“We can get by on a little food, but if we lose our freedom, we may never get it back,” said a group of German kids to the young U.S. Air Force pilot, as they lined up behind a barbed-wire fence at the end of a landing strip in Berlin Tempelhof Airport in 1948.
In 1948, the Soviet Union imposed blockades on the 110 miles of roads from West Germany to West Berlin seeking to force the city to join East Germany. This resulted in the isolation of more than 2.5 million West Berliners.
Fortunately, air corridors were still open by treaty. Lieutenant Gail Seymour Halvorsen was one of the U.S. pilots who were chosen to support the airlift missions to deliver loads of food, clothing, medicine and fuel into West Berlin.
Touched by the kids at Templehof, Halvorsen decided to light up their desperate lives by dropping candy to the kids on his next flight. His kind efforts quickly drew support from his colleagues and commanders, and then it became an international sensation with large donations from U.S. companies.
His Operation Little Vittles ultimately brought 23 tons of donated chocolate, raisins, chewing gum and other treats, making him a humanitarian hero, “the Candy Bomber.”
Halvorsen is now a 98-year-old retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, with distinguished awards like the Congressional Gold Medal. He is still a beloved figure for a generation of German people. While he was in Germany to join the celebration of the 70-year anniversary of the airlift operations, his son Mike Halvorsen represented him to receive the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) in Washington on June 14, 2019.
When asked how the West Berliners in 1948 knew the risks in joining East Berlin at that time, Mike Halvorsen said: “Although the Berlin Wall did not exist when he was there at that time, it was very obvious to them, the difference between how West and East Berlin were managed, and they could see that if allied forces were removed from West Berlin, the West would end up like East Berlin.”
The Berlin Airlift missions brought everything from vegetables to coal around the clock, seven days a week, in 1948-1949. They also brought out 88,000 tons of goods manufactured in Berlin, allowing 935,000 people to remain employed. The Soviets failed with the blockade, which was eventually terminated in May 1949. This was a victory won without firing a single shot.
Mike Halvorsen said: “It is very challenging [for the younger generation] to know history. It is very important that we continue to tell the story of history as it actually did occur.”
VOC works to keep the memory alive about what communism has done to the world. On June 14, 19 embassies, 4 delegations, and representatives from 48 ethnic and human rights organizations joined the 12th Annual Roll Call of Nations Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial on Capitol Hill.
Rev. Charles H. Nall (COL.) (Ret.), the Chairman of American Cold War Veterans (ACWV), highlighted the contribution made by the soldiers who served in the Cold War: “We served in many places not in the hot war with ongoing shootings. Nevertheless, the contributions of those veterans deserved recognition. They were the walls that keep communism in containment.”
Oppression Under Communism: Past and Present
Talking about the oppression in communist regimes, Pjer Šimunović, the Ambassador of Croatia to the United States said: “For Croatian nations, we all suffered a lot under communism. They established the totalitarian dictatorship after World War II. It was brutal. It is hard to estimate, but we know thousands and thousands of people perished under communism.”
Francisco Marquez is the political advisor for the Venezuela Ambassador to United States under interim President Juan Guaidó. He said: “I’m in exile in the U.S. I’m here to express our solidarity with those victims of oppression. Communism is equal to oppression. Both the Chavez and Maduro regimes are repressive, and you see a 50 percent drop in our GDP. That is the disruption, the consequence of a repressive regime. What is going on in Venezuela is that just a small group of criminals kidnapped the state. Anybody opposing or criticizing the government was either in exile or in prison.”
Rev. Nall also pointed out that the ending of cold war did not mean that communism no longer exists in the world: “It still exists in countries like China, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua… And we see recent resistance in Hong Kong where hundreds of thousands of people went to the streets. The communists just got better suits, they are packaging it better now. But it has not gone away yet. One of the great tragedies is that we don’t speak out about communism. Our congress condemned fascism frequently, but there has never been a resolution to condemn communism. That needs to be done. And our youth here in U.S. are sadly not educated, about the perils of communism, Marxism, Leninism. The names of socialism and communism are different, but the methodology, the economy, the control, and the oppression are the same.”
John Suarez is the Executive Director for the Center for Free Cuba. When asked about the volume of victims of communism in Cuba in the past few decades, Suarez stated: “A conservative estimate is between 80 to 100 thousand, [including] people being executed by firing squads, people went missing in the high seas. We know cases where people were killed by sand bags and snipers. We really don’t know the exact number. The number of victims in Cuba is surely small compared to China’s.”
The Chinese communist regime has full-blown persecutions of all kinds of religions, spiritual beliefs and pro-democracy groups. Allan Adler, president of the Friends of Falun Gong organization, has come to the VOC Wreath laying events every year.
“Falun Gong practitioners have been most brutally persecuted by the communist government,” he said. “So many lives have been ruined. Falun Gong is good for the society, yet communism does the opposite things in terms of benefiting citizens. And they have even made a business out of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners. Communist ideology destroys people’s souls.”
