Death of “Candy Bomber” who dropped candy during the Berlin Airlift

DENVER (AP) — U.S. military pilot Gail S. Halvorsen — known as the “Candy Bomber” for her candy drops during the Berlin Airlift after the end of World War II — has died at 101.

Halvorsen died Wednesday after a brief illness in his home state of Utah, surrounded by most of his children, James Stewart, director of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, said Thursday.

Halvorsen was loved and revered in Berlin, which he last visited in 2019 when the city celebrated the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets lifted their blockade after World War II cutting off supplies to West Berlin with a big party at the former Tempelhof Airport in the German capital.

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

Utah Governor 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 behind the pearly doors somewhere,” 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 transporting 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 America’s former enemy after losing friends in the war.

But his attitude changed and his new mission was launched after he encountered a group of children behind a fence at Templehof airport.

He offered them the two chewing gums he had, broken in half, and was touched to see those who received the chewing gum sharing pieces of the wrapper with the other children, who smelled of paper. He promised to drop enough for each of them the next day as he flew, flapping his plane’s wings as he flew over the airport, Halvorsen recalled.

He began to do this regularly, using his own ration of sweets, with handkerchiefs as parachutes to carry them to the ground. Soon other pilots and crews joined in what would be dubbed “Operation Little Vittles”.

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

The airlift began on June 26, 1948, as part of an ambitious plan to fuel and supply West Berlin after the Soviets – one of the four occupying powers of a divided Berlin after World War II – blockaded the city in an attempt to squeeze the United States, Britain and France out of the enclave within Soviet-occupied East Germany.

Allied pilots made 278,000 flights to Berlin, carrying around 2.3 million tons of food, coal, medicine and other supplies.

Finally, on May 12, 1949, the Soviets realized the blockade was futile and lifted their barricades. The airlift continued for several months, however, as a precaution in case the Soviets changed their minds.

Memories in Germany of American soldiers handing out candy, chewing gum or fresh oranges are still ubiquitous, especially for the older generation born during or just after the war.

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

Halvorsen’s efforts to reach out to the people of Berlin helped send the message that they weren’t forgotten and wouldn’t be left behind, Stewart said.

Despite his initial ambivalence about the airlift, Halvorsen, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression, recognized himself somewhat in the kids behind the fence and connected with them, he said.

“A simple act of person-to-person kindness can truly change the world,” Stewart said.


Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Sam Metz contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.

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