By Linnea Weller
Retired U.S. Air Force pilot Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen’s life was an inspiring demonstration of service to others. In 1948, his name became synonymous with “Berlin Candy Bomber” when he began parachuting candy to children as he delivered lifesaving supplies to war-torn Berlin after WWII. This simple act of kindness to a former enemy brought comfort and hope to the children and all west Berliners, and earned him the nicknames “Candy Bomber,” “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” and “Chocolate Pilot” during the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift. This genuinely humble, compassionate man from a small farming town in Utah, demonstrated how one man’s act of kindness has the power to make our world a better place.
27-year-old Hal’s life changed forever after a group of impoverished, hungry children at a barbed wire fence at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport taught him about gratitude and freedom. He reached in his pocket, gave them two sticks of gum and promised to drop candy by parachute from his airplane the next day. These simple acts of kindness sparked the beginning of what became Operation Little Vittles. Through the airlift, 46 tons of candy and parachutes were dropped to West Berlin’s children. The candy became a symbol of hope and allowed former enemies to truly become friends. Historians say that these selfless acts of service may have helped prevent WWIII.
After a long life of service to others, on February 18, 2022, Gail Halvorsen died at the age of 101. On May 20-21, 2022, the event “Remember the Candy Bomber” was held in Utah to celebrate Gail Halvorsen’s life. The event included people of all ages from around the world, including several children, now adults, who lived in Berlin during the Airlift. The celebration took place at municipal airports in Hal’s hometown, Provo, and in neighboring Spanish Fork, Utah. The Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, USAF Air Mobility Command, Airlift/Tanker Association, and Civil Air Patrol collaborated to celebrate the life of this American and German hero.
The event kicked off at Provo Airport’s new terminal with static aircraft tours of a Berlin Airlift era C-54 and a current Air Force transport, the C-17 Globemaster III. The Spirit of Freedom is one of the only C-54s still flying and flew from the East Coast to honor Hal’s life and attend the ceremony, where the C-17 was christened with the new name Spirit of the Candy Bomber.
After public tours of the aircraft, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi welcomed guests representing all facets of Halvorsen’s life. USAF General Mike Minihan then dedicated the C-17 Spirit of the Candy Bomber and declared that “Gail Halvorsen…harnessed the best of the American spirit and shined a beacon of light into the darkness of despair behind the iron curtain; he showed us that doing the right thing can change the world and touch lives for generations.”
The weekend concluded with a formation flyover of the C-54 and C-17 and parachute candy drop over Spanish Fork airport where thousands of children were gathered. A slight wind carried the parachutes of commemorative Hershey chocolate bars just west of the barricaded runway to delighted spectators and into the hands of children reaching skyward.