A Very Merry Airlift

  • Published
  • By Erin Lasley
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Historian

Santa is a busy guy and airlifters have always been happy to lend a hand to alleviate some of the stress heaped upon Santa around this time of year. Devoid of a little red sleigh, airlifters put their trust in mobility aircraft to deliver presents to those around the world. Both good and bad.

During December 1949, massive snow storms devastated the Rocky Mountains and Midwest causing roads and railways to close. The storms isolated thousands of rural people and covered ranges and ranches with so much snow, hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep were at risk of starvation. The U.S. Air Force quickly formulated Operation Hayride and called on the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing and its C-82 Bolos to help. The 62nd TCW delivered food and medical care to blizzard victims and also airdropped bales of hay and feed to starving cattle and sheep. From December to March, airlift forces delivered more than 4,700 tons of hay, food, coal and medical supplies to eight states. During this time, McChord Airmen and other mobility assets were also flying missions for the Berlin Airlift.

Throughout the Korean War, McChord was the gateway to the front and the 62nd TCW was instrumental in transporting personnel and cargo to Japan and South Korea. By November 1951, it was evident the war would not end by Christmas and there was a backlog of Christmas mail and packages. Not wanting to see a repeat of World War II when Christmas packages arrived to troops in February, the Air Force instituted Operation Fruitcake and tasked the 62nd TCW to bring Christmas to the front. In late November, McChord C-124 Globemasters airlifted 168,000 pounds of Christmas mail from Travis Air Force Base, California, to Tokyo for the men and women on the Korean front.

Less than a month later, the 62nd TCW provided airlift support during Operation Sleighride. Unlike World War II, the armed forces were able to quickly transport more military personnel from the front and back to the U.S. In December, the 62nd TCW transported 774 military members from Japan to various locations within the U.S. so they could spend the holidays with family. The 62nd TCW was committed to getting troops home for the holidays even if it meant sacrificing their own time with family.

In December 1956, the 62nd TCW helped other mobility forces create holiday miracles. Tens of thousands of refugees fled from Hungary after Soviet Forces crushed an anticommunist uprising. On December 6, President Dwight D. Eisenhower granted asylum to 15,000 Hungarian refugees and tasked the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) to oversee the airlift. The 62nd TCW took over missions in Northern Africa and the Middle East to enable East Coast MATS assets to participate in Operation Safe Haven. From December 1956 to June 1957, MATS aircraft airlifted 10,184 Hungarian refugees from West Germany to New Jersey.

The busiest day during Safe Haven took place on December 24. Atlantic Division planes transported 984 refugees from Munich to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. During this mission, Eisenhower volunteered the use of his plane, Columbine III. To pass the time, the navigator and a Hungarian school teacher gathered the children around a map and gave them geography and navigation lessons. Columbine III landed at McGuire AFB on December 25 in time for the families to sit down for a Christmas meal.

More recently at the end of December 2019, members of the 62nd Airlift Wing sacrificed New Year celebrations in order to protect their country from foreign foes. In response to Iran’s increased aggression towards US installations and personnel overseas, the US military deployed members of the 82nd Airborne to the Middle East. The 62nd Airlift Wing was more than happy to lend them a ride. Airmen unselfishly walked away from much needed time off to ready C-17 Globemaster IIIs and fly them around the world for our nation’s security.

The Air Force has always been devoted to offering its services to Santa. Whether it involves airdropping food, clothes, fishing nets, and toys to islanders throughout the Common Wealth of the Northern Marianas during Operation Christmas Drop or NORAD tracking Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve, the Air Force and mobility forces are always ready to deliver holiday cheer.