Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hershey Bar Diplomacy

Most history buffs will know that, at the end of World War II, American and Soviet occupying forces had control over Berlin, Germany.  America stayed there to insure the Soviets did not take over a defeated Germany, as Churchill had warned about.  

Then, in the last week of June, 1948 the Soviets made their move; they closed off all water and land access to Berlin, hoping to starve Berliners into submission and accept Soviet control of their homeland.   With no way to bring in foodstuffs and critical supplies, the western allies would be curtailed from exerting any democratic influence and the Soviets would then "own" Germany.

It was then that President Truman ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to come up with a plan to outwit the Soviets, with the caveat that any actions be short of war.  The Joint Chiefs came up with the idea to mount the most ambitious air support plan in history.  They proposed flying in all the food, fuel, clothing and medical supplies that Berliners would need and deny the Soviets their goal of gobbling up Germany.

This humanitarian airlift would be code named Operation Vittles and the U.S. Air Force would partner with the British and Canadian Royal Air Forces to deliver the goods.  And for eleven months, from June 1948 to May 1949, allied air forces would land at approximately one flight landing a minute, 24 hours per day, at Tempelhoff Air Base, Germany, off load vital supplies and equipment, then take off to secure another load.

Even today, Air Force officers study Operation Vittles in leadership and command and staff courses.  Not until 1973, when America airlifted millions of tons of guns, planes, tanks and equipment to Israel would any airlift even approach the scale of Operation Vittles.

Ironically, in the hearts of Germans it was not Operation Vittles that they remember most.  And it was not the hugely expensive Marshall Plan, in which America spent a big chunk of her GDP to rebuild Europe that endears us to modern Germans.  

No, the kindness that Germans remember, the true appreciation for America came from a far smaller gesture; a kindness extended to the children of Berlin by an American Air Force pilot named Gail Halverson.  Captain Halverson was one of those pilots flying beans and butter to hungry Berliners.  Each time he landed Captain Halverson would walk in to the air terminal for a restroom and to refresh his flight plan.  And each time he took that short walk from plane to terminal he couldn't help but notice all the dirty, hungry, sad faced children who swarmed around the plane.  On his very next fly-in Halvorson brought boxes of Hershey bars and passed them out to the kids, immediately bringing sunshine and hope to their faces.

Halverson delighted in these smiles and got the idea to take the "Hershey Bar Diplomacy" a step further.  He enlisted his crew to wrap Hershey Bars in Handkerchiefs, hundreds of them.  Then, as Halvorson's plane came in low over Berlin, the flight crew would release these little candy parachutes over the city.  Soon thousands of Berlin's children flooded the streets, anxiously awaiting the candy parachutes being dropped by those nice Americans.  

Soon, a smart reporter filed a story about this back in the states.  Americans, thrilled by this, began donating thousands of pounds of candy toward the effort.  Then it didn't take long for the American candy manufacturers to get into the act, as they donated tons of candy toward Operation Little 

Soon every pilot and every plane bringing fuel and foodstuffs into Berlin were also air dropping thousands of those little candy parachutes over the city of Berlin and winning the hearts of Germans.

Some sixty five years later, if you go to Germany, and if you ask a German why they ally so closely with Americans, they'll tell you about a time when they were starving and cold, and when they looked to the sky, they saw only dark clouds in their future.  That is, until some broad chested, big hearted American flyers carpet bombed their city with little droplets of sweetness and hope.

By the way, Gail Halverson is still alive, a sprightly 92 years doubt blessed with a long life for his big heart.


Ken said...

It's these types of stories that make me so proud to be American. This is one I've never heard BTW, neither one, a sad commentary on our schools and their wanting history programs. I wish these types of stories would be taught as students would feel as I do right now and maybe we could lose the ominous hate growing for all things American in schools today. You have quite a handle on our nation's history, I wish you would relate it this way more often. I appreciate ALL you have to say on the sad state of today's USA, but maybe toss out an article like this a wee bit more often and the ignorant numbskulls like myself would gain a greater appreciation for this great country, and a motivation to find out more. Your blog has pushed me to the library or Amazon more than once for books to read on subjects you have touched on here.

Thanks again for another great essay.

A Modest Scribler said...

Thanks much, Ken. I enjoy writing about little known facts of history and I'll keep your suggestion in mind for future blogs.

But I must also wield "the hammer" because I need to wake up people to what's happening around them these days...too many folks sleeping on their "citizenship job".

Ken said...

I placed your article on my facebook page and was answered with a note from my Sister in Law, Alyssa is her daughter, my niece. The following is that note:

The Grandmother of the Family that Alyssa was a nanny for in Germany, told me that she was thankful for the American's who brought candy and who also had gotten her out of Germany during that time. So cool! Something to be proud of.

I understand the need to swing hammers but I think we are getting hammered negatively so much that people on both sides of the aisle have forgotten what a great country this is and need to be FUCKING REMINDED,GODDAMN IT!! That's me wielding a hammer of positivity!! LOL