Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When the Sky Rained Hershey Bars

Most fans attend air shows for thrills and excitement but this year the California Capital Airshow (CCA) sought to evoke a range of emotions while educating thousands about a piece of history that many have forgotten and/or have never heard about. On October 5 and 6, 2013, the CCA hosted a special tribute honoring the 65th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.  Wrapping up an unforgettable day of performances, all eyes were glued to the skies as the skies came alive with rumbling jets and Mustangs of the Bremont Horsemen, mesmerized by the aerobatic champions, a bit afraid of Franklin’s Dracula, awestruck by the Indy Boys and Alphajet, and completely captivated by the Patriots Jet Team and the extraordinary Canadian Snowbirds…but the C-47 Skytrain delivering the original Candy Bomber to the waiting crowds, while the C-54 Skymaster roared low across the runway was simply breathtaking – and all you could hear were the touching words of the Berlin Airlift Tribute floating through the air.

The Berlin Airlift Tribute concluded with parachutists from the Red Bull Air Force jumping from the C-54E carrying Hershey chocolate bars and packages of Wrigley’s gum for the kids, re-enacting the thousands of handkerchief Hershey bars Colonel Halvorsen once tossed out of his C-54E so many years ago. Retired Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen, along with nineteen veterans of the Berlin Airlift participated in the touching Tribute. Individuals who were children in Berlin during the historic Airlift relived an emotional time of their youth by watching the C-54E fly over and “wiggle” its wings like it did for them 65 years ago when the candy falling gave them not only treats, but hope for the future.

Airshow announcer, Lt. Col. Jon Huggins, prepared the narration to share this unforgettable piece of history and we are proud to share his words:

Today we go back almost seventy years to 1945. World War II had just ended, and the Allies were victorious. However, Germany lay in ruins, with no economy left to rebuild. The United States, England, and the Soviet Union met to begin planning the reconstruction of Germany. As part of this agreement, not only was Germany divided into sectors controlled by the US, England, France, and the Soviet Union, but the great city of Berlin, the capital of Germany, was to be divided also. However, Berlin sat 100 miles inside of the Soviet Occupation Zone, and the Soviets began to pillage what was left of Germany’s talent and treasure. They had initiated their plan to push out the Western nations, and to create a communist Germany.  
As the United States began the massive reconstruction of Western Europe, the Soviets were determined to have the United States out of Berlin, in the hopes of controlling the entire country.  
In June 1948, the Soviet Union cut off all water and ground transportation to the Western parts of Berlin. And a day later, they stopped supplying food to the 2.5 million men, women and children of West Berlin. With only the ability to provide 2% of their own food, the people of West Berlin were in dire straits, with the glove of communism determined to crush them. Only a month of food reserves remained and only six weeks of coal was available.  
The United States was determined to come to the aid of the blockaded residents of Berlin. However, the U.S. had reduced the size of its military to the point where they were greatly outnumbered by Soviet combat forces.  
Although all access by land was cut off, the three twenty mile-wide air corridors were open. An ambitious plan was hatched by the United States military. An air bridge would be created to fly supplies into Berlin. 
It became apparent that the Douglas C-47, the aircraft that Eisenhower called one of the four greatest technologies of WWII, was too small to carry the needed supplies. Their ability to carry five hundred tons of supplies per day was well short of the five thousand tons needed daily. Unfortunately, the small size of the airports in Berlin prevented larger cargo aircraft from taking the job. Except for one type of cargo aircraft, the Douglas C-54 Skymaster, which was capable of carrying three times the load of a single C-47.
As the Berlin Airlift began, C-54’s were rushed from the U.S. to Europe to begin what became the largest humanitarian aid effort in history. The first week, just ninety tons arrived daily. The second week they jumped to one thousand tons a day. As the crews learned more and more, it was decided to bring in 1,440 flights a day -- one for every minute of the day. And they succeeded! 
The Soviets never counted on American perseverance and ingenuity, and expected the Airlift to fail within a few weeks. They were wrong.  
In May 1949, after almost one year since the airlift began, the Soviets gave up and ended the blockade.  
The City of Berlin had been saved. Over 277,000 flights were flown, while delivering 2.3 million tons of supplies in the greatest effort ever to use air power to save the lives of so many. 
However, one of the most unusual side notes to the Berlin Airlift was an officer who flew the C-54 by the name of Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen. When he landed in Berlin, saw the local children and gave them what little candy he had, he promised to bring more on his subsequent trips.  He told the children they would know it was him when he wiggled his wings; and on that next trip, he wiggled his wings and tossed the candy out of the C-54. He had made small parachutes for each piece of candy out of handkerchiefs. Very soon, many of the aircrew embraced Halvorsen’s idea, and Operation Little Vittles was born. Over the course of the blockade, twenty-three tons of candy was parachuted into the waiting hands of these German children in an effort to lift their spirits and give them hope. 
We applaud and honor the amazing determination and skill of retired Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen along with nineteen other members of the Berlin Airlift who literally saved the people of Berlin.  
We also honor the Berlin Airlift kids! These courageous children grew up during the Soviet blockade, and caught the candy that was parachuted down by Colonel Halvorsen and the other pilots.  
Lt. Col. Jon Huggins, USAF, October 5-6, 2013 – Sacramento, California

A special thank you goes to Captain Sam Knuab who furnished and flew the C-54 Skymaster; Joe Anderson for furnishing the DC-3 and Jeff Coffman, the pilot; The Hershey Company and Wrigley for providing candies, which captured the attention of the children in attendance as we told the story; Sherman-Williams for sponsoring the C-54 restoration paint and materials; and the CCA performer’s team for the concept, tireless commitment and hard work that realized our unique Tribute. We believe everyone walked away with a greater knowledge of our nation’s history, a deeper appreciation for our veterans who have served and sacrificed, and a new awareness for the freedoms that we all enjoy. This is what a great Airshow is all about.

In addition, our deepest gratitude goes out to all of the Berlin Airlift participants who came from near and far to help educate people of all ages about the largest humanitarian aid effort in history and the true value and results that came from their ingenuity and dedication shown so many years ago. We are so proud of this nation, its courageous people and remarkable history.

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