…An American Story…
It’s rare that a story transcends time, in this case for a lifetime, and yet is still relevant today, especially during this holiday season.
The story begins shortly after WWII when the Soviet Union closed all land routes, roads and rail, into Berlin. Over two-million Germans were trapped in West Berlin.
Only the air route remained open, and it was by this route that West Berlin, “An Island of freedom in a great sea of communist misery,” was supplied with coal, food and medicine for nearly an entire year.
Several years ago, another story from the airlift was retold in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle. Hundreds of small parachutes, made from handkerchiefs, started falling from the ceiling into the congregation below, while a 92-year-old former pilot, “Hal” Halvorsen, stood on the stage before a standing ovation, where many in the audience had tear-streaked faces.
“Hal” Halvorsen had been a pilot during the Berlin Airlift. On an early flight into Tempelhof Airport, “Hal” taxied the plane to where it could be unloaded, and then walked over to the fence surrounding the airfield while the ground crew did its work.
At the fence, he saw German children staring through the chain-link fence at the planes and their cargoes of coal, food and medicine.
It was then “Hal” realized he could do more, a lot more to help raise the spirits of the children of West Berlin.
On his next flight into Tempelhof, “Hal” and his crew took the action “Hal” had decided upon at the chain-linked fence where he had given four pieces of gum, far too little for all the children at the fence, but where even the wrappings were treated with care by the children while “Hal” talked with them.
Hal had devised a method, using handkerchiefs folded as parachutes, to drop candy to the waiting children below.
His actions became widely known among other aircrews, and it wasn’t long before many other pilots and aircrews followed in “Hal’s” footsteps, throwing handmade parachutes with candy bars attached, from their planes as they approached Tempelhof.
The children waited in anticipation for the aircrews to drop candy to them. They sent messages to “Uncle Wiggly,” so named because he had told the children to watch for his plane as it approached Templhof where he would wiggle the wings of his plane.
The Berlin Airlift started in June 1948, and ended in May 1949. It had been hugely successful and saved West Berlin from Russian aggression.
A strong President Harry Truman, risked a shooting war by standing up to Russian aggression when the United States had largely demobilized after WWII.
It was a gutsy call that rings true today as we again confront Russian aggression in the Ukraine.
Hal died last year at the age of 101.
“Hal’s” story is a typical American story of generosity, of helping those who were desolate and in danger, and who wanted freedom.
It’s a story symbolic of this time of year, of peace and giving.
It’s an American story.
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