The Human Hall OF Fame Inducts Gail Halvorsen – a legendary pilot during WWII who became popular for dropping candy from his plane to the children of Berlin from 1948-1949. After reading some of the letters from the children it gave me the chills, some of the letters will be featured below.
Gail Halvorsen (Hal) for short, grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, October, 10, 1920. Before the war he obtained his civilian’s pilot license and in 1942 he joined the US Army Air Corps. He has earned many nicknames over the years including Candy Bomber (Rosinenbomber), Uncle Wiggly Wings (Onkel Wackelflugal), and the Chocolate Pilot.
The Berlin Airlift
Towards the tail end of WWII, Germany was divided into four zones: The United States, The Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. The Soviet Union took the Eastern zone while the Western zone was divided amongst the other three. Similar to the rest of the country, the capital city of Berlin was divided into four sectors. While the Allies tried to instill and rebuild Germany’s infrastructure, tensions thickened between the Allied nations. After numerous discrepancies and disagreements, in early April 1948 all allied-trains were stopped from entering the western-controlled zones.
In June of the same year the US, Great Britain, and France enacted a plan to unify Western Germany currency, excluding Berlin in hopes that the economy would balance. Six days later, The Soviets blocked all routes connecting noncommunist sectors of western-Berlin creating the initial beginning of the Berlin Blockade.
Resulting in over 2 million western-Berliners becoming cut-off from receiving the much needed supplies that included basic survival necessities like food and water. This created a global-crisis known as the Blockade of Berlin where no supplies were being delivered via boat or land. Fears arose when sparked discussions of further loss of life and a third World War.
At the time air drops and resupplies used to be seemed as a novelty. With limited number of airplanes, supplies, and only having two airports, the Americans had a difficult task ahead of themselves. But in order to keep the peace, it was there only option.
Operation Little Vittles
Before earning these miraculous nicknames, then-Lt. Halvorsen met with a group of about 30 hungry children in Berlin at the Templehof Airport where he offered two sticks of bubblegum from his pocket, the last of his candy. He tore the pieces into 4 strips and gave it to the 4 children. The 4 children then ripped their pieces in half and handed it to the rest of the kids while smiling ear to ear.
After seeing the response from the children and how much glee and happiness it brought them, Hal thought up a crazy idea at the time: “to start dropping tiny handkerchief-sized parachutes containing candy and gum to the children of Berlin”.
When the children asked how they would be able to tell it was him, Hal remembered back to the times he flew over the family farm and said, “I’ll wiggle my wings”.
In an interview conducted by Thad Forester from the Patriot to the Core podcast, Halvorsen later said when he saw how the children reacted over sticks of bubblegum, it changed his outlook on Freedom and life forever.
Hal stated that when he saw the children smell the wrappers, “To see the look in there eye how could I not, they taught me gratitude, attitude, and they told me we don’t have to have enough to eat, just do not to give up on us. Someday we will have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back”.
Colonel Halvorsen became the frontrunner behind the renown mission called Operation Little Vittles. Fearful of getting reprimanded for his actions, Halvorsen was impressed from the outpouring love and support he received from the children of Berlin and people from all around the world.
“The letters were both touching and funny, including letters from maps and instructions, such as the one addressed Dear Uncle from the Heaven: Fly along the big canal to the second bridge. Turn right one block. I live in the bombed out house on the corner. I’ll be in the backyard everyday at 2:00 PM. Drop the chocolate there.'”
“Day by day the parachutes brought peace and the candy renewed hope. The children made friends of their former enemies and their parents hearts were softened. The wounds of war began to heal, by December the Little Vittles Operation gathered 18 TONS of candy from American candy makers and 3 additional tons came in from private owners. The spirit of Christmas was descending on people everywhere. Lifting them up in the joy of giving”.
Hal received hundreds of letters, but one letter in particular formed a relationship and an unbroken bond that would last for the rest of their lives. The background for the letter told by writer Star Weiss:
“One girl who wanted more than anything to be a recipient of one of Gail’s magical parachutes was little Mercedes Simon, then seven years old. After trying unsuccessfully to catch a parachute on its way down from the sky, she finally decided to write a letter to The Chocolate Pilot and ask him to please drop candy near her home, the one with the white chickens in the yard.
Instead, Gail responded to the letter with a personal note and package of candy and gum mailed directly to her home. Mercedes never forgot that gesture, and says it was a turning point for her. “I decided that when I received the letter from Halvorsen (that I would) stay at home and not go to my sister in Switzerland”, she says, remembering the enchantment of that moment. She felt that, “my Chocolate Uncle is flying over my house every day looking for me”.
Many years later, when Col. Gail Halvorsen returned to Berlin in 1972 as the Commander of Templehof Central Airport, Mercedes and her husband Peter Wild invited him to dinner, one of the many invitations Gail received from appreciative Germans who remembered his role in the Airlift. When the Colonel arrived at her home, Mercedes took out the carefully preserved and much cherished letter from The Chocolate Pilot had written her in 1948. And he remembered precisely who she was. When they “touched this connection”, as Mercedes put it, it was the start of a lifelong friendship between them and their families that has included numerous visits, family weddings, and frequent phone calls”.
Halvorsen received numerous awards for his role in Operation Little Vittles including the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress can give to a civilian, which, he later received since retiring.
After The War
Halvorsen was reassigned to a position with Air Force Systems Command where he led the research and development of the Air Force Space Program from 1952 to 1970. Halvorsen retired from the Air Force on September 30th, 1974 acquiring over 8,000 flying hours.
In March of 1994, he participated in the C-130 resupply during a nighttime drop over Bosnia. In May of 1999 he flew along on a similar mission where a C-130 resupplied the people of Albania and he personally delivered toys, candy, and school supplies to the children at Kosava, a refugee camp in the area. In November of 1999, Halvorsen was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame and into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001.
In December of 2000 he flew on, “Christmas Drop” to natives of seven Micronesian Islands. He also advocated for candy drops in Japan, Guam, and Iraq.
Mr. Halvorsen lives comfortably on his farm in Utah and frequently out in Arizona with his current wife, Lorraine Pace. He is 96 years old, has 5 children, 24 grandchildren, 43 great-grandchildren and is a gentle soul with a kind heart, and a definitive Sky God in the aviation profession.
Today, May 31st, 2017, Mr. Gail Halvorsen is inducted into the prestigious Human Hall OF Fame joining five other current members.
To listen to an interview with Mr. Gail Halvorsen, go to Episode 018 – Christmas from Heaven: Gail Halvorsen, The Candy Bomber by Thad Forester on Patriot to the Core podcast on iTunes or visit this website detailing his life exploits: http://wigglywings.weebly.com
Gail Halvorsen’s book here: The Berlin Candy Bomber
(Editor’s note: This is such a beautiful story that I wanted to recount his life exploits without adding my usual humor. I made the call to do this because I think the added humor would ruin the atmosphere. When I first heard this story it brought me to tears. A selfless action looking out for the children in a middle of a war zone takes a special type of person. And to continue impacting the lives of children across the world.)
“Attitude, Gratitude, and the service of others brings true happiness in life” – Gail Halvorsen