Gail S. Halvorsen

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Gail Halvorsen in 1989

Gail S. Halvorsen was born October 10, 1920, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is a former American pilot of C-47s and C-54s during the Berlin airlift ("Operation Vittles") 1948–1949. Halvorsen is most famous for being the original "Candy Bomber."

Shortly before landing at the Tempelhof airport in the American sector of Berlin, Halvorsen would drop candy attached to parachutes to children below. This action, which was dubbed Operation Little Vittles and sparked similar efforts by other crews, was the source of the popular name for the pilots: the candy bombers. Halvorsen had wanted to help raise the morale of the children during the time of uncertainty and privation.
Halvorsen says he had the idea after giving a few sticks of chewing gum to some children watching the planes from outside the Tempelhof base. Wanting to give more, he promised to drop more candy from his plane the next day. Because the planes would arrive every 90 seconds, the children naturally couldn't distinguish his from the others. However, Halvorsen promised to wiggle the wings to identify himself, which led to his nickname "Onkel Wackelflügel" ("Uncle Wiggly Wings").
His actions were soon noticed by the press and gained widespread attention. A wave of public support led to donations which enabled Halvorsen and his crew to drop 850 pounds of candy. By the end of the airlift, around 25 plane crews had dropped 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum, and other candies over various places in Berlin. The Confectioners Association of America donated large amounts to the effort, and American school children cooperated in attaching the candies to parachutes. Halvorsen's actions as the original candy bomber may have had a substantial impact on the postwar perception of Americans in Germany, and it is still pointed to as a symbol of German-American relations. He has appeared many times on German TV over the years, often paired with some of the children, now grown adults, who received his candy parachutes. In 1974 he was decorated with the "Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz" (Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany), one of Germany´s highest Medals. During the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics on February 8, Halvorsen carried the German team's national placard into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium. [1]

After the war, Halvorsen filled domestic responsibilities, but then in the early 1970's was the commander of the Tempelhof Airbase in western Berlin. He was required to host many social functions during his tenure in Berlin and was known for serving no alcohol, in line with his Mormon beliefs.

The Deseret News included an article by the Associated Press reporting the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift:

WIESBADEN, Germany — About 10,000 people, including U.S. soldiers, attended an open house at Wiesbaden Garrison on Sunday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift — one of the largest humanitarian undertakings of all time.
The commander of the U.S. Army garrison, Col. Ray Graham, said the role played by allied forces who organized the airlift set the stage for NATO and closer ties ever since.
"Through the staunch resolve of the Western allies, and the grit of the Berliners, the blockade was broken," Graham told a crowd that included Germans, American soldiers and their families. "And along the way, the foundations were laid for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Federal Republic of Germany."
Utahn Gail S. Halvorsen, a retired Air Force colonel who received fame as the "Candy Bomber" during the airlift, was in Germany for the anniversary.
With music playing and an air show at Sunday's event, participants remembered what has been regarded as one of the first and most decisive battles of the Cold War.
From June 26, 1948, to May 1949, the airlift carried food, medical and fuel supplies to some 2 million West Berliners cut off from the West by Soviet forces.
American, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African pilots, among others, flew some 278,000 missions, mainly from the U.S. Army Airfield in Wiesbaden and what is now Frankfurt International Airport. During the operation, 73 allied airmen and at least five Germans died in accidents.
In total they carried some 23 million tons in supplies. [2]

In 1995, Halvorsen served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his wife Alta in St. Petersburg, Russia.

During Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he dropped candy from a C-130. Halvorsen also participated in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the airlift in Berlin in 1998. In 2001, the U.S. Air Force's new, next-generation, 25,000-pound capacity aircraft loading vehicle was named in his honor. The Air Force also named the award for outstanding air transportation support in the logistics readiness career field the Colonel Gail Halvorsen Award. In 2002, the city of Orem, Utah, staged an event honoring the "candy bomber." In 2003, of Salt Lake City shipped free-of-charge toys, children's winter clothing and goods to American men and women in uniform in a "Support Our Friends in Iraq" program. Consumers purchased goods through Overstock, which were then shipped to "Chief Wiggles," a U.S. serviceman stationed in Iraq, for distribution to needy Iraqi children and American troops needing a taste of home. "Chief Wiggles" is a nom de guerre alluding to Lt. Gail Halvorsen.

In 2005, Halvorsen visited Berlin and Alabama. Halvorsen visited Berlin and East Germany for 17 days. He had the opportunity to visit the opening of the new Deutsches Technik Museum Air/Space wing. During his time at the museum, he had the opportunity to speak about his participation in the Airlift. Halvorsen also visited McNamara Barracks and the American museum which in Berlin. He also had the opportunity to visit some of the schools there and spoke to children at the JFK School and the Gottfried-Keller High School:

The kids had all read Margot Raven's book, "Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot," and had great questions for us," said Halvorsen. "What a reception! They had composed an original song about the airlift for us. It was wonderful."

In 2007 Halvorsen participated in a fundraiser enabling Operation HeroFlight, which helped additional Utahns who served to see the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

PBS’s American Experience produced a 2007 documentary called “The Berlin Airlift.”[] BYU-TV produced a feature on Halversen as part of their “Inspiring Lives” series[1] and the Mormon Channel features an episode of Halvorsen in the “Why I Believe” series.[2]

In 2008, he was honored as grand marshal of the German-American Steuben Parade in New York City. Tens of thousands of spectators gathered on Fifth Avenue to celebrate his contribution to German-American relations.

In their televised Christmas concert in 2012, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir included a tribute to Halvorsen, which was narrated by well-respected TV newscaster Tom Brokaw. As part of the program hundreds of white handkerchief parachutes cascaded to the stage in front of the choir and Brokaw. A few moments later Brokaw introduced Halvorsen, and when he appeared on stage in his original 1948 flight suit, he was swarmed by a group of children dressed in 1940s-style clothing. Brokaw gave his a gift of two pieces of chewing gum and Halvorsen said, “Two sticks of gum changed my life forever. Through the years I’ve had many wonderful gifts, but . . . they pale in comparison to the fulfillment and the happiness of serving others, giving outside of oneself.”[3]

A secondary school in the Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf was named in his honor in 2013. This was only the second time when a school in Berlin was named after a living namesake. Halvorsen was present for the ceremony.

Gail Halvorsen was inducted into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame.

Halvorsen has authored a book: The Berlin Candy Bomber – Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1990 – ISBN 0-88290-361-6 (3rd edition, 2002 — ISBN 0-88290-616-X.


  1. Wikipedia:Gail S. Halvorsen
  2. Deseret News:"60th anniversary of Berlin Airlift hailed" by George Frey, Associated Press, Published: June 30, 2008.