Allies, Axis, Berlin, Berlin Airlift, bravery, Candybomber, comical despots, David Hasselhoff, do-gooders, East Berlin, Gail Halvorsen, Germany, Japan, Josef Stalin, Mormons, ne'er-do-wells, Onkel Wackelflügel, Operation Little Vittles, ridiculous German words, ugly Americans, Uncle Wiggly-Wings, unfortunate names, United States of America, US Air Force, USSR, Utah, West Berlin, WWII
Typically the characters to be found skulking through the pages of Promethean Times are a dark and sorry lot of maladjusted degenerates, ne’er-do-wells and comical third-world despots. And yet, history sometimes offers those examples of human endeavor which are not only significant and worthwhile, but also–rarest of all–interesting. We present to you, the Candybomber. If sweetheartery were an award (or even a real word), the Candybomber would be a perennial winner.
Although many younger readers many not be aware, Americans have not always been despised around the globe as arrogant behemoths trampling the rest of the world beneath their overpriced Nikes. There was a time, only a few short generations ago, when America was revered as a bastion of hope, and a force for good in a bleak and increasingly repressive world. As the occupying forces in Germany and Japan following their defeat at the end of WWII, a generation of earnest and well-meaning young men served to bolster this impression. The former enemies were disarmed by the Americans’ kindness, generosity and magnanimity, and in this the Allies achieved a victory far greater than anything they were able to accomplish with military means. That Japan and Germany are today stable, democratic–and for more than a half-century, peaceful–republics, is in some ways a credit to these exemplary young men.
But Gail Halvorsen, the Candybomber, stands head and shoulders above them all. Despite the cruel handicap of being a dude with a chick’s name, in 1948 the young pilot exploded into the hearts and minds of young Germans, who, though now well into middle-age, still revere the Candybomber to this day.
In 1948, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin sealed off West Berlin (as the nice part of Berlin was then known), hoping to starve out the fledgling democratic republic. The Allies, under the leadership of American President Harry S Truman, began an heroic, round-the-clock operation to ferry supplies to the beleaguered krauts. This operation, known as the Berlin Airlift, proved an historic success, forcing Stalin to ‘blink’ in May of 1949, lifting the embargo.
Halvorsen, however, wanted to do more for the war-wearied children he saw lining the fences around the airbase. The nice Mormon boy from Utah hit upon an idea that was an instant winner: he attached small parachutes to bags of candy he had purchased himself, and his plane approached Berlin, would toss them from his plane to the grateful children below. To differentiate his plane from the dozens arriving every hour, he would dip his wings before releasing his payload, earning him the typically ridiculous German nickname Onkel Wackelflügel (Uncle Wiggly-Wings).
Rumor has it that upon hearing of Halvorsen’s actions, his Air Force superiors ordered him to stop. However, someone up the food chain quickly comprehended the PR goldmine which had fallen into Allied hands thanks to Halvorsen’s do-gooderism. The Allies ran with it, and ‘Operation Little Vittles’ was born, magnifying Halvorsen’s individual act of kindness on a grand scale. It remains one of the most unheralded–and successful–American PR campaigns in history.