Berlin Airlift: Events commemorate historic humanitarian operation
May 24, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany - Aukamm Elementary School students sang "Happy Birthday" to a special guest May 20 - 90-year-old retired Col. Gail Halvorsen.
The Berlin Airlift veteran, known as the Candy Bomber and Uncle Wiggly Wings to those young West Berlin recipients of his generosity with Hershey bars during the Soviet blockade, paid a visit to the school, along with Mercedes Wild, one of those children in post-war Berlin in the late 1940s and author of the children's book "Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot."
They joined members of the Luftbruecke Chapter e.V. at special commemorative events in Berlin, Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and other locations in memory of those who gave their lives during the humanitarian mission that started in June 1948 and continued for several months after the siege was broken in May of 1949.
"It was not the pilots who were the heroes," said Halvorsen, during a book launch event on May 14 at Trebur City Hall. "It was those who gave their lives. It was the mechanics who worked in the snow and the cold who made sure that the planes could keep flying. It was all the people who did the work to make sure the mission could continue."
Describing the massive effort to feed and heat a hungry city of some 2 million people through more than 277,000 flights and the transport of more than 2.3 million tons of goods, Halvorsen said the message of hope may have been the most important thing shared with the citizens of Berlin.
"It was not the chocolate that was important - it was the thought that someone in America realized I (a West Berliner) was in trouble and thought about me," he said, explaining that he was told, "I can live on thin rations, but I can't live without hope. ... If we lose our freedom, we'll never get it back."
Representatives of Frankfurt and Wiesbaden described how important the Berlin Airlift was to future relations during a ceremony at the Berlin Airlift Memorial at the Frankfurt International Airport May 16.
"Today we very often take too much for granted what we have - freedom and democracy," said Uwe Becker, Frankfurt treasurer, stressing that the Berlin Airlift laid the foundation for years of German-American cooperation and eventual German reunification. "Former enemies became friends in a very short time ... saving freedom and peace not only for the people of Berlin but for all of Germany."
Underscoring that longtime friendship, Aukamm Elementary School invited students from the German Grundschule Bierstadt to join in the special Berlin Airlift observance at the school. The students peppered the famous pilot with questions ranging from how he came up with the idea to toss chocolate to the children of Berlin on tiny parachutes to what was the best thing he had ever done in his life.
"When you do things for people it opens up friendship - it makes friends with people," Halvorsen told the students. "That's what the airlift was.
"There are two things I want you to remember in your lives. That's gratitude and that serving others is important," added Halvorsen, praising the students for their "wonderful questions. ... You are the symbols of hope as you grow up. Remember, one individual can make a difference."
Principal Sue Gurley explained that the third- to fifth-grade students were excited about meeting the airlift legend after studying about the mission and designing posters for the observance. (For more photos from the Aukamm Elementary School visit and Berlin Airlift Memorial commemoration visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/wpao. For more on the airlift visit http://www.wiesbaden.army.mil/BA/BA.htm.)