an ops officer met Halvorsen's plane and said, "Colonel Haun wants to see you.  Now."

"What have you been doing?" said Colonel John Haun.  He pushed a copy of the newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung across the desk. 

"Look at this," Haun said, tapping the paper.  "You almost hit a reporter on the head with a candy bar yesterday.

"The general called me with congratulations," Haun continued, "and I had no idea what he was talking about.  He wants to see you to have a press conference.

"And Halvorsen, next time, tell me first."

And so it began.  Halvorsen kept flying, but he had an office and two secretaries at Rhein-Main to answer the mail from grateful Germans.  When he got back to his room, his cot was covered with candy - other airmen had used their ration cards - and cloth for parachutes.  The crowd at Tempelhof had gotten so large that other pilots were recruited to make drops at schoolyards, at churches and hospitals - all unannounced now.  They were dropping packets in eastern Berlin, too, until the Soviets protested to the State Department in Washington that the candy from teh sky "violated existing propaganda agreements."

General Tunner called in Halvorsen to tell him that the Air Force was calling him back to the United States for two weeks of newspaper interviews and radio appearances, even some guest spots on that new thing, television.  He returned to Germany with fifty pounds of handkerchiefs.  By the time he was back in the cockpit, Halvorsen was getting tens of thousands of pounds of candy from both manufacturers and ordinary people responding to "Candy Bomber" drives at schools, colleges and churches across the country.  Now trucks were delivering the candy and gum all over Berlin and western Germany.
Gail Halvorsen:

Book: Daring Young Men by Richard Reeves

1 comment:

Jason said...

great story, thanks for sharing. I will have to track down a copy of that book!