70 years ago today, a US Air Force pilot went down in history as the man who started dropping candy with miniature parachutes – because every child deserves a sweet treat, even in times of war.
In 1948, the Soviet Union instituted the cruel ‘Berlin Blockade’ as an attempt to cut off all inroads to West Berlin, yet they refrained from stopping the massive humanitarian airlift led by American, British, and French flyers.
For nearly a year, more than a quarter million flights delivered thousands of tons of food and fuel, coal, and liquid fuel to the otherwise strangled German city, which was surrounded by 1.5 million Soviet military troops. Despite the Germans having been the sworn enemy of the West just three years earlier, the merciful airlift—dubbed Operation Vittles—gained popular support and was called “America’s greatest humanitarian mission”.
Gail Halvorsen, one of the many Airlift pilots, decided to use his off-time to fly into Berlin and make movies with his hand-held camera. He arrived at Tempelhof on July 17th, 1948 on one of the C-54s and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the aircraft. He introduced himself and they started to ask him questions about the aircraft and their flights. As a goodwill gesture, he handed out his only two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum. The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could, even passing around the wrapper for others to smell.
He was so impressed by their gratitude and that they didn’t fight over the gum, he promised the children that he would drop off more candy the next time he returned. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over. He replied, “I’ll wiggle my wings.”
The next day on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handmade handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that, the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon, there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, “The Chocolate Uncle” and “The Chocolate Flier”.
When an officer heard about it, he immediately expanded it into “Operation Little Vittles”. Other pilots participated, and when news reached the US, children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon, major candy manufacturers joined in.
In the end, over twenty three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin during the airlift that kept that blockaded city alive and the operation became a major propaganda success.
(WATCH the video below)
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