How One Pilot's Sweet Tooth Helped Defeat Communism

by Greg Volk

In 1948, the Soviet beast was hungry. Three years into the postwar occupation of Germany, the USSR had tired of sharing Berlin, so it blockaded ground and water access to the two million residents in the American, French, and British zones. The Soviet hope was to starve them into submission. In response, from June 1948 to September 1949, thousands of pilots airlifted 2.3 million tons of food and supplies to the blockaded Berliners. The code name for the American mission: Operation Vittles.

At the airlift’s peak in 1949, planes landed every 90 seconds. Pilots flew three trips a day, taking just seven hours off. Despite the exhausting schedule, one airman was determined to do more. On July 19, 1948, Lt. Gail Halvorsen decided to skip sleep. Instead, he took his hand-cranked 8 mm camera and stowed away on his friend’s plane to Tempelhof Airport.

At the runway’s edge, Halvorsen spotted a few dozen boys and girls. Chatting with them through a barbed wire fence, Halvorsen realized something. He had met children across South America, Africa, and Europe, and all of them harassed him for candy. These kids hadn’t asked for anything.

Halvorsen dug into his pocket and pulled out two sticks of Doublemint that he tore into four pieces and passed through the fence. “Kids who got half a stick looked like they just got a thousand bucks,” Halvorsen later recalled. Another child asked for the wrappers, which the group ripped apart and began to sniff.

Moved by the scene, Halvorsen promised to drop candy to them on a future flight. How would they know which plane was his, the children wanted to know. “I’ll wiggle my wings,” the Utah farm boy replied, calling on a move he’d perfected over fields back home.

Operation "Little Vittles"

Not surprisingly, dropping candy from a military airplane was against regulation, but Halvorsen was resolute. First, he convinced his copilot and their engineer to give him their weekly candy rations. Then he tackled the problematic physics of “candy bombs”: Chocolate dropped from a plane going 110 mph hurtles toward Earth at alarming speeds. Halvorsen’s solution was to craft mini-parachutes from handkerchiefs and attach them to the candy with twine.

Nervous and exhausted, Halvorsen took off with his sugary cargo. He needed precise timing to drop the candy on the children’s side of the fence. Even without candy bombs, landing a C-54 Skymaster at Tempelhof’s narrow approach was no easy task. Just before getting to the runway, Halvorsen wiggled his plane’s wings and signaled his engineer to push the packages out the emergency flare chute. Halvorsen hoped that the children would get the candy—and that he wouldn’t get caught.

News traveled faster than expected. The next day, he was called in front of his commanding officer, who slammed down a newspaper. A candy bar had nearly hit a reporter in the head. But instead of a court martial, Halvorsen received congratulations. The operation’s commander, Gen. William Tunner, realized the psychological value of Halvorsen’s efforts and lent his full support: Operation “Little Vittles” was official!

As Halvorsen and a few dozen other pilots made daily candy drops, letters poured in. Elated children thanked Der Schokoladenflieger (The Chocolate Pilot) and Onkel Wackelflügel (Uncle Wiggly Wings) for the gifts. Nearly overnight, Halvorsen became the face of the Berlin Airlift and a symbol of American goodwill. GOT ANY SPARE HANKIES? THIS ‘LIFT’ PILOT CAN USE THEM, proclaimed the New York Post.

All told, Operation Little Vittles rained down 23 tons of candy from 250,000 parachutes. And though it took nearly a year, the Soviets eventually called off the blockade for one simple reason: It wasn’t working. The airlift was a success, filling Berliners’ stomachs and lifting their spirits, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Uncle Wiggly Wings.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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iStock

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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