I wasn’t sure how Germany and Germans would react to a D-Day Squadron trying to morph into a recreation of the Berlin Airlift. As with history, good people adjust rapidly to changed circumstances. We have been embraced by Germany and Germans. The country has lived up to its reputation for quality and order.
Our first stop, Wiesbaden, served as a major staging area for Berlin Airlift cargos. Its terminal building housed Luftwaffe general staff during WWII. The walls feature pictures of WWII aviation heroes representing the current philosophy of realistic presentation of the Nazi years, rather than denial.
If you have spoken with me about the Berlin Airlift, you know I consider it the most important humanitarian act in aviation history and substantial evidence that a haberdasher from Independence, Missouri, ranks among our greatest presidents. While the Airlift receives some attention from American, French and British historians, and aviation enthusiasts, Germany celebrates it with a national holiday. It was our great pleasure to demonstrate our aircraft in the first of a series of national air shows at Wiesbaden. The event attracted over 50,000 people. We were pictured on the front page of all the German daily newspapers.
Our honored guest was Col. Gail Halverson, the original Candy Bomber. In 1948, then-Captain Halverson approached a group of German children gathered around the perimeter of an Airlift airport. He offered them what he had, two sticks of gum. Though undernourished, the children divided the gum into small pieces for sharing, then allowed those not receiving a piece to smell the wrappers. This so impressed Captain Halverson, he began a campaign of dropping chocolate with small parachutes whenever he flew. In time, other pilots adopted the practice. Back home, word of the Candy Bomber spread in what today would be considered a viral reaction. Substantial donations of candy and home-made parachutes found their way to the Airlift pilots.
In speaking to our pilots and crews, Col. Halverson emphasized the importance of the little things that matter; they can become big things. He is fit and friendly at 98 years-old. In Germany, he is a national hero. The culmination of the air show was a candy drop from five DC-3s with HFF’s “Pan Am” flying the no. 2 spot. The donated parachutes and “Jelly Belly” jelly-beans were professionally prepared. We were able to drop approximately 400 in our five seconds over the drop zone. As soon as we passed, the children of Wiesbaden scurried onto a grassy area to recover the treasured cargo.
Col. Halverson flew left seat in the lead aircraft. I’m told he landed the plane.