By Mert Halvorsen
World War II had barely ended at the time that baby Herbert Lorenz, just eight weeks old died, presumably from war-related malnutrition. His little body was buried in St. Thomas Friedhof (cemetery), Berlin, in the children’s section near an airfield runway. At the time of his burial long lines of people waited to bury other children, children whose graves were dug by family and friends as gravediggers were fully booked. Herbert’s half-sister and only sibling, Christa Ingrid Ruden, went there often from her grandmother’s nearby apartment to water flowers at his gravesite. She often would idle there watching as aircraft roared low above her head, a familiar roar, one which not long before had meant death and destruction, a roar which now brought life itself to her and to her city, West Berlin. The year was 1948 and the famous Berlin Airlift was in full force.
The Soviet Union (Russia) in disregard of previous official agreement by The Four Powers in respect to dividing the city of Berlin; the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, and France, desired to force the three Western Allies out of Berlin. Their main method to achieve this was The Berlin Blockade. Land routes into the city had mistakenly never been officially agreed to, while air routes, for safety’s sake had been agreed to. The blockade closed all road, rail and river barge traffic into and out of West Berlin, leaving only air access. The Russians intention was to starve a city of some 2 1/2 million people into accepting communist rule. West Berliners largely, having been bullied and abused by the Nazis, understood that life under communism would mean more of the same and they wanted none of it. With the blessing of West Berlin’s popular mayor, Ernst Reuter, and in agreement and support of the Western Allies, it was decided that the city must be supplied by air alone; the city and the Allies must not concede to this Russian barbarity. Thus began “Operation Vittles”, more commonly simply the Berlin Airlift. The extraordinary achievement of the Berlin Airlift kept West Berlin alive for more than 11 months, by hauling into the city food, medicine, coal, fuel, and other crucial needs. It was an untried and unproven concept on such large scale, one which proved in the end that guts and gumption can work miracles.
One day while sitting by her brother’s grave and watching a steady stream of Allied aircraft close overhead flying into and out of Tempelhof Airfield, she noticed one giant four-engine airplane wiggling it’s wings, and then some tiny white things fell away from it. These falling items soon began to open and blossom and then she knew what they were. “I had learned from others that these were little handkerchief parachutes containing candy and chewing gum, tossed from heaven to earth by “The Candy Bomber.”. And I very much wanted to catch one.” She scrambled and ran amidst a mass of children trying to snatch a parachute. Alas, at eight years of age, she was far too small and far too slow. The bigger children beat her to them. She, for nights thereafter, would lie in her bed and pray that one of those tiny parachutes would one day land in her courtyard that she might have a chance to get one.
At the time she knew only that there was an American flyer known as “The Candy Bomber”, or otherwise as “Uncle Wiggly Wings” who did this marvelous deed. She always loved this man and what he stood for, and often wondered just who he was…where he came from…what he looked like. She had learned from publicity that he was Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen. She never dreamed that one day she would meet the man who had begun what came to be known as “Operation Little Vittles”, but there are such things as miracles. Last week, nearly 70 years after chasing after his candy laden parachutes, she met the world-famous “Candy Bomber”…at his home in Green Valley, AZ.
Christa recently published a book, titled Born to War, an account of the trials and tribulations of her childhood in Neukoelln, West Berlin, during World War II, and throughout the Russian blockade of the city in 1948-1949, and the subsequent Berlin Airlift. Now at a surprisingly spry 94 years of age, Colonel Gail Halvorsen, United States Air Force (Ret.) contacted Christa to buy a book. Amazed at even knowing where Colonel Halvorsen lived, she wished to be able to personally hand him a signed copy and shake his hand. It was a wish which was granted. Colonel Halvorsen got a signed copy of Born to War. She got a warm and wonderful hug from the stranger in the sky whom she had known of, but whom she had not known personally for all those many years, and she got a memory that will last forever.
“For me it was a very “misty eyed” meeting”, Christa said. “Almost seventy years prior I chased those tiny, precious little parachutes, so much wanting to catch one, and on this day I was meeting the man who tried to bring me candy, and who certainly brought me hope.” For her “The Candy Bomber” is much more than just a man, an individual, but instead he is more importantly a representation of the greatness, the strength, and the will of America. He is in fact, she feels, a national treasure.
Christa would very much like for everyone to know that her early life, and Colonel Halvorsen’s early flying career, were at a bloody and painful period of time, a period of historical significance which need be learned, relearned, and never forgotten…lest all of its madness be repeated.
Her book, Born to War, is available in paperback at Amazon.com, and also in the Kindle eBook format.