TEXT ON SCREEN: The Cold War Battle to Save Berlin

ARCHIVAL (1-1-47):NEWSREEL: President Truman addresses a joint session of Congress.

NARRATION: After World War II, U.S. President Harry Truman feared the Soviet Union would spread communism across Western Europe. So, in 1947, he announced a new foreign policy to stop it.

ARCHIVAL (1-1-47):PRESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN: It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world.

NARRATION: But Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin saw the Truman Doctrine and the American aid that flowed into the continent through the Marshall Plan as threatening his hold over Communist Eastern Europe. He feared that Germany which had been divided and disarmed after the war might be reunified under Western control.

DANIEL F. HARRINGTON (AUTHOR, BERLIN ON THE BRINK): Stalin doesnt like that idea. Its a threat to Soviet survival. And so hes trying to find some way to stop that. And then right at his feet, here, is this city of three million people thats surrounded by the Soviet zone.

NARRATION: Berlin, which had itself been divided into Soviet and Western zones, was located deep within communist territory. So the Soviets set up a blockade to cut off West Berlin from the rest of Europe.

ARCHIVAL (UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, 7-22-48):NEWSREEL: Berlin becomes a city of darkness as all ground communication is severed and industry comes to a standstill.

ARCHIVAL (1948):MAX BRAUER (WEST GERMAN POLITICIAN): We consider this hunger blockade a crime against humanity. The Americans, the British and the French, be steadfast. You must not desert the Berlin population.

NARRATION: Although the Western powers quickly began to airlift in what supplies they could, they realized that without enough troops they wouldnt be able to hold the city for long.

DANIEL F. HARRINGTON: The expectation was that we would have towe would withdraw and probably with our tail between our legs, and just try and make the best of it. So the airlift sort of begins as an improvisation attempt to buy some time, an attempt to, to reassure the Berliners.

NARRATION: Gail Halvorsen was one of the American pilots who volunteered to airlift food into Berlin.

COLONEL GAIL HAL HALVORSEN (RETIRED): At the time I was having difficulty in a relationship with my girlfriend of long-term standing, and I decided Id just as well be over there as over here.

NARRATION: One day, after landing in Berlin, Halvorsen started talking to a group of German kids standing at the fence line.

GAIL HAL HALVORSEN: I went over a little ways to meet the kids, and I was impressed with them. Ten, plus or minus two years old, theyd just say, Hey, we dont want to go to the Soviets. Well do anything. Just dont give up on us. Kids that age knowing the importance of free agency, the ability to govern yourself, and they said, Just dont worry about us. Someday well have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, well never get it back. And I marveled at that.

NARRATION: Halvorsen wanted to give them something, but he only had two sticks of gum. So he broke them in half and told the children to keep an eye out for his plane the next go-around.

GAIL HAL HALVORSEN: Well, I knew what it was like to be cut off and to be out on the end of the string. And so it was just a no-brainer to drop chocolate bars to the kids in West Berlin who didnt have any.

CHRISTEL JONGE VOS: I was elated. I saw Gail Halvorsens airplane wiggling the wings. And we all waved. We called him the Schakoladen Bomber. The Chocolate Bomber. And then we saw these parachutes coming out of this airplane. Of course, there were more children than parachutes and the boys were always faster. But that was not important. The important thing was, this was something hopeful happening to us. This was like, you know, in those ruins, all of a sudden, flowers came to bloom.

GAIL HAL HALVORSEN: The newspaper guy was there covering the kids and the airlift, and all of a sudden you look up above, and parachutes with candy bars were coming down. And he had that on the news right away, and the colonel called me. He says, Halvorsen, what are you doing over Berlin? Well, then I knew he knew. I says, Im dropping candy to the kids. He says, Well, keep it up, but keep me informed.

The candy companies were super. They sent over all I could drop. And we had all our pilots tying up handkerchief parachutes. We even dropped some in East Berlin. The Soviets complained about that, so we just kept doing it in West Berlin.

NARRATION: Halvorsens candy drops soon became the face of an airlift that was rapidly succeeding beyond anyones wildest dreams.

ARCHIVAL (1-1-48):NEWSREEL: It seems laughable at first that planes can bring in enough food to keep alive a city of more than two million, but they do. As the deliveries mounted steadily until over 5,000 tons were being unloaded at Berlins airports, the supplies came to mean something more than food for hungry people. Aircraft were continually in flight at 3 minute intervals around the clock.

GAIL HAL HALVORSEN: It was a case of responding to the human need to stay alive. Twenty-three tons of chocolate – from the beginning to the end dropped by me and my buddies.

CHRISTEL JONGE VOS: You know, candy is candy. But theres more to that. It was the empathy, the thought that he would sit in this bunk and fabricate these parachutes. I mean, its just unbelievable that someone did that.

NARRATION: Halvorsen and the other pilots of the airlift had helped Truman avoid either retreat or war, and pushed Stalin into a corner.

DANIEL F. HARRINGTON: Stalin in the March of 1949 realized that he had a losing hand. He hoped to take over West Berlin. And that didnt happen. He hoped to stop the move toward a West German government and an independent West Germany. And he lost on that. The last thing he wanted was a U.S. alliance with Western Europe, and thats what he got with NATO. So heshe was losing on all grounds.

NARRATION: NATO became the defining alliance of the Cold War, and has continued to shape relationships between countries today.

ARCHIVAL (2-19-21):PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: The United States is fully committed to our NATO alliance. An attack on one is an attack on all that is our unshakeable vow.

DANIEL F. HARRINGTON: One reason why people hold NATO in high respect is because it works. Its just a ready-made forum for the democracies to cooperate. NATO is important today because having partners, having friends in a dangerous world is a good thing.

NARRATION: In the end, by the time Stalin lifted the blockade, one of his greatest fears had become assured American popularity had soared across the globe.

DANIEL F. HARRINGTON: American look at themselves as, you know, the saviors of the free world. But it may be that right here we really earned that in the sense that we saved this city. We did it out of sort of strategic or geopolitical considerations, but there was a strong humanitarian element to what we did. The airlift is really one of the shining hours of American history.