When Empathy Ruled: Candy Bombers

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Beginning today in 1948, the Berlin Airlift is a unique moment in history. When victors went to extraordinary lengths to extend a lifeline to a conquered people who were part of a regime that had committed the greatest atrocities in modern history.

I know there were geopolitical maneuverings driving the Berlin Airlift, but it was the individuals, from the pilots to the aircrews to the maintenance people to air traffic controllers to the loaders and unloaders of the steady train of planes that kept the people of West Berlin alive from today in 1948 through September 1949.

At its height there was literally an air bridge into West Berlin with a plane landing every four minutes. Not only were they landing, they were getting unloaded and back in the air quickly. A lot of what we now have for air traffic control came out of lessons learned from the Airlift.

The initiator of the Candy Bombers is still alive, Gail Halvorsen. Perhaps we could learn a little something from why he started this, in his own words:

“I met about thirty children at the barbed wire fence that protected Tempelhof’s huge area. They were excited and told me that ‘when the weather gets so bad that you can’t land, don’t worry about us. We can get by on a little food, but if we lose our freedom, we may never get it back.’”

The Candy Bombers started with planes dropping candy with parachutes made of handkerchiefs. While the large amounts of coal and food brought in by the airlift certainly kept the people alive, the candy kept the spirits of the children alive.

We need to conjure up the spirit that ran the Airlift. It’s there inside of us.

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