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How American Redneck Iconography Improved American-German Post-War Relations

ProfessorVerb    35 | 834 ☆☆☆   Freelance Writer
Jun 05, 2017 | #1
Few Americans today likely remember Al Capps' character the Schmoo (from Li'l Abner -- see graphic below), but German children quickly learned the significance of this American icon during "Operation Vittles," commonly known as the Berlin Airlift that lasted from June 1948 through May 1949.

When newly assigned 1st Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen, a U.S. Air Force pilot, made his first delivery to Berlin during Operations Vittles in mid-1948, he was besieged at the airport by hundreds of West German children begging for candy. Finding that his cargo only included a scant supply, he promised the children that he would deliver candy to them on his next trip. They didn't forget -- and neither did Lt. Halvorsen. On his own initiative and expense, he arranged for a supply for his next delivery and, as promised, dropped hundreds of candy bars to the anxiously awaiting German kids by tiny parachutes.* By the time he left for the States on leave 6 months later, Lt. Halvorsen and other sympathetic American pilots and crews had dropped more than a quarter million candy bars to German children. Volunteers from one Air Force unit set aside one night a week just to fabricate the tiny parachutes for these candy bar drops.

The initiative became so popular that thousands of Americans back home lined up to help the effort by donating candy specifically for the drops as well as through CARE packages. The latter were financed and delivered privately and completely apart from the military's air lift efforts, Some CARE packages contained about 42,000 calories of food while others included basic living needs such as material for clothing, sewing supplies and basic tools. Despite the 1,500 tons of food and other resources delivered each day during Operation Vittles** and even more through the CARE program, most Berliners were still desperately short of critical supplies during this year-long ordeal and couldn't afford the black market prices being charged for what was available. Enter the Schmoo.

German child sitting on American CARE package during Operation VittlesIn late 1948, the U.S. Air Force announced that some of the candy bars being dropped by parachute would be wrapped in pictures of the Schmoo, and the lucky finders would receive a 10-pound can of lard as a reward. Lard was one of the scarcest food supplies in post-World War II Germany, and thousands of German children assembled beginning at dawn each day during this promotion. By the time it was over, 85 10-pound cans of lard had been distributed to grateful West German children and their families. Not surprisingly, the West German people loved us for this and Operation Vittles is one of the reasons I really love this country.***

Just try offering a 10-pound can of lard as a reward to a kid today ...


*Soviet newspapers reported that instead of candy bars, the drops consisted of sand bags intended to kill people.

**About 40% of the total supplies delivered during the Berlin Airlift consisted of coal only.

***During U.S. Army field maneuvers in January 1971 in South Korea, we moved our headquarters from one place in the middle of no-*******-where to another in the middle of even less where, apparently just to prove we could. It was 3 a.m. and blizzarding (of course). Four of us packed up our gear and piled into an open jeep in -10 degree weather (the wind child was just below freeze your ass off) and proceeded to convoy to our next location. On the way, our first sergeant, sitting in the front seat, saw some Korean kids shivering alongside the road, apparently attracted by the commotion of the convoy. He quickly dug into his backpack and took out all his candy bars from his C-rats and threw them to the kids. Since C-rats were all the food we had to eat (and we didn't have that many of them), I didn't understand why he did this until I read about Lt. Halvorsen. In truth, clearly inspired by the good lieutenant, the first sergeant's selflessness and generosity at the time now shame me and I wish I had it to do over again so I could do the same, even though I still cringe when I remember the deathly cold.

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