Gail Halvorsen, US pilot who dropped candy – not bombs – at the end of World War II dies

US military pilot Gail S. Halvorsen – known as the “Candy Bomber” for his candy airdrops during the Berlin Airlift after the end of World War II – has died at the age of 101.

Halvorsen died Wednesday at his Utah home after a short illness, said James Stewart, the director of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation.

Halvorsen was loved and adored in Berlin, which he last visited in 2019 when the city celebrated the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets lifted their post-war World War II blockade and disrupted supplies to West Berlin with a huge party at the former Tempelhof Airport German capital.

An airplane flies over a crowd

Gail Halvorsen earned the nickname “The Candyman” because she dropped gifts in Berlin.

(Associated Press)

“Halvorsen’s deeply human act has never been forgotten,” Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey said in a statement.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also praised Halvorsen, who was born in Salt Lake City but grew up on farms before earning his pilot’s license.

“I know he’s up there handing out candy somewhere beyond the Pearl Gates,” he said.

After the United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Halvorsen trained as a fighter pilot and served as a transport pilot in the South Atlantic during World War II before flying food and other supplies to West Berlin as part of the Airlift.

According to his account on the foundation’s website, Halvorsen had mixed feelings about the mission to help the United States’ former enemy after losing friends during the war.

But his attitude changed and his new mission was launched after meeting a group of kids behind a fence at Templehof Airport.

He offered them the two sticks of gum he had broken in half and was touched to see those who got the gum sharing pieces of the wrapper with the other kids who sniffed the paper. He promised to drop enough for them all the next day, and wagged his plane’s wings as he flew over the airport, Halvorsen recalled.

He began doing this regularly, with his own candy ration, using tissues as parachutes to carry them to the ground. Other pilots and crew soon joined what became known as “Operation Little Vittles”.

After an Associated Press story appeared under the headline “Lollipop Bomber Flies Over Berlin,” a wave of candy and tissue donations followed.

Gail Halvorsen in uniform stands next to a parachute and a candy bar.

Gail Halvorsen attends a corridor dedication ceremony in 2009 for the Department of Defense’s humanitarian relief efforts at home and abroad.

(Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press)

The airlift began on June 26, 1948 in an ambitious plan to feed and supply West Berlin after the Soviets – one of the four occupying powers of a divided Berlin after World War II – blockaded the city to pressure the US, Britain to put and France out of the enclave in Soviet-occupied East Germany.

Allied pilots flew 278,000 flights to Berlin, carrying about 2.3 million tons of food, coal, medicines and other supplies.

Finally, on May 12, 1949, the Soviets realized that the blockade was futile and lifted their barricades. However, the airlift continued for a few more months as a precautionary measure in case the Soviets changed their minds.

The memory of American soldiers handing out candy, chewing gum or fresh oranges in Germany is still ubiquitous – especially among the older generation who were born during or immediately after the war.

Many fondly remember eating their first sweets and fresh fruit at a time when people were starving in bombed-out cities or selling their family heirlooms on the black market for small amounts of flour, butter or oil just to make ends meet.

Berlin offspring surrounded Gail Halvorsen

Berlin youths surround “Candy Bomber” Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen in 1948 to thank him for throwing candy out of his plane with a handkerchief parachute.

(Associated Press)

Halvorsen’s efforts to reach out to the people of Berlin helped send a message that they are not forgotten and are not being abandoned, Stewart said.

Despite his initial ambivalence about the airlift, Halvorsen, who grew up poor during the Great Depression, recognized a piece of himself in the kids behind the fence and connected to them, he said.

“A simple act of kindness, person to person, can really change the world,” Stewart said. Gail Halvorsen, US pilot who dropped candy – not bombs – at the end of World War II dies

Caroline Bleakley

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