Berlin Airlift’s “Candy Bomber” pilot Halvorsen dies at 101

Gail Halvorsen, the US Air Force pilot who became known as the “candy bomber” for dropping sweets to children during the Berlin airlift, has died at the age of 101.  

His death on February 16, 2022 after a short illness was announced by his foundation, the Gail S Halvorsen Foundation.   

Halvorsen, also known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, is well known in Germany for his acts of kindness during the Berlin Airlift, when the Soviet Union blockaded west Berlin from June 25, 1948 to May 12, 1949 in one of the major events of the Cold War.  

With supplies unable to be brought to west Berlin via ground transportation, the western allies set up the Berlin Airlift to carry supplies to the city. 

Halvorsen was part of what was known as Operation Vittles, and decided to set up Operation “Little Vittles” after an encounter with some children at the Tempelhof airport in west Berlin.  

He recounted on his foundation’s website:  

“One day in July 1948 I met 30 kids at the barbed wire fence at Tempelhof in Berlin. They were so excited. All I had was two sticks of gum. I broke them in two and passed them through the barbed wire. The result was unbelievable. Those with the gum tore off strips of the wrapper and gave them to the others. Those with the strips put them to their noses and smelled the tiny fragrance. The expression of pleasure was unmeasurable. 

“I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them I would drop enough gum for each of them the next day as I came over their heads to land. They would know my plane because I would wiggle the wings as I came over the airport.” 

“When I got back to base I attached gum and even chocolate bars to three handkerchief parachutes. We wiggled the wings and delivered the goods the next day. What a jubilant celebration.” 

Halvorsen enlisted the help of colleagues, and the operation grew. Overall, over the next 14 months, thousands of children received more than 21 tons of candy either dropped from the sky from C-54 Skymaster aircraft or handed out on the ground.  

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