Gail Halvorsen “the Candy Bomber” Leaves a Legacy of Kindness that Touched the World

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ryan Sutherland
  • 151st Air Refueling Wing

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen — better known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” — was laid to rest on Feb. 22, 2022, at the Provo City Cemetery in Provo, Utah. Mr. Halvorsen died on Wednesday, February 16, at 101 years old. His death was announced by the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation.

At the ceremony, Halvorsen’s family, friends, dignitaries, and community members gathered to remember and celebrate the life of a man whose act of kindness touched the world. As part of the ceremony, the Utah Air National Guard’s 151st Air Refueling Wing conducted a KC-135R flyover.

“It is with heavy hearts and an exceptional privilege that the 151st Air Refueling Wing gets to take part in honoring one of Utah’s most cherished war heroes, Col. Gail Seymour Halvorsen, with a KC-135 flyover,” said Col. Robert B. Taylor, commander of the 151st Air Refueling Wing.

“The citizens of Utah are honored to recognize Col. Halvorsen as one of our own and we hope this flyover serves to acknowledge the light he brought to so many during such a dark time in history.”

Halvorsen earned international fame for his humanitarian actions during the Berlin Blockade, one of the first major international crises of the Cold War between Western Allies and the Soviet Union.

First Lt. Halvorsen was an Air Force pilot assigned to Germany on July 10, 1948, to fly missions for the Berlin Airlift. The crisis started on June 24, 1948, when Soviet forces blockaded rail, road, and water access to Allied-controlled areas of Berlin. The United States and United Kingdom responded by airlifting food and fuel to Berlin from Allied airbases in western Germany.

The Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation tells the story of Halvorsen’s experience through his words.

“One day in July 1948, I met 30 kids at the barbed wire fence at Tempelhof in Berlin. They were so excited. All I had was two sticks of gum. I broke them in two and passed them through the barbed wire. The result was unbelievable. Those with the gum tore off strips of the wrapper and gave them to the others. Those with the strips put them to their noses and smelled the tiny fragrance. The expression of pleasure was unmeasurable,” he said.

“I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them I would drop enough gum for each of them the next day as I came over their heads to land. They would know my plane because I would wiggle the wings as I came over the airport.”

“When I got back to base, I attached gum and even chocolate bars to three handkerchief parachutes. We wiggled the wings and delivered the goods the next day. What a jubilant celebration.”

Halvorsen and his fellow service members began operation "Little Vittles" and over the course of a year dropped 23 tons of candy to the residents of Berlin. He became known across the globe as the "Berlin Candy Bomber", "Uncle Wiggly Wings", and "The Chocolate Flier."

Consul General Stefan Schneider, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany Los Angeles, attended the ceremony in his official capacity and spoke of Halvorsen’s legacy.

“There are so many memories in my family, and the families of my German friends, related to the United States, and also related to him. The colonel was a great hero for all of us," Schneider said.

“My family’s lives were saved by American Soldiers. I recall memories of my parents who remember the way American Soldiers would talk to them and treat them, building up Germany through the Marshall plan, and really being a friend. He represented the kindness of the United States after the second World War.”

“His legacy will survive because he is the example of kindness. In my view, he is still alive and will always be alive in our hearts.”

Brig. Gen. Frank Graefe, the defense attaché from the Federation of Germany to the United States, said that Halverson was not only an American hero, but a German hero as well.

“There have been many inspiring Americans who have influenced German history,” Graefe said. “You remember the famous speech of President John. F. Kennedy, ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’, you remember the speech of President Ronald Reagan, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’, but I cannot think of any individual which has laid such a foundation on the German – American friendship, just a few years after the War like he did.”

“He dropped candy to the children of the former enemy,” he added. “He is the symbol of the German – American friendship.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. James Stewart, executive director at the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, attended the funeral and spoke of Halvorsen’s legacy.

“Gail always remembered his roots. He came from a hard scrabble farm in Garland, Utah, during the depression. This is a man who went from plowing beet fields with a horse, to helping design the Titan rocket, and a space program element called the X20, which later was modified and adapted for NASA use and became the space shuttle.” he said.

“One of the iconic pictures of Gail Halvorsen is a picture of him standing at a barbed wire fence in Berlin at Tempelhof Airport with a bunch of children. We call that ‘the fence moment’, and in that moment, here he was meeting with children of former enemies. These children were destitute, they were in hard conditions, and he recognized the similarities between these children and his own youth 15 years prior. That idea of common humanity resonated with Gale throughout his life.”

“He was a tremendous ambassador for not only the U.S. Air Force, but for the United States. His influence has been felt from Bosnia and Micronesia and many places in between,” Stewart added. “The name “Candy Bomber” is something that is respected and cherished across the globe.”