November 11, 2014
Gail Halvorsen Gave Hope to a City with his Candy Bombing
I hope you watched the movie "Meet the Mormons." We saw it twice! It was wonderful! Since it's Veterans Day, I wanted to highlight more about the Candy Bomber, one of the Mormons in the film. He is such an interesting man, and has done so much for our country.
Gail Halvorsen was born in Salt Lake City in 1920. He grew up on farms in Salt Lake and in Idaho and learned how to work hard. He was always a devout Mormon and learned how to be a Christian from his family and church teachers.
As World War 2 was shaping up, Gail was learning how to pilot aircraft in a small program called the Civilian Pilot Training Program. After passing the course, he enlisted in the Air Force. He flew missions during the war.
When the war ended, Germany was divided into sections. Russia claimed half and the rest was divided up among the Allies (United States, Britain and France.) Due to an agreement made before the war ended, the city of Berlin was also divided up similarly, even though Berlin was deep in the heart of Russia's section. Russia ruled it's sections harshly with Communism and the others were democratically governed due to their Allied hosts. The Germans in the Communist sections began to leave, moving to the free areas. This began to cause friction between the Russians and the Allies because Stalin didn't want his people to leave. So he started a blockade, which became the beginning of the 'Cold war.'
Stalin blocked all railways and roads into the free part of Berlin. Food became scarce and the Berlin people began to suffer. Electricity was cut off to the city except for a few short hours in the day. News reports to the people gave the idea that these sanctions were the fault of the British, Americans and French Allies to encourage the people to want Communist rule. Stalin offered to stop the blockade if Allies would bow to their numerous demands.
The one thing the Communists didn't stop were the airplanes flying into West Berlin. How can you block the sky? If Stalin ordered attacks on the airplanes, it would start another world war. The Allies began bringing food into the city by cargo airplanes. They didn't use fighter planes so that they could not be seen as an aggressor. To feed the city, they needed to bring in 5000 tons of food and supplies daily! The Allies added planes to the fleet and tonnage to their cargoes and stayed busy bringing food to the people of West Berlin.
Gail was assigned to pilot flights loaded with these supplies into Berlin. As you see in the movie, he saw how grateful the children were to get the food and saw how carefully they shared the little bit of gum he gave them through the fence at the landing field. He wanted to help them more.
Listening to the Spirit, he decided he'd put handkerchief parachutes onto his candy rations and drop them to the children the next day when he made his daily delivery. He told the kids about his plan and that they could tell it was his airplane because he'd 'wiggle' his wings up and down. He talked his buddies out of their candy and the idea spread. The children loved the candy and looked forward to the drops daily from Gail, who they dubbed 'Uncle Wiggly Wings.'
Gail's actions could have gotten him in terrible trouble with the Air Corps. But fortunately, his commanding officer saw the good it did and let him alone. It was good for public relations and went against the propaganda that was everywhere about how it was the Allies fault that Berliners were hungry.
A reporter saw this and wrote about it in America and Britain. Children from these countries wrote letters to Gail and enclosed their candy to give to the children. Later candy companies donated tons of candy to add to the effort. Soon many pilots were dropping food and goodies to West Berlin children. 'Operation Little Vittles' became well accepted and even supported by the Air Corps and gave families hope and helped them feel encouraged through this food blockade.
In time over 23 tons of candy was dropped to the children of West Berlin by Uncle Wiggly Wings and his cohorts. Almost a year later, Communists lifted the blockade and food became more plentiful again. Citizens of West Berlin were grateful to Gail and honored him by naming 2 schools in his honor. The government also awarded Gail the highest award given. In America, the new generation of large transport airplanes were named in his honor.
I honor Gail for his service during the war, but especially because he acted on an impression to do something above and beyond his job to help. It was such a great idea that it caught hold and gave hope to a whole city. He's a great example of one who followed the Savior's example of love and service, even when it might get him in trouble in his profession.
"Meet the Mormons" movie, 2014. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spencer Johnson, general war information.
Wikipedia, "Gail Halvorsen." 22 Oct 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gail_Halvorsen
Wikipedia. "Berlin Blockade." 7 November 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Blockade