This genre of the week, which ties in nicely with the holiday season, starts off with a quote the main character got from his father. It stated “From little things come big things.” The person who learned this was not the author Tom Brokaw, who wrote this book and added to his storied biography spanning over 50 years as a writer and journalist. Nor did it come from Robert T. Barrett, who illustrated this book from cover to cover and in a realist manner which takes the reader back to a bygone era.
The quote came from the main character, Gail Halvorsen, known to many as Uncle Wiggly Wings.
For many who do not know who this person is, Halvorsen pioneered efforts to provide supplies to war-torn areas- by air! The story takes place in Berlin in 1948, the time when the city and the rest of Germany was divided into four zones, occupied by the US, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Josef Stalin worked to choke off West Berlin, which was occupied by the Allies. In return, airlifts were undertaken by the allies, plus Australia, New Zealand and Canada to name a few, providing Westberliners with the necessary supplies needed to survive, including food, coal, fuel and clothing. This was done by flying into Templehof Airport from the military bases stationed in West Germany.
One of the pilots who took part was Halvorsen, who was flying a C-54 cargo plane and was filming scenes in Germany, when he met several children, underdressed and with little to eat. After conversing with them, who asked him questions about the cargo planes and how the supplies were being flown in, he sympathized with the kids and offered them two pieces of gum to be divided up into pieces to be shared among the group. He then came up with the idea of airdropping candy from the plane. The children were extactic and asked him how they would recognize his plane. His response: he would wiggle his wings.
And the rest was history. From the airdropping of candy bars, gum and other sweets (in individual parachuttes) contributed by his friends, later other members of the armed forces and companies, the mission became known as Operation Vittles, as declared by his superior, Lt. Gen. William Tunner. And with that came the model that the US has been using to help the people affected by the war, as troops have airdropped not only candies and gum, but also books, stuffed animals, and anything that is not too heavy that can land with a parachutte.
And with Operation Vittles came reconciliation between Germany and the US, marking the beginning of a continuous close bond between the US and Germany that still exists to this day. Halvorsen still has ties to the country today, despite having long since retired from the Air Force, and has won several awards from both sides of the great pond for his work, including the German Order of Merit and the Eric Warburg Award.
The book itself provides in depth details of Halvorsen’s accounts of his mission from several aspects, including his motives and how he became who he was, including his upbringing as a Mormon. But going beyond his past, one can find many themes in the story that are worth discussing in the classroom, aside from the historical part. This includes the willingness to reconcile for the actions done to one another, to start over from scratch and develop the trust that went up in smoke because of the bombings. As the setting of the story is around Christmas time in 1948, another theme worth looking at is perpetual hope. With every crisis or war, there is hope for a new beginning and peace between people and among groups. Sometimes one’s actions can change the perspective of the recipient in an instant, which is something that is addressed in the book. Even the smallest action can have a huge impact, even if it is not felt right away. It is seen even in the illustrations in the book, where the setting starts as dark, with Halvorsen sitting in the cockpit of the plane, then it flashes back to his first encounter with the children at Templehof and the gum, before returning to the scene where he drops off another shipment of candy and food to the children with dawn breaking on Berlin.
How he made the parachuttes, one can see in the instructions in addition to the Tabernacle Choir CD provided in the book.
Christmas from Heaven is one story that goes beyond being a Christmas bedtime story. It can be used as a history lesson with a moral of doing small which becomes a big thing in the end. Halvorsen’s two sticks of gum, combined with his plan of airdropping candy to the children became the platform for further missions done by air for the benefit of those in need. Sometimes a donation of a few dollars or Euros for a worthy cause will help a big deal in the end. And sometimes even donating blood and organs can save more lives than a person can ever think. A small good deed can erase a bad one, but also produce vast effects that will reap rewards in the end. Think about it at the dinner table this Christmas and ask yourself what you can do for the people. There is more than enough to do going around.