Arlington, Virginia (AFNS) — February 17, 2022.
Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, also known as the « Candy Bomber, » passed away Feb. 16. He was 101 years old. Starting his career in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, Halvorsen served as a pilot until his retirement in 1974, after accumulating more than 8,000 flying hours and 31 years of military service.
“Colonel Halvorsen was an American hero,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “He made such a positive impact on this world and will be remembered for his kindness and bringing joy to those who desperately needed it. His selfless dedication and willingness to help those in need embody the core values of the Air Force, and his legacy will live on in the ethos and values of the greatest Air Force in the world.”
Halvorsen went down in history for his selfless acts during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949. Then-Lt. Halvorsen took it upon himself to help boost the morale of the children in West Berlin by attaching handkerchief parachutes to chocolate bars and dropping them from his aircraft to the children below.
He would also rock the wings of his aircraft as he came in to notify the children of which plane was carrying the chocolate. The German children began calling him « Uncle Wiggly Wings. »
Soon, Halvorsen’s idea was expanded into « Operation Little Vittles, » which garnered public support and donations. By the end of the airlift, 25 plane crews had dropped 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum and other candies over Berlin.
Halvorsen’s efforts stand as a symbol of the impact one small gesture can have on an entire community.
“As I look back at Operation Little Vittles and the years that have followed, there is one human characteristic above all others that gave it birth – the silent gratitude of the children at a barbed wire fence in Berlin, July 1948,” he wrote in his autobiography.
The Berlin Airlift is arguably the mission that put heavies on the map. It was the first major victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and it was a tremendous success for the then-new U. S. Air Force.
In 1994 after retiring, Halvorsen requested to assist in the delivery of food to refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.
“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled during an interview with Airman Magazine.