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Saturday, June 30, 2018

the berlin airlift...good vs evil using committment and candy bombers

Years before the Wall divided, and years after Hitler died, there was an event which united...not just the city of Berlin, but many cities, countries and people, with one goal. To fly. To help. To feed. 

Two million women, men and children were stranded., shut off from the rest of the world, for 10 whole months in West Berlin. 1948.

A portion of the still-standing wall at the East Side Gallery
June marked 70 years since the beginning of the Berlin Airlift, when Russian military forces blocked all land and rail transports into West Berlin. A very complicated and highly exhaustive coordinated response swiftly followed, with pilots from the British, French, American, Australian, and South African Air Forces flying up to 1400 flights a day.

Templehof Airport

Food, medical supplies, mail, and most importantly, coal were flown daily in a round-the-clock series of flights from the Rhein-Main and Hamburg/Hannover regions of West Germany, landing every 90 seconds at 3 airports in the western sector of Berlin.

Photo: Boris Roessler/DPA
One incredibly poignant part of this story is the one of Captain Gail Halverson who, as a personal statement against Stalin and the Russian regime, began throwing out parachutes of chocolate bars and candy as he flew over the neighbourhoods of West Berlin. As children and families began to notice this pattern, Captain Halverson would wiggle his plane's wings whenever he returned, as a signal of the sweet treats fallling from the sky. Soon his colleagues joined in and children would swarm in anticipation when seeing 'Uncle Wiggly Wings' flying low overhead. These planes were given the name of 'raisin bombers' (Rosinen Bomber)...honoring a mission which brought hope and light into a cold and dark community.

Photo: Picture-Alliance/DPA

As the airlift began in June 25th 1948, the western Allied forces thought that it would at most last 4-6 weeks. But it soon became clear that Stalin was going to hold out, in the belief that the Berliners would never put up with being cold and hungry, and would agree with forcing the Allieds out of West Berlin. The mayor of West Berlin, Ernst Reuter, gave a passionate plea to more than 350,000 West Berliners gathered in a public standing against Russia, to be resilient and for the world not to forget them. Reuter assured the Allieds that the Berliners would put up with only 1800 calories a day, would walk everywhere (as there was very limited fuel), would put up with candlelight (as electricity had been cut off) as long as the Allieds would not abandon them.

As winter loomed, West Berliners put their heads down and continued to work and live, with limited food and light and heat. They held out, support by the air, and it worked.

Airlift Memorial - Berlin

Over a million tons of coal, 730 000 tons of food, and 100 000 flights had been flown by Christmas, with a record-breaking 13 000 tons being dropped in a single day. Regardless of cost, the Allieds were committed to keeping up this incredible feat, which actually supplied West Berlin better than it had previously done by land and rail. Stalin realized that his plan wasn't working at all, and Russia finally gave in and took down the blockades in May of 1949. Stalin had underestimated the determination of the outside world, combined with the resilience of the Berliners. He couldn't break the spirit of the people, either economically or politically, as long as a host of western countries, German cities (Hamburg, Hannover, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt) and thousands of courageous individuals were supporting them.

Memorials now stand in honour of the dedicated pilots, and to the 43 airmen who lost their lives during the airlift. The flights had been continuous, night and day, through the harsh winter, and during all kinds of difficult and dangerous weather, for ten long months.

The city of Berlin would remain divided for another 40 years. There would come more, less successful acts of courage and determination from within Berlin, such as the uprising in June 1953 when East Berliners tried to drive out communism, receiving popular support from across the west.

In the end, the wall would come down. Germany was reunified due to this same determination, courage and perseverance for change, for good, and for freedom. Again, it took many individuals working and communicating together, taking to the streets and to the meeting rooms, to bring about positive change. We need to learn from history so that the steps which lead to division and suppression are not retread.
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