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Candy Bomber of Berlin Airlift Dies at 101

candy bomber of berlin airlift dies at 101 Airplane GEEK Candy Bomber of Berlin Airlift Dies at 101

Retired USAF pilot Gail S. Halvorsen died Wednesday at the age of 101. By initiating the delivery of an estimated 23 tons of candy by U.S. military transports to the children of Berlin, Halvorsen made the Berlin Blockade more livable for innocent kids facing some very grown-up problems. In the wake of World War II, the blockade of 1948-49 was best described as the first major international crisis of the Cold War.

Perhaps compared to the actual 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and goods the Berlin Airlift delivered to besieged West Berlin, Halvorsen’s candy drops—which eventually gained official support—seemed mighty small. Yet the lives they touched were young and in need. “Halvorsen’s deeply human act has never been forgotten,” Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey said in a statement.

During the 11-month Berlin Airlift, or “Operation Vittles,” American C-47 and C-54 transport planes flew over 92 million miles. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation. In “Operation Little Vittles,” Halvorsen fashioned parachutes from handkerchiefs to drop candy safely to the kids. Other pilots and crews soon joined him, and Operation Little Vittles used an estimated quarter-million tiny parachutes before it was over. A wag of the wings was Halvorsen’s way of signaling a candy drop was imminent, and each day the crowds of children would grow.

Halvorsen, the Utah native affectionately nicknamed “The Candy Bomber,” grew up poor during the Great Depression, dreaming of flight. He served a full career in the Air Force, eventually assuming command of the Tempelhof Central Airport in Berlin—the same one used during the Airlift—before retiring in 1974. Alongside a decade-long career in academia, Halvorsen received many awards on both sides of the Atlantic, and founded the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, which can be found at—as you might expect—thecandybomber.org.

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