Photo by Sergey Kohl
Photo by Sergey Kohl

The Berlin Airlift: Operation Little Vittles

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

In June 1948, the citizens of Berlin were under siege. With Soviets blockading roads and railways Into West Berlin, those living in that sector of the city had almost no way of receiving supplies, coal and food. To help alleviate this hardship, the Allies used the one delivery route still available — the air. The Berlin Airlift began June 16, 1948. As Operation Vittles got off the ground, one American pilot would make a sweet difference to the children of Berlin.
    
Col. Gail “Hal” Halverson was assigned to Berlin in late summer 1948. When he wasn’t flying missions over the city, he would explore nearby neighborhoods. One day, he noticed a group of children gathered against the fence surrounding the airfield. He walked over and chatted with them. As the conversed, he learned many of the youngsters and their families were starving. Halverson reached into his pocket and pulled out two sticks of gum — the only treats he had to offer. The children split the gum into equal portions and shared amongst each other. Moved by their selflessness, he told them he would drop enough sweets for all of the next day. When asked how they would know which plane was his, Halverson responded he’d wiggle the wings.
    
That evening, he gathered his candy rations, along with those of his co-pilot and engineer. They tied handkerchiefs to candy to make mini-parachutes. The next day, as they flew over the children, Halverson wiggled the wings of the plane and dropped the candy. He did this once a week for three weeks. When Lt. Gen. William Tunner learned of this unsanctioned mission, rather than reprimand Halverson, he encouraged him to continue on and dubbed it Operation Little Vittles.
    
When word spread back in the States, school children and confectioners from across the country began sending candy and cards to support the morale-building mission. Halverson’s entire squadron was now involved and dropped parachutes nearly every day to several spots around West Berlin. When Halverson was reassigned to a goodwill mission in early 1949, he ensured the legacy of Operation Little Vittles would continue. The mission lasted until the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949.
    
In all, more than 23 tons of candy were given to the children in West Berlin, with more than 250,000 parachutes dropped. For Halverson, the experience was more life-changing and rewarding than he ever imagined. “If we get outside of ourselves in the road of life, for somebody who is struggling more than you are, then you’re going to be rewarded in a way you’ll never know,” he explained.

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