Friday, February 7, 2014

The Candy Bomber

Colonel Gail “Hal” Halvorsen in Berlin

1/1/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

As I sit here contemplating the bad news at the end of one year and the hopeful possibilities of a new year, I am reminded of three eternal truths:
One: The wrath of nature. 
Two: Robert Burns quote: “The inhumanity of man to man that makes countless thousands mourn.” Three: The doers. The incredible activism of those who chose to live by the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”—and help those in need.

There’s not much any of us can do about nature’s storms except clean up and rebuild. But mankind’s “power-over,” me-first attitude always shocks me as I read of individuals and nations combativeness. In my youth, I developed a Pollyanna mindset. I thought after two world wars and an atomic bomb, nations would get over being power hungry; that individuals would see pain inflicted on others and determine to never repeat the process. I was wrong.

And while the world can be an evil place for everyone, children are a special concern of mine. Stories of their abuse and neglect by parents or suffering at the hands of other perpetrators are like a stab in my heart. And the meanness grows. So I wonder.  How can anyone cause a child to suffer? And... Can one person help?

The answers to those questions are “I don’t know” and “yes.” I don’t know how anyone can maim the innocent and helpless. But yes, if you have a heart to help, you can. No matter how small or insignificant your contribution may seem...the key is to begin. If you have something to it!  I was recently reminded how one person’s small offering became an avalanche of help and hope.

Traditionally, most Christmas Eves my husband and I enjoy the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s holiday concert on PBS. This year’s program was recorded in 2012. The music, of course, was glorious and the dance interpretations awesome. But the highlight was Tom Brokaw’s narration: “Christmas from Heaven: A Gift that Changed the World.” In case you missed it, here’s my version.

Colonel Gail “Hal” Halvorsen was a Douglas C-54 airplane pilot who became known after WWII as the Candy Bomber or Uncle Wiggly wings. In 1948 he was one of the pilots who flew food and supplies into Berlin. At that time, blockades divided East and West Germany. Russia controlled the east and the Allied Forces the west.

Russia would not allow supplies to reach the two million starving people in East Berlin. But the U.S. military was flying in flour to West Berlin. Old photos show E. Berlin children lining up at the barbed wire fences separating the nation to watch the planes. One day, Col. Halvorsen went over to the fence and interacted with the kids.

He was surprised that even though they were hungry, they were well behaved, smiled without complaining or begging. He wanted to share something with them but had only two sticks of gum for dozens of kids. As he walked away, a little voice prompted him to go back. He tore the gum in half and gave it to them. In turn, the children shared the wrappers, smelling the peppermint. There was enough.

As the story goes, Halvorsen told the children he would be back. They would recognize him because he would wiggle his wings as he flew over. He then told his fellow pilots about the project and they all pooled their sweets for the kids. Using handkerchiefs, they made small parachutes as carriers for the treats that they dropped’

Soon word got back to the states and “Operation Little Vittles” was born. School children began collections and candy manufacturers donated candy by the boxcar load. Altogether Halvorsen, other aircraft and crews, dropped 23 tons of candy and gum to grateful kids in E. Berlin parks, until the blockade ended in 1949.

Today Retired Col. Halvorsen (Uncle Wiggly Wings) is in his 90s and still going strong. He can even wear his flight suit from all those years ago! His missions to children have included a trip to Tirana, Albania in 1999 where he delivered school supplies, toys and candy to Albanian children and in 2005, gifts to children victims of hurricane Katrina in So. Mississippi.

The goodies that Col. Halvorsen and other crews dropped didn’t feed the children’s bodies, it nourished their souls. The sweet treats represented freedom and lifted their spirits. They needed more than food. They needed hope. They needed to know that someone cared.

WE all know that basic care (food, shelter, etc.) is necessary for a child’s survival. But to thrive, pediatricians tell us that a child needs love, encouragement and interaction with those around him or her. Col Halvorsen and the aircraft crews provided that. In return, they received thousands of thank you letters from the children who benefitted from their kind attention.

Encouraging others is seldom a matter of money. The best gifts of all just cost us a little time. Do you know someone who is lonely, stressed, ill or hurting? A phone call, a visit, a card or homemade cookies can make their day! May this be the year that each of us makes a difference in someone’s life.

As JFK said when he launched the Peace Corp, “One person can make a difference. And everyone should try.”

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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