Dr. Lee Edwards, the Chairman of the VOC Board of Trustees, said at the ceremony: “This year, we celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; this year also marks the 30-year anniversary of Tiananmen massacre…the Chinese communist regime sent in troops and crushed the Goddess of Democracy statue and killed thousands. But they could not crush the longing for freedom of the Chinese people…At least 100 million victims of communism just in the twentieth century. This includes the millions of prisoners who died in the Soviet Gulags, the millions of Chinese people who died in the insane ‘Great Leap-Forward’ of Mao Zedong, two million people who filled the killing fields of Cambodia…”
The Resistance and International Pressure
Amb. Šimunović from Croatia said: “We resisted communism with our inner strength to keep our national identity. Communism was something superimposed on our tradition. It was not rooted in our culture. Our inner strength is much stronger. There were always people who kept the flames of independence, liberty, freedom of thinking and religious freedom, alive under the totalitarian system. This demonstrated that communism does not have a future.”
Communist regimes also relied heavily on the information censorship so that their citizens don’t know the truth and are consistently subjected to their brainwashing propaganda.
Alan Adler said: “Falun Gong has not resisted the oppression with any violence, but practitioners continue to persevere. You can’t make people change their belief, when they have strong beliefs. CCP has refined its persecutory skills, such high technology is involved, and they learn how to keep the persecution from the public eyes.
“Nowadays, many people inside China do not even know about the truth of the Tiananmen Square massacre. However, Falun Gong practitioners have been telling the truth to Chinese citizens, not just about the persecution, but also teaching people about the evilness of the CCP.
“Meanwhile, Falun Gong practitioners also initiated the Tuidang [quitting the CCP] movement inside China. Even the Chinese Communist Party members know that there is nothing left for the ideology. It is a crazy ideology, causing nothing but problems to China and the world.”
Regarding the Cuban people’s efforts to break through information censorship, John Suarez said: “For the people outside Cuba, the information is readily available…For people inside Cuba, there are shortwave radios, like Radio Martí from Miami. And there were private initiatives too. That is what we do to help people break through censorship.”
“In terms of social media, the Cuba government has completely blocked access to social media for many years. In the past couple of years, there was a little bit growth, but there is still a lot of censorship. Unfortunately, the Chinese government’s censorship skills have been spread to other repressive regimes.”
Suarez also pointed out: “There has been a disaster, especially for the last 20 years. The reactions that the international communities given to the Tiananmen Massacre was a disaster, not only for the Chinese people, because it gave the CCP the free pass. Then communist China can project its influence internationally after they rise up.
“So now there is an international force of totalitarian systems to counter balance international democracy. The situation of Hong Kong now is indicative of the failure of international society. Theoretically, the British treaty was with the Republic of China [what is now Taiwan], not communist China. And the international community needs to think who really represents the Chinese people, and who has the democratic election.”
Suarez also recognized the efforts under the current U.S. administration: “They are doing a good job to put economic pressure on Cuba and China. For Cuba, because of Cuba’s presence in Venezuela and Nicaragua; for China, because China has engaged in practices that are harmful to long-term U.S. economic interests for the past 20-25 years. I think that is positive. But there needs to be more focus on the human rights and pro-democracy movements, for the current U.S. administration.”
Amb. Šimunović highlighted the importance of educating the young generation: “It is part of the education curriculum to teach our younger generation what happened during communism. They had to know the history, and that there was time it was even dangerous to express what you think.”
Francisco Marquez also talked about the importance for younger generations to know the true history of their countries: “We had a democratic history. We actually had a vibrant democracy to eradicate guerillas in the 60s. And the majority of people did not support communist regimes. People completely rejected the Maduro government.”
Dr. Lee Edwards recommended a book at the ceremony—“The Black Book of Communism”—and said: “This is an essential read, especially for the rising generation. And we will sponsor a national reading day on this fall. Students and teachers in the campus across the nation will read and discuss the contents of the “Black Book” and the horrific history of communism…Communism is a pseudo-religion, posing as a pseudo-science, enforced by political tyranny…We would never, ever, forget the victims of this genocidal system, which deserves only one place, that is to be buried under the ash heap of history.”
Rev. Nall and Mr. Marion Smith, the executive director of VOC, announced the new partnership between VOC and ACWV, which will engage thousands of ACWV members to join VOC’s education campaign in schools nation-wide.
Marion Smith remarked: “The dedicated VOC staff works every day to educate young Americans in middle schools, high schools and college campuses across the country, fulfilling our congressional mandate to make sure our young generations know the etiology of communism.”
Rev. Nall said, “[this is] to achieve that goal of recognition and to preserve a history that must never be forgotten, for to forget dooms us to repeat.”
Maybe, 70 years after the Berlin Airlift, the American Cold War Veterans are engaging in a new mission–to air drop a new version of food for the mind, in the classrooms of the younger generation: ”The Black Book of Communism.”