In June 1948, Russia laid siege to Berlin, cutting off the flow of food and supplies over highways into the city. More than two million people faced economic collapse and starvation. The Americans, English, and French began a massive airlift to bring sustenance to the city and to thwart the Russian siege.
Gail Halvorsen was one of hundreds of U.S. pilots involved in the airlift. While in Berlin, he met a group of children standing by the airport watching the incoming planes. Though they hadn't asked for candy, he was impressed to share with them the two sticks of gum he had in his possession. Seeing how thrilled they were by this gesture, he promised to drop more candy to them the next time he flew to the area.
True to his word, as he flew in the next day, he wiggled the wings of his plane to identify himself, then dropped several small bundles of candy using parachutes crafted from handkerchiefs to slow their fall. Local newspapers picked up the story. Suddenly, letters addressed to "Uncle Wiggly Wings" began to arrive as the children requested candy drops in other areas of the city.
Enthusiasm spread to America, and candy contributions came from all across the country. Within weeks candy manufacturers began donating candy by the boxcar.
In May 1949, the highway blockade ended, and the airlift ended in September. But the story of Uncle Wiggly Wings and the candy-filled parachutes lives on-a symbol of human charity. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)
Summary: I've known the story of the Berlin Candy Bomber, or Uncle Wiggly Wings for most of my life. It's always been a favorite, but the pleasure of reading the story from the source was immeasurably wonderful. Let me get this out of the way - there are a lot of typos and spelling errors. As a grammar freak, that was pretty distracting to me. There's also a lot of pilot-ese, and as I'm not a pilot, it bogged down the story for me a bit. But, was it worth it? Absolutely.
Halverson talks about his experiences flying the blockades to deliver fuel and food to West Berlin in detail. He talks about how quickly the "Enemy" became human, and wonderful, incredible, amazing people at that. His promptings to do just a little more were so touching that I couldn't stop reading.
Halverson also writes at length about the consequences of his decision to "bomb" Berlin with candy. He talks about the few times they attempted to bomb East Berlin - which nearly ended in war, he talks about the opportunities and the blessings he and his family have experienced as a result of his decision to launch "Operation Little Vittles" -- which, as a side note, why don't we have awesome operation names like that anymore?
Of the most touching inclusions are the photographs and photocopies of the letters, maps, drawings, and pleas from the Berliner children. It was so heartwarming to see their gratitude, but to also see how it changed them for generations.
I received this book as a rereleased book - I think it's been republished three times now. My copy had what read as two or three epilogues, but it just strengthened the charm of the story. Halverson set out to make thirty kids smile. He ended up bringing hope to a beleaguered city and joy to generations of descendants. His story hasn't grown old. I doubt it ever will.
Rating: Four stars - I could have bumped it up had it received a little more thorough editing.