The Candy Bombers

Andrei Cherny

The Candy Bombers

“In the days after their candy drop, Halvorsen, Pickering, and Elkins watched nervously as the group of children by the Tempelhof fence, growing larger every day, waved excitedly at every plane that went by. 'You didn't give them your name, did you?' a worried Pickering asked Halvorsen.

'No, I didn't,' Halvorsen replied, adding he had kept his cover on so the children wouldn't realize he was almost bald. 'They don't know who we are.'

But it felt like everywhere they went – in the rest room, on the flight line, in the mess hall, at the base operations center – other pilots were talking about the increasing number of children and their strange behavior.”

These paragraphs come from a wonderful book about the Berlin airlift of 1948 – 49, The Candy Bombers. In the aftermath of World War II, in the divided city of Berlin, people starved and scrounged for the basic necessities of life, scraping out an existence in the ruins of what had once been Hitler's grand and grandiose capital city. The city was split into four sectors, each administered by a different nation: the U.S., France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The Soviets blockaded the western portion of the city, refusing entry to the trains of food, coal, and clothing that would be needed to see the Berliners through the winter.

“For more than three years, Berliners had lived in the jagged place between subsistence and starvation. By the middle of 1948, the daily ration for adults was two cups of milk, two tablespoons of vegetables, two tablespoons of meat, three small potatoes, three slices of bread, a small slice of cheese, and a lump of sugar.”

Because of the Soviet blockade, it became apparent to the men in charge in the western sector that the only way to bring food and coal into Berlin was by air, in military transport planes. Thus, the airlift was born. Tons of food, coal, and clothing were transported across Europe by U.S. pilots and landed at Tempelhof Airport for distribution to those living in the ruined city.

“Berliners were still not sure how they felt about the Americans – and fairly certain how the Americans felt about them – and they had an initial ironic, snarky response to the can-do élan and effectiveness of the airlift....Berliners were impressed by the operation – by the vast air bridge built of men and machines – but felt like they were pawns in a global power play....They were glad the allies were flying in supplies, but it all seemed disconnected from any sense of humanity.

But then something started to happen. It began with Berlin's children. By the beginning of August, as word of the candy drops spread, the pack of children gathered at the Tempelhof fence had grown to hundreds every day.”

Tiny parachutes, made of handkerchiefs and old shirt tails, carried candy bars and chewing gum to the children of Berlin. They also brought hope to those living in the shattered city, and transformed how the citizens of defeated Germany's capital saw the United States.

Subtitled The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour, The Candy Bombers is a testament to the men who flew the relief missions, to those who guided them, and to the ordinary people who lived through it. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.