TOP STORY >> How sweet it was
Story and photos by Jeffrey Smith, Leader staff writer
McCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, WASH. – There are many colonels at the air rodeo competition this week at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., but one of them with the sweetest history is 88-year-old Col. Gail Halvorsen.
Halvorsen became known as the Candy Bomber of the Berlin Airlift after the Soviets had blockaded West Berlin from June 1948 until May 1949.
The Soviets ended the blockade after the Americans airlifted thousands of tons of food and supplies into West Berlin.
Col. Charles K. Hyde, commander of the 314 Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, said, “Halvorsen is an air mobility icon.
He symbolizes Operation Vittles, the Berlin Airlift. He made a connection with a strategic impact airlift to a human element.”
“It was a strategic victory of the West that stopped the Soviet expansion. Halvorsen represents that victory, the success of the airlift. He put a human face on the conflict by showing there were people whose freedom, livelihood and families were at risk,” Hyde said.
The Berlin Airlift was a tremendous effort — cargo planes made their drops every 90 seconds. The Soviets were shocked to see that the U.S. could feed thousands of hungry Berliners from the air.
Embarrassed, the Soviets ended the blockade after less than a year. Halvorsen, a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, earned his pilot’s license in September 1941. He flew in the Civil Air Patrol and the Army Air Corps. He finished military flight training as a fighter pilot. He was transferred back to the Army Air Corps when trans port pilots were needed to fly cargo planes during the Second World War.
He flew many planes, including the C-47 and the C-54. The colonel stayed with the Air Force for 31 years until retiring in 1974.
Halvorsen explained how the Berlin Airlift just kept going.
“We kept flying to Berlin after the blockade was lifted on May 12 to stockpile food supplies for West Berlin,” Halvorsen said.
He continued, “When doing that, I met some children at Tempelhof airfield in the American sector of West Berlin. One of the children asked me for chocolate. They had no chocolate for months.”
“The children in other countries would beg for American chocolate, even though the children had chocolate in their own county. The children in Berlin had no chocolate and did not ask for any. The reason they didn’t ask for any was they were so grateful to remain free. They would not beg for more than freedom. Freedom was the ultimate,” Halvorsen said.
“Because they did not beg, I gave them two sticks of gum for 30 kids. They were so excited. I told them when I came in to land, I would drop enough gum and chocolate if they would share. So they said they would share.”
Halvorsen said, “The next day I dropped chocolate and gum. Other children heard about it and gathered by the airfield.
Because of that, over the next 14 months, my buddies and I dropped over 20 tons of chocolate from the sky — only because they didn’t beg. They were grateful.”
According to news accounts, Halvorsen told the children he would wiggle his wings so the youngsters would know he’d be dropping the sweets. Candy companies in the U.S. donated tons of chocolate to support the effort.
Halvorsen was named commander of Templehof airbase in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he and his wife Alta went to the Soviet Union as Mormon missionaries.
The Air Force award for outstanding air transportation support in logistics readiness is named the Colonel Gail Halvorsen Award.