DENVER – American military pilot Gail S. Halvorsen – known as the “Candy Bomber” for his candy from the air during transportation to Berlin after World War II – has died at the age of 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 the post-war blockade of World War II cessation of supplies to West Berlin with a big party at the former Tempelhof airport in the German capital.
“Halvorsen’s deeply human act has never been forgotten,” said Berlin Mayor Francisco Giffee.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also praised Halvorsen, who was born in Salt Lake City but grew up on farms before getting a pilot’s license.
“I know he’s up there handing out candy behind the pearl gates,” he said.
After the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Halvorsen trained as a fighter pilot and served as a transporter pilot in the South Atlantic during World War II before sending food and other supplies to West Berlin as part of air travel. .
According to his account on the foundation’s website, Halvorsen had mixed feelings about the mission to help a former enemy of the United States after losing friends during the war.
But his attitude changed, and his new mission was launched after meeting a group of children behind a fence at Templehof Airport.
He offered them two pieces of chewing gum that he had, broken in half, and was touched to see those who received the eraser share pieces of wrapper with other children who smelled paper. He promised to drop enough of them the next day for everyone as he flew, fluttering the wings of his plane as he flew over the airport, Halvorsen recalled.
He started doing this regularly, using his own ration of candies, with handkerchiefs as parachutes to carry them to the ground. Soon other pilots and crews joined what was called “Operation Little Vittles.”
After the Associated Press article entitled “Lollipop bomber flies over Berlin”, a wave of donations of candy and handkerchiefs.
Air travel began on June 26, 1948 as part of an ambitious plan to supply and supply West Berlin after the Soviets, one of the four occupying powers of divided Berlin after World War II, blocked the city in an attempt to pressure the United States and Britain. and France from an enclave in Soviet-occupied East Germany.
Allied pilots made 278,000 flights to Berlin with about 2.3 million tons of food, coal, medicine and other materials.
Finally, on May 12, 1949, the Soviets realized that the blockade was futile, and removed their barricades. However, air travel continued for several months as a precaution in case the Council changed its mind.
In Germany, memories of American soldiers handing out candy, chewing gum, or fresh oranges are still ubiquitous, especially among the older generation, born during or immediately after the war.
Many fondly remember eating their first candies and fresh fruits in an era when people in bombed-out cities starved, or sold their family heirlooms on the black market for small amounts of flour, butter or oil so they could manage.
Halvorsen’s efforts to reach out to Berliners helped send a message that they are not forgotten and will not be abandoned, Stewart said.
Despite his initial ambiguity about air travel, Halvorsen, who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression, recognized a part of the children behind the fence and connected with them, he said.
“A simple act of kindness can really change the world,” Stewart said.
Grishaber reported from Berlin. Sam Metz contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.
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