Book Review; The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour

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Book Review; The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny.

(From Publishers Weekly:  In 1948, West Berliners were suffering and hungry, existing on food rations transported by trucks, trains and barges primarily by the occupying American forces. The Russians, trying to control the divided city, blockaded the transports on June 24, 1948, and American and British pilots risked their lives to airlift in 4.6 billion pounds of food and supplies until the blockade was lifted in May 1949. Pilot Hal Halvorsen won Berliners' hearts by secretly dropping his and his buddies' candy rations by parachute into the waiting hands of the city's children. In the process, says Cherny (The Next Deal), Berliners became devoted to democracy, and Washington foreign policy and military brass learned that the Cold War needed to be won not primarily with bullets but by appealing to hearts and minds. This book could have been cut by a third for better effect; Cherny's prose and his references to 9/11 are manipulative, and his subject, particularly the nuts and bolts of the airlift, will appeal primarily to WWII buffs, who should still find much to savor in this exhaustive, often absorbing and lucid account of America's successful standoff against the Soviets. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Apr. 17 2008)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved)

I agree that this book is too long, and sometimes difficult to follow (at least in the first half.) The writing style while factual (taken from journals and diaries) is also very dry. I listened to the audio edition and the reader shows very little emotion and is very flat.
It did improve in the last half.

I learned many things from this book. Considering that this took place less than one year before I was born, I would have thought that I would have heard someone talk about it

I don't remember ever even hearing about the Berlin airlift,
I did not realize that the United States and their allies were very close to going to war with Russia in 1948.
That the United States military force was very small and after much debate and argument, the draft was reinstated in the spring of '48
That, according to Cherny, the Berlin Airlift was a huge factor in Truman's re-election.
That the Airlift , and the candy drops were one of the big reasons that Germany remained a democratic republic, rather than turning to Communism.

There are things that could be very emotional, the first time the airlift pilots say a bombed out Germany,
the pilots meeting the German people and their feelings about saving them, when just a few years earlier they were trying to destroy them.

The writing style while factual (taken from journals and diaries) is also very dry. I listened to the audio edition and the reader shows very little emotion and is very flat.
It did improve in the last half. Even a few moments that were a little humorous, for example:

* When General Lucius Clay, military governor of Germany was preparing to return to the United States after being fired, everything in his house was packed up and they had begun shipping things home. They day before he was scheduled to ship out he was told he would be needed to stay. He went home and told his wife they were not leaving and she said but you can't, you have no pants.


* Some of the interactions between the very shy "candy bomber" Gail "Hal" Halvorson and his fiance and wife.


The airlift almost failed, but after Liutenant General William Tunner was put in charge the Airforce carried billions of tons of food and coal to keep the people of West Berlin alive during the winter of 1948-49.

Lt. Gail Halvorson became a celebrity and made the rounds of the talk shows on the new Television media. because he started dropping candy on handkerchief parachutes to children who were watching the planes come in delivering the supplies to a blockaded West Berlin.
Children and parents wrote thank-you letters to Halvorson calling him Uncle Wiggly Wings because Halvorson would wiggle the plane wings as a signal just before he made the drops, Candy Bomber , Bonbon Bomber, Chocolate Uncle.

As I said I had neve heard about much of this. I knew that Gemany was divided, and that East Germany and East Berlin were ruled by Communists, but I had not heard of the Russian Blocade, the Berlin Airlift, or the Candy Bombers. Not from my father, who served in WWII, or my Uncles who were stationed in Germany in the 50's, or in any of my History classes in school.

I think someone could make a really good movie from this. If you like history in general and World War II in particular I would recommend this book, but read the text version so you can skim over the less interesting parts.

 


Comments

janedb's picture

Germany 1948

I remember this very well from school, and from listening to my parents.  We were living in Austria at the time - my Dad was stationed with the "Army of Occupation." My mom even carried a little gun that fit into her purse.  Course, I was only 1 1/2 at the time, but the threat of the "Red Menace" was always there.  Then there was all the stuff in school about hiding under your desk or in the hall if the "Bomb" was dropped.

It's too bad the story of the Berlin airlift isn't well known.  It was a tremendous shot in the arm for Free Germany, as opposed to the part under Russian occupation.  Austria is west of Germany, on the border with Hungary and the then newly-made country of Czechoslovakia, both Russian.  It's still strange to me that there is no East Germany anymore, because it used to surround Berlin.

 This book sound very interesting - I'll give it a try.

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I loved this book.  I read it a couple of years ago and continue to recommend it and think of it fondly.  I was born in 1950 and knew very little of the Berlin Airlift.  For that reason, it was incredibly informative.  I'm not a WWII history buff by any means, but this book drew me in more and more as I read.  Admittedly, I did skim over some of the military details, reading them just carefully enough to understand what was happening.  (My husband was the one who recommended the book to me, knowing how I feel about reading about people and about the military.  He's an avid WWII reader and was dismayed early in our marriage that I could read War and Remembrance and totally skip the military chapters. I didn't skip anything in The Candy Bombers.) The personal stories were overwhelming.  The people at all levels became very real to me.  The love story between Halverson and his girlfriend was charming because it was real.  I recommend it to anyone.  As a reader, you'll know how much of the detail you want to focus on.  That's one of the wonderful thing about books.  It makes me proud to be an American and connected to these wonderful men and women.  I can't imagine why it hasn't been made into a movie yet.  When it is, it will carry this wonderful story to the masses.