Editor’s note: The regular column gets another week off, as UCPS highlights what several schools learned about history this past week
Students in several local classrooms experienced some living history Nov. 5, with World War II veterans and a former astronaut stopping by.
Joe Edwards, a retired NASA astronaut; Bernice “Bee” Faulk Haydu, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots; and the flight crew from the Spirit of Freedom appeared at eight UCPS schools, sharing their knowledge and personal experiences.
“We’re trying to make history come alive for students, ” UCPS Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator Stacy Moore , who helped organize the appearances, said. “If they can talk to someone who participated in these events, if they can see the importance of historical preservation, the importance of preserving this incredibly important period of time, and the sacrifices that were made for the greater good, that’s a great message to get out to the students.”
Some of those students heard pilot and Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation president Tim Chopp, along with his crew from the plane the Spirit of Freedom. In early 1948, the Russians decided to choke the Western nations out of Berlin by cutting off their access to supplies. They started by closing roads around the city, then refusing to allow supply trains to cross East Germany in order to reach Berlin’s 2.5 million residents.
Between June 1948 and September 1949, the airlift delivered more than 2.3 million tons of cargo, approximately 75 percent of it in American aircraft. American aircrews made more than 189, 000 flights, totaling nearly 600, 000 flying hours and exceeding 92 million miles. This cost the lives of 30 American servicemen and one civilian in 12 crashes.
Chopp, a retired US Army veteran, said he hoped that students take away from his presentation how much goodness and generosity Americans showed to the people during the Berlin Airlift.
“I hope they realize the humanitarian part of the Berlin Airlift; how we helped a country in need, ” Chopp said about the students. “Americans took a former enemy and helped them see that they could survive and have a future free from Soviet domination. We all worked together for a common good.”
Speaking along with Chopp was his first officer, retired US Army veteran and Coast Guard pilot Scott Hinton and his son Jason Hinton (also a crew member); and Joel Ekholm, a reservist in the National Guard. Chopp’s copilot is retired US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen, who pioneered the idea of dropping candy bars and bubble gum with handmade miniature parachutes over Berlin for the children during the Berlin Airlift. This later became known as “Operation Little Vittles.” Halvorsen, 90, still flies with Chopp, but was unable to tour Porter Ridge Middle and High schools, along with Weddington Middle, where the group spoke.
Retired astronaut Joe Edwards, who traveled to Piedmont Middle and Parkwood High schools, shared some interesting information about space travel. He explained that all food taste bland in space, so much so that astronauts take spices with them to help the food taste better. He said it cost $10, 000 per pound to get equipment into space, and explained that the space shuttle travels at 17, 300 miles per hour.
Bernice Haydu, who spoke at East Union Middle, Marvin Ridge Middle and Cuthbertson High schools, shared stories about the WASP and about her own service during World War II.
Haydu, an engineering test pilot and utility pilot for WASP for only one year before the program was disbanded, was instrumental in the fight to obtain WWII Veterans’ status for members of the group. For all of her contributions to her country and to the field of aviation, Haydu was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000.
– Information courtesy of UCPS