Aviation Museum to honor 70th anniv. of Berlin Airlift

Courtesy photo An artist's rendition of a U.S. Air Force C-54 transport plane participating in "candy bombing" that took place during the Berlin Airlift.

LONDONDERRY – Nashua native Ralph G. Dionne, a U.S. Air Force veteran who participated in the post-World War II Berlin Airlift, will share his experiences and answer questions Saturday as part of an Aviation Museum of New Hampshire program marking the 70th anniversary of the historic non-combat operation.

Dionne’s presentation begins at 11 a.m. at the museum, 27 Navigator Road, according to museum Executive Director Jeff Rapsis.

But shortly before the presentation, younger folks in attendance will be treated to a reenactment of the so-called “candy bombing” missions, which showered Greater Berlin with tiny parachutes filled with candy – and “gave hope to Berlin’s children,” Rapsis said.

Visitors planning to participate in the reenactment are urged to arrive around 10 a.m. At around 10:30, a helicopter, piloted by Bob Cloutier of Nashua-based CR Helicopters, will appear over the museum grounds, and once over the target will release small parachutes of candy.

Children can then retrieve the candy packages from the field.

The drop will take place weather permitting, Rapsis said. That part of Saturday’s program is free.

The anniversary observance program featuring guest speaker Dionne will follow inside the museum.

Dionne, now 92, served as a mechanic and flight engineer during the airlift, a roughly 16-month campaign that ran from June 1948 through September 1949.

Ranked as the largest non-combat military operation of the 20th century, the airlift supplied residents of war-torn Berlin with more than two tons of vital supplies while Soviet ground forces blockaded the city.

As for the “candy bombings,” U.S. troops delivered an estimated 23 tons of sweets during the mission, which was officially known as “Operation Little Vittles.” The bulk of the candy was donated by U.S. companies, families and individuals.

According to Rapsis, the candy bombings started by chance, when Lt. Gail Halvorsen, a young C-54 pilot from Utah, noticed children hanging around the fence at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport.

He promised he’d return with candy, and he did, dropping it from his plane via miniature parachutes made from handkerchiefs.

The program caught on; “Operation Little Vittles” grew to encompass hundreds of pilots and lasted for the duration of the airlift.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, or at dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.