Logistics: The Christmas Spirit Over The Pacific

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December 15,2008: For the 57th year, the U.S. Air Force will air drop Christmas gifts (donated by military personnel and civilians from the larger islands) on 68, mostly isolated, islands throughout the Central Pacific. The gifts include toys, medical supplies and all manner of goods that will be useful to the islanders. This effort began after World War II, when military transport pilots flew past these islands and noted the islanders waving at them. On Christmas, the aircrew put candy and other small items in a socks, rigged improvised parachutes and dropped the items to the grateful islanders. Around the same time, American transport pilots flying supplies into Berlin (during a yearlong land blockade of the city by the Russians) began doing the same thing to parachute candy to the kids below.

But the practice in the Pacific continued, and was related to a curious phenomena that developed on some of the islands during World War II. On some islands, there were communities that had little, or no, contact with the outside world until American troops showed up. It was often the 20th century meeting the stone age. The tribal peoples were generally friendly to the Americans, largely because the U.S. troops were friendly, and generous. The Americans had so much stuff, like metal tools (which the natives found tremendously useful), and they not only distributed it freely to the natives, but left a lot behind when the war was over and nearly all the Americans left.

On some islands, the natives developed the belief that the Americans, and all their "cargo" (the word the locals tended to use for all the foreign goodies) were a gift from the Gods. The belief was that if the Gods were made happy, the "cargo" would return, delivered by those ghostly looking men. On some islands, wooden facsimiles of C-47 transport aircraft (which often flew in the cargo that the natives eventually received) were built and worshipped.

While all this bothered Western missionaries, who later came to some of these islands, the annual "Christmas Drop" kept the belief alive in the bounty of the Gods or, at the very least, the spirit of Christmas giving. The transports parachuted the gifts, and the people below waved and smiled, and assured the aircrew that, if they ever got into trouble and had to come down on one of these islands, they would be well received. In the Christmas spirit. That would be a continuation of another tradition, for during the war, many downed pilots were found and saved by the natives, only too happy to help these men who had been so generous with their cargo. The Allies also offered rewards for rescuing downed airmen, but the natives were already acting in the spirit of reciprocity and goodwill. The Christmas spirit, which is alive and well over the Central Pacific.

 


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