As a chocolate lover, I strongly believe that a bite of a warm, rich brownie or a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie will improve my mood no matter what's happening in my life. Many sweets-lovers are familiar with this phenomenon, but no one understood this more than Gail Halvorsen, also known as "the Berlin Candy Bomber."
Although the word "bomber" doesn't typically inspire happy or hopeful feelings, in this instance, the "candy bomber" brought happiness and levity in the form of chocolate, doing what he could to inspire joy during a time of devastation and loss.
The Hungry Children of Berlin
Back in 1948, World War II had ended, but the struggles for those affected were nowhere near finished. In the Cold War following WWII, Soviet Union forces blocked the Allied control areas of Berlin, causing two million citizens of Germany to be cut off from food, coal and medicine. Land and water access was blocked in the Berlin blockade, meaning that the only point of access was the sky.
27-year-old Col. Gail S "Hal" Halvorsen, born in Salt Lake City, Utah was a U.S. Air Force pilot who served during WWII. He was assigned to the Berlin Airlift to deliver food, supplies and fuel to the isolated Berliners, in a USAF operation called Operation Vittles by Americans, known as Operation Plainfare by the British.
Col. Halvorsen was going about his duties one day when he noticed a clump of German children gathered at a barbed-wire fence on the Berlin airfield by the U.S. Air Force base. This wasn't an uncommon sight, as German children often called out to U.S. airmen in search of sweets and candy.
Two Sticks of Gum Started It All
These children, however, asked the Colonel questions about the airplanes rather than soliciting sweets. They simply wanted to understand what was happening in the world and why they were left without food and warmth. The children asked how many supplies the airplanes could carry, along with details about Halvorsen's United States Air Force missions.
Col. Halvorsen saw that the children were hungry, and he gave them the two sticks of gum in his is pocket, which was all that he had with him. They gratefully took the gift and shared among themselves.
The C-54 skymaster was sad not to have more to give the hungry children, so he made a promise. He said that he would come back with more treats for them, as long as they shared. However, rather than passing the sweets through the fence, he would drop them from the sky using his airplane. He explained that he would wiggle his wings when he approached so that they'd know it was him.
Operation Little Vittles Takes to the Air
U.S. soldiers received candy rations, so Hal combined his with those of other servicemen to create little parachutes of Hershey's chocolate bars and gum. He used handkerchiefs and string to tie the sweets together. On July 18th, 1948, he flew above the airfield, wiggling his wings and dropping candy-laden parachutes from the sky.
The children gleefully ran to the parachutes, excited by the prospects of sweets and the comfort of a promise kept. Hal soon earned the names Uncle Wiggly Wings, the Chocolate Pilot, and The Berlin Candy Bomber from his acts of kindness.
The reputation of Operation "Little" Vittles, which was what the candy parachute expeditions were called, soon reached the U.S. Candy makers and children across America were inspired by Hal's gesture of kindness, and they contributed all the candy they had to the candy drops mission.
Colonel Hal's Sweetness Continues
By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped over 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy to the children of Berlin. Hal fondly remembers "how grateful they were to look up at the sky and see parachutes with fresh Hershey's candy bars coming to them from the airplane over their head."
After Operation Little Vittles ended, Hal continued his candy-based humanitarian missions, performing candy crops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Japan, Guam, and Iraq to spread hope and happiness to as many hungry and dejected people as possible.
In retirement, Col. Halvorsen continues his generosity with the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, which was founded in 2016 to engage children in science, technology, engineering, and math while learning about the principles of attitude, gratitude, and service before self. To this day, Col. Halvorsen will always be remembered as the man who brought joy to hungry children with his creative and generous candy bar parachutes.