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The Berlin Airlift | Article

The Chocolate Pilot

Before I got donations from big candy companies, the children of America were sending me donations, and sending me money so we could go to the base exchange and buy the things to drop to the children of Berlin. — Gail Halvorsen

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Gail Halvorsen, The Harry S. Truman Library

As a United States Air Force pilot flying supplies into Berlin during the Soviet blockade, Gail Halvorsen conjured a special idea for lifting the spirits of children of West Berlin. He delivered packages of gum and candy by attaching them to small parachutes, and dropping them from his C-47 to the children who gathered to watch from the airfield below. The deliveries earned Halvorsen the nicknames the "Chocolate Pilot" and "Uncle Wiggly Wings." His packages offered hope to the children of the besieged city of Berlin whose young lives had been plagued by war.

The candy deliveries rallied the support of communities and school children in the United States. Since the Berlin Airlift, known as "Operation Vittles," had its stateside headquarters at Westover Air Force base in Chicopee, Massachusetts, officials established the headquarters of "Operation Little Vittles" in the same town.

Read about the efforts of the Chicopee townspeople and children in "Operation Little Vittles" in accounts from local newspapers during the Berlin Airlift.

12 Tons of Candy Sent
Operation Little Vittles Going Over Big; 11,000 Yards of Linen for Handkerchiefs Arrive

Chicopee, Nov. 21 — "Operation Little Vittles," with its United States capital in the Grape St. fire station here, has shipped a total of 12 tons of candy and 3600 candy chutes to Lt. Gail Halverson, one of the MATS pilots on the Berlin Airlift who drop the gifts to kids in Berlin. Since the operation started, these pilots have extended their activities, because of the spontaneous response of American school children, to visit to Berlin hospitals and welfare homes.

Engineering Tracings
Wilfred B. Thivierge, secretary to mayor Edward O. Bourbeau, the adult guide of Chicopee school children, reported that the 11,000 yards of cloth promised by the Budd Mfg. Co., of Philadelphia, has arrived. It is a high grade Irish linen, all cut to handkerchief size. To the surprise of the mayor's secretary, it is actually that many engineering tracings that are obsolete. Because the cloth is still in its starched form, it will be laundered by the Holgate Laundry of Fairview without charge. "If the Russians find any they will think we are sending them industrial secrets," Thivierge said, "for the black water proof ink drawings probably won't wash out."

From the Life Saver Corp. at Port Chester, N.Y., has come 1200 rolls of life savers, and the Springfield Turnverin Society has added 800 chocolate bars. But in spite of the large number of gifts, it was reported that the supply of candy is now falling short of the needs of Lt. Halverson and his comrades of the Airlift.

Thivierge said that he has begun to receive requests for instructions on how to assist from numerous church groups throughout the country and the task of keeping abreast of the correspondence is increasingly hard Besides several coast to coast broadcasts of the "Little Vittles" undertaking, many of the radio entertainers are beginning to pick up the idea and include mention of it in their script.

"We need more cash to meet air freight costs and we need more candy," Thivierge said.

Read newspaper excerpts about the recreation and commemoration of "Operation Little Vittles" in the town of Chicopee 50 years later, and learn where those who took part in "Operation Little Vittles" as children and leaders are today:

Chicopee — "Operation Little Vittles" capitol of the U.S.
By Ed Jasiewicz, Chicopee Herald October 26, 1989

Each of the 22 schools in Chicopee set time aside for sewing the handkerchiefs into miniature parachutes. Each student was required to donate one day per week making candychutes.

Operation Little Vittles made such a positive impact in defeating the purpose of the Berlin blockade, that the Russian government filed an angry protest with the State Dept. with claims that Operation Little Vittles "violated their propaganda agreement."

When the Berlin blockade was finally lifted, some 100,000 parachutes -- laden with candy -- were made at the former fire station which was located a short distance from Elms College. In all, approximately 18 tons (26,000 lbs.) of candy were airlifted from Chicopee to the needy children in the western sector of Berlin, Germany. The official climax of the Operation Little Vittles project culminated in one final simultaneous drop on 10 major cities in Germany on October 31 to coincide with Halloween.

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