Candy Bomber Gail Halvorsen Dead At 101

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Famed Berlin Airlift “Candy Bomber” pilot Col. Gail S. Halvorsen passed away on Wednesday at the age of 101. Halvorsen was known for dropping candy via handkerchief parachutes from his C-54 to the children of Berlin during the Soviet Union’s blockade of the city in 1948-1949. Although begun without official authorization, his actions opened the door for “Operation Little Vittles,” which dropped over 23 tons of candy over Berlin between September 1948 and May 1949.

“It is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to our friend, Col. Gail Seymour Halvorsen, known to the world as The Berlin Candy Bomber, Uncle Wiggly Wings, the Chocolate Pilot and many other well earned terms of endearment,” the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation wrote. “The impact and legacy he leaves behind is immeasurable, not only on his friends and family, but on the entire world.”

Halvorsen was born on Oct. 10, 1920, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and earned his private pilot certificate in 1941. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in May 1942, serving 31 years and logging more than 8,000 flight hours before his retirement in 1974. Halvorsen’s military service included working at the Air Force Space Systems Division on programs including the Titan III launch vehicle, commanding the 6596th Instrumentation Squadron of the AF Systems Command Satellite Control Facility and commanding the 7350th Air Base Group at Berlin’s Tempelhof Central Airport. Among his many military and civilian decorations, Halverson was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Cheney Award, the Legion of Merit and the Congressional Gold Medal.

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Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. It has been said that “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” This is an outstanding example that the military “does good” as well. Whether providing air and sea lift for humanitarian reasons, or aid in national and international disasters, the power of the military IS used for good as well.

    One of the reasons why his story resonated so well was the PERSONAL side of it–the military (man and machine) used only a few years before to pummel Germany was now not only keeping Berlin alive, but sending a message to the inhabitants–“we care about you.” It also sent a message to the Russians–though “unofficial” and conducted by the aircrews, the message was “We don’t just provide the necessities of life–we have enough capacity to do something for the children as well!”

    Sometimes, it’s the LITTLE THINGS that people remember–a favorite toy–a rare piece of candy–a message received that “somebody cares”–I have to believe that this story has been passed down to Berliners through the generations. You couldn’t SCRIPT a better “foreign relations” gesture!