Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Operation Little Vittles

With the end of World War II, one of the most elegant, sophisticated cities of Europe lay in ruins. The victors divided Berlin, deep in the Soviet occupation zone, but in June, 1948, the Russians attempted to grab control of the whole city and force out the Americans, British, and French. They refused to allow trains, trucks, or barges into the western part of the city. Without food, coal, and all other supplies, two million Berliners would starve if they didn’t capitulate to the Russians.
If the Soviet army had tried to invade the western sectors, the Western democracies would have been able to do little about it. Their military forces were outnumbered 62 to 1. But America, with her allies, determined to make a stand. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. stood face to face, and America refused to blink.
The Berlin Airlift began, a monstrous effort that required flying in 10.6 million pounds of cargo for the survival of the west Berliners. It became known as Operation Vittles.
In the three years since the war’s end, distrust and hostility remained high between victors and vanquished. Hunger and cold were constant companions of the Berliners. They resented America for bombing their cities and homes far beyond the necessity of war as they saw it.

The American pilots were conflicted in their attitudes toward the Germans. Said one, “First you bomb them, then you feed them. I wonder what my navigator’s widow out in Kansas thinks of it.”
One pilot was Gail Halvorsen. He’d spent the war flying transport planes out of Brazil, carrying cargo to Miami and across the Atlantic. He was a stickler for following orders. That made a good transport pilot, whereas combat pilots took risks. He hadn’t been selected to go to Germany to fly in the Airlift. A friend with a young family was, however, and Halvorsen volunteered to go in his place.
The pilots had no opportunity to see anything of Berlin besides the airport. They landed, their planes were unloaded, and within a half hour, they flew back to base in the American zone in western Germany. Halvorsen broke the rules by stowing away on a friend’s flight, sacrificing some sleep to see the sights of Berlin. With an hour to kill while he waited for a driver and jeep, he hurried the two miles across the airport to film the planes coming in to land.
A group of thirty children had gathered at the fence to watch the planes. Now they watched the American pilot. A few knew English and they asked questions about the planes and their cargoes. When he left to meet his driver, Halvorsen remembered the two sticks of gum in his pocket. He made the life-changing decision to go back and give the gum to the children. Only four children got the gum torn in half. The others passed around the wrappers, sniffing the scent. Halvorsen impulsively told them he would drop candy to them the next day. They would recognize his plane when he wiggled his wings.

Lt. Gail Halvorsen talked to German children watching the airplanes. The biggest victims of war are the smallest, the children. Safety and security disappear for reasons they cannot understand. In their place are uncertainly and privation.

His copilot and navigator weren’t happy with him when he told them his plan. Halvorsen was upset with himself for his rash promise. He hated to think what trouble he might get them into. But a promise was a promise. He drew his ration of candy along with his crewmates’ reluctantly given allotments, and made three parachutes out of handkerchiefs.
He wiggled his Skymaster’s wings, and the waiting children started jumping and cheering. The crew nervously watched the crowd of children grow in the coming days. Other pilots spoke of the children’s sudden rambunctiousness.

They made a second drop a week later. And a third the following week. A few days later, Halvorsen went into the operations building to get a weather report. He spotted a table laden with mail, many addressed in crayon to Onkel Wackelflugel (Uncle Wiggly Wings) or Schokoladen Flieger (Chocolate Flyer). He beat a hasty retreat, fearing a court martial.
Berliners remained uncertain about Americans. Grateful as they were for the food, they felt like pawns in a power play. Something began changing, though, beginning with their children. Children in the hundreds came to the airport fence. Adults began joining them. On warm summer days, ten thousand could be watching.
Determined not to tempt a court martial, Halvorsen had decided against any more drops. Then he was summoned to his commander’s office.
“You almost hit a reporter on the head with a candy bar yesterday,” he told Halvorsen. The reporter had gotten his plane’s tail number. Halvorsen was sent to Wiesbaden to see General William Tunner, in charge of the airlift.
Expecting the worst, Halvorsen received congratulations. Tunner recognized the psychological boost in morale the candy drops brought to Berliners. He sent Halvorsen to speak to the reporters in Wiesbaden. With his identity revealed, Halvorsen was inundated with candy from the other airmen. He called his candy drops “Operation Little Vittles.” A quick publicity trip to the States resulted in candy factories and schoolchildren donating candy and others supplying him with parachutes. Other pilots joined in to drop candy.

Halvorsen attaches candy to the small parachutes.

            They dropped over 23 tons of candy over the course of the airlift. During the 15-month airlift, the candy bombers won the hearts and minds of Berliners.
            Gail Halvorsen became a celebrity in Germany. In 1974, he received one of Germany's highest medals, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, for reaching out to the children of wartorn Berlin in an effort to make their lives a little sweeter. 

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen poses in front of a C-54 — the same type of plane he flew during the Berlin airlift — during an air show at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in 1984.

Recommended for further reading: The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thinking About...Philip

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Acts 8:39-40

Don’t you sometimes wish the Bible writers had provided a bit more detail? “The Lord suddenly took Philip away” and he “appeared at Azotus.”
The eunuch, we’re told, went on his way rejoicing, but don’t you think he must have wondered? “Now where’d he go? Didn’t even say good-bye.”
What must have that been like for Philip? He didn’t have the benefit of growing up watching I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched, or any sci-fi movies.
What did he think when he suddenly found himself in Azotus? Where did he find himself?
Maybe he was suddenly walking down a road, startling any passers-by. How did he feel? A little off balance? A little queasy?
Or maybe he was zapped into a market place. Imagine what a shop keeper must have thought when Philip asked, “Excuse me, what town is this?”
An angel of the Lord had told him to go south to the desert road. Did Philip know he should take along any belongings?
Philip, what was it like?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Emissary, a New Release

Hyam’s mother dies two days before his 21st birthday, when his adulthood begins. She asked that he inform his father at Three Valleys Long Hall. Magic had been banned throughout the realm, but within the Long Halls, magery was still practiced.
Humans aren’t the only inhabitants of the realm. There are the telepathic Ashanta who keep to themselves. The green Elves, thought to have been wiped out by the Milantians, a warrior clan that brought havoc to the land and are now killed on sight.
Hyam’s father was a wizard, but Hyam learns his father died four years ago. The Mistress of the Long Hall remembers Hyam from his years there as an acolyte, before he was expelled.  She tells him he is not human, but most likely a Milantian.
She also tells him war is coming. The mayor of his village has heard rumors as well, and asks Hyam to go to the Ashanta and ask for news.
As he tills his field, for Hyam is a farmer, he is stunned to feel an energy in the earth. He plunges his spade in the ground and precise furrows appear. Armed soldiers come, threatening to burn his village and string him up for practicing magic. Hyam commands the earth to open, and the soldiers are swallowed up.
Hyam begins his quest for the Ashanta with his newfound magical prowess. He joins forces with the Ashanta, the Elves, and humans longing for justice to rid the world of evil and a mysterious crimson mage.

I was privileged to receive an advance reader copy of Emissary, which was released on Tuesday. Fantasy is a genre I rarely read, but I’m familiar with and enjoy much of the author’s work in other genres. Emissary held my attention from start to finish. I did read slower to be sure I understood everything. It is a bit like being dropped into an alien environment.
No mention is made of God or Christianity, but the theme of good and evil is familiar. Hyam doesn’t view himself as a hero or spokesman, but he agrees to the role of emissary because it’s the right thing to do, even if he loses his life, as he expects he will. I am reminded of Isaiah: “Here am I. Send me.”
I recommend Thomas Locke’s Emissary.