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The Candy Bomber of Berlin

by Charlie Collie
December 9, 2015

The Candy Bomber standing at the fence talking to the children. Photo from Candy Bomber, by Michael O.Tunnell, published in 2010.

 The end of World War II brought with it a divided Berlin, controlled in the west and east by the United States and Russia. Soviet hegemony then made things worse again when Russia decided to block much needed supplies from reaching West Berlin.  American forces would overcome this by beginning what became known as the Berlin Airlift.  Each day, they would fly supplies into the western half of the city. An American pilot’s kindness to the war torn children of Germany would forever endear the German people to America.

                                                    The Airlift Begins:

                   Berliners Watching A Douglas C-54 landing at the airport.

     The airlift of daily life’s necessities began on June 24, 1948. Code named “Operation Vittles,” air crews from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa joined the United States, united in delivering 5,000 tons daily of flour, sugar, coffee, milk, medicine, as well as coal and gasoline. Estimates of 6,000 tons of supplies were needed in winter. The air force used 330 Douglas C-54’s which were fast planes and could carry up to 10 tons of supplies.  Fearing a new outbreak of conflict, the Russians allowed the airlift to operate.  What was originally thought to be a three week airlift went on for almost 16 months. The air crews eventually reached their goal of airlifting 5,000 tons of supplies each day into West Berlin on 1,500 daily flights.  At the height of the airlift, one plane reached the city every 30 seconds. The two million people in the  western half of the captive city had been rescued by the Americans and their allies.  

        Watching a C-74 Globe master plane being loaded at Gatow Airfield.

From Farm Boy to Pilot:

     Gail Seymour “Hal” Halvorsen was a Utah farm boy who learned to fly under the non-college Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1941.  Soon he would join the Army Air Corps and fly transport planes in the South Atlantic Theater.  During the Berlin Airlift, he flew a C-54 cargo plane over the Soviet controlled section of the city.  In his free time, Colonel Halvorsen liked to take photos.  On one of these days, he noticed a group of 30 kids watching the planes land behind the runway fencing at Tempelhof Airfield.  Hal struck up a conversation with them. The war ravished kids peppered Halvorsen with questions. They also reminded the Colonel that they too would soon have their freedom and asked Halvorsen not to give up on them.  Colonel Halvorsen remembered that he had two sticks of Doublemint chewing gum left in his pocket and offered to bring them more the next day if they would promise not to fight over the candy. None of the kids broke rank from this request and carefully divided the candy as best they could. They then asked the Colonel how they would know it was his plane. The kids laughed as Colonel Halvorsen demonstrated how he would “wiggly his wings” before landing so they would know it was his plane.  The next day, as promised, Halvorsen rocked his wings and dropped chewing gum and bars of chocolate to the kids.  They responded by sending Colonel Halvorsen letters and art work.

                  Candy Bomber sitting on a cot smiling with little parachutes. 

  Uncle Wiggly Wings:

Colonel Halvorsen’s commanding officers were not happy to hear of candy being dropped from his plane, but after giving it more thought, they agreed to help Halvorsen with his candy drops.  The mission to help the hungry children of Germany began known as “Operation Little Vittles.” Soon other pilots joined Halvorsen and when word of the operation reached home, major candy manufacturers, Hershey’s Chocolates, Life Savers, and others began sending the chocolate bars and other candy.  To give the candy a safe landing, the school children of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts made little parachutes from handkerchiefs. Many of the candy planes began their journey from nearby Westover Air Force base.  The kids nicknamed Halvorsen, “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and “The Chocolate Flyer.” In all, Colonel Halvorsen and other pilots dropped 23 tons of candy and chocolate bars attached to the little parachutes.  The Berlin Airlift, “Operation Vittles” and the candy drop, “Operation Little Vittles” became a major post war American success.

"Candy Drop C-47 D-CXXX Rosienenbomber" by Michael F. Mehnert - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Candy_Drop_C-47_D-CXXX_Rosienenbomber.jpg#/media/File:Candy_Drop_C-47_D-CXXX_Rosienenbomber.jpg

     These days, Colonel Gail “Hal” Halvorsen is 95 years young and has five children, 24 grandchildren, and 37 great grandchildren. For his good work, two schools in Germany have been named in his honor. He has received numerous military honors from both the United States and the Republic of Germany as well as a Congressional Gold Metal.

   No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.   

                                                                                             Aesop.

*******************************************************************************************************************

Charles Collie is a Holliston resident and former reporter for a CBS television station in Ohio. 

 

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Comments (7)

Thank you for such a great story. I love reading these historical snapshots.

- Sheila | 12/12/15 1:25 PM

what a wonderful time of the year for such a poignant story...so nice to hear of such a wonderful deed at such a trying time... good job Charles

- jim | 12/11/15 7:51 PM

What a wonderful guy Mr. Halvorsen was to those children and all the great pilots dropping tons of supplies to the Western part of Berlin. Photos added a nice touch. Thank you again Charlie for the great history lesson. M. P.

- m patch | 12/9/15 4:23 PM

Great photos and story. This story should be brought up in U.S. history classes, so young people will know how America its allies made life bearable for thousands of people living in West Berlin during the blockade by the Soviets. The candy bomber part of the Berlin Airlift put a smile on the faces of many children in West Berlin and proved that we and others were willing to help the people of West Berlin.

- Carmen Chiango jr. | 12/9/15 11:35 AM

Terrific story! Thanks for sharing about a wonderful, brave and caring man.

- Jean | 12/9/15 10:49 AM

Nice story, I had heard about him, but not the details. And in the final photo, I see a couple of Lockheed Constellations. Saw one waiting to be restored at the Boeing museum in Seattle last July.

- Peter | 12/9/15 10:28 AM

Thank you! Great photo's and the good heart and spirit of one 'guy' led them all..:)

- kate | 12/9/15 9:47 AM

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