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Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"
Written by: Michael O. Tunnell
Published by: Charlesbridge (2010)
The dramatic conclusion to World War II in the European theater is well-documented, and most people know how the Allies stopped Hitler and the Nazi party and defeated Germany. But lesser known are the facts about what happened to that nation and its people in the years immediately following the war’s end.
In a 1945 treaty, the Allies divided Germany into four occupation zones. The Soviets got the eastern part of the country, and America, Great Britain, and France each took up sectors in the western part. Berlin, the capital city, was actually deep inside the Soviet occupied area, but the other Allied countries wanted a presence there as well. So Berlin was then divided into two sections. The Soviets got the east, and the rest of the Allies took the western part of the city.
Ultimately, the Communist Soviets decided they wanted the democratic-minded Americans, French, and British completely out of the capital city, so they blockaded all land and water avenues into Berlin. They thought this would be enough to drive the other Allies away from the western part of the city. According to the treaty, however, several air corridors were left open, but the Soviets figured it would be impossible for anyone to fly in enough food and supplies for the two million starving Germans in West Berlin anyway.
This meant that there was still a way for the rest of the Allies to reach their half of the city. The German citizens—the very ones who’d recently been the enemy—now desperately needed help. It would be dangerous and risky, but the compassionate and brave servicemen from America, Britain, and France were willing and ready to try. This concerted effort was known as the Berlin Airlift.
So what became of the German children (especially those in Berlin) who knew only a life of war? What was their new ‘normal’ in a country and city that lay in ruins, both politically and physically? Did they have any hope of ever experiencing the simple joys and pleasures of childhood?
Michael O. Tunnell’s book, Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” tells the story of United States Air Force Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen and his quest to bring a little bit of happiness and hope to the lives of children in West Berlin.
Starting out on a quick tour of the worn-torn city between his flight assignments, Halvorsen had a chance encounter with some of the German children who asked questions about the Berlin Airlift. Noticing their sad faces and obvious hunger, he reached into his pocket and drew out two pieces of gum, which was all he had, to share. This small kindness was the beginning of a wonderful humanitarian outreach and project that became known as Operation Little Vittles.
Readers will learn how Halvorsen and other servicemen initially combined their rations to create some little candy-filled parachutes to drop down from their planes for the children. These first candy drops were a big success! Children began writing letters and thanking Halvorsen for the candy and his kindness. Eventually, word got out of what was happening and how the little parachutes of candy brightened up the lives of the children—and gave them hope and something to look forward to. Uncle Wiggly Wings (the children’s nickname for Halvorsen) became a hero! American servicemen and people from all over the United States got involved and candy and chocolate began pouring in for the children of West Berlin.
The book also follows Lt. Halvorsen’s life and career and documents how his experience of being a ‘candy bomber’ changed everything. It’s an amazing story—especially to know that he stayed in contact with many of the children of West Berlin and became acquainted with THEIR children through future goodwill candy drops from the 1960s forward. Copies of letters, maps, line drawings, photos, and other memorabilia from Halvorsen’s collection add to the charm of the book.
Candy Bomber is truly a tale of courage and kindness, and it certainly proves that hope can be provided (and found) in all circumstances of life—even when it starts with just two pieces of gum. Highly recommended!
*In full disclosure (according to FTC regulations), please know that if you buy this book by clicking on my affiliate link above, I do receive a very small commission at no extra cost to you.