Breckenridge Texan

Dyess museum curator introduces true tale of ‘Chocolate Pilot’ to local second graders

Dyess museum curator introduces true tale of ‘Chocolate Pilot’ to local second graders
December 02
09:31 2018

This past week, Breckenridge’s second graders sat and listened to the story of a young German girl who was about that same age during World War II when an American soldier gave her and other children in Berlin a glimmer of hope in the form of candy and human kindness.

The program was presented at North Elementary by Beauregard Jory “BeauJory” R. Vanderburg, museum curator at the Dyess Memorial Center, a heritage museum for Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. Vanderburg read the book “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” to the students, sharing with them his own personal stories of life as an “Air Force brat,” as well as handing out little bags of candy.

“It’s a true story,” Vanderburg explained to the kids. “I was living in Germany, and I got to meet a couple of characters that would come by there all the time. And one of them was a girl named Mercedes, and another was a guy who I call ‘Col. Gail’ … and they wrote a book about these two characters.”

BeauJory Vanderburg brings to life the story of “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” for North Elementary’s second graders. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

The book, written by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, tells the tale of then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen, now a retired colonel with the U.S. Air Force, who befriended the children of Berlin and began dropping candy to them as he flew his plane overhead during the Berlin airlift in 1948-49. Mercedes Simon, now Mercedes Wild, was a 7-year-old girl living in Berlin at the time.

As Vanderburg animatedly read the story aloud to the Breckenridge children, they learned how the Soviet Union had put up a blockade to prevent the people living in West Berlin from getting food and other supplies. To help the West Berliners, the American and British pilots began flying in supplies around the clock.

After meeting some of the West Berlin children, Halvorsen decided to drop some candy from his plane for them. He became known to the Germans as “The Chocolate Pilot” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” because he “wiggled” his plane’s wings back and forth so the children would know it was him flying overhead. Americans called him by the nickname “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”

When Mercedes failed to get any of the dropped candy, she wrote a letter to Halvorsen, asking him to drop some candy at her house. When he couldn’t do that, he mailed her a package of candy.

Many years later, the pilot and the little girl, by then all grown up and married, finally got to meet in person. At ages 98 (Halvorsen) and 77 (Mercedes), they still keep in touch today.

As Vanderburg read the book to the local kids, he showed them photos from his own life, as well as current photos of Halvorsen.

In addition to presenting the program, Vanderburg accompanied members of Girl Scout Troop 8356 as they gave a copy of “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” to the North Elementary library. The Girl Scouts met Vanderburg earlier this year when they visited the Dyess Memorial Center to work on their “Playing the Past” badge.

In addition to the candy he shared with the North Elementary students, Vanderburg also provided each second grade teacher with a lesson packet that included a lesson plan and the Civil Air Patrol Workbook that covers the Candy Bomber’s effort during the Berlin Blockade. Additionally, at his own expense, he presented a few copies for their classroom of the “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” and “Christmas from Heaven,” a picture story book with DVD that tells this story in a visual format.

BeauJory Vanderburg, from left, and Girl Scouts Malia Dauer, Rachel Burchett, Rihana Fuller and Maggie Wunsch present a copy of “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” to North Elementary Librarian Richard Grisham. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: BeauJory Vanderburg reads “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” to a class of second graders at North Elementary this past week. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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