Candy-Bomber; Gail Halvorsen Makes 4th of July Candy Drop

By Allie Garrow, UMAC Intern

100-year-old veteran; Gail S. Halvorsen, known as the Berlin Candy Bomber

100-year-old veteran, Gail S. Halvorsen, also respectfully known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber”, flew over the Greater Zion Stadium Saturday evening during the pre-show of the Russell Dickerson concert to make yet again, another historic candy drop.

Following World War II, the division of Germany (also known as the Cold War) was divided between the Soviet Union controlling the East of Berlin, while the Western Allies; American, French, & British took position on the West. Thus the Berlin Wall was built by the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War to prevent those under the Soviet-controlled population from escaping to West Berlin and to also cut off all resources and supplies.

Thus “Operation Vittles”, also known as the Berlin Airlift was introduced, as allied cargo planes would drop into the city carrying food, fuel, and other goods to those who lived within the Western part of the city. Little did the world know, the generosity and kind heart of one man, would bring hope to thousands of Germans and inspire many.

Image by Achim Scholty from Pixabay

Gail S. Halvorsen joined the United States Army Air Forces in May of 1942 at 22 years old. After completing pilot training in Miami, Oklahoma, he was ordered to Germany on July 10th, 1948 to be a pilot in the Berlin Airlift. Lieutenant Halvorsen was one of the pilots to land every 13 minutes with supplies to help nearly 2 million starving Germans during the 15-month operation.

Intrigued by photography, in his spare time, Halvorsen would often wander around the city to capture film on his personal hand-held camera. On one of his days off, Halvorsen made his way towards the barbed-wire fence line of the airbase to capture video of planes taking off and landing. While getting some great footage, his attention was directed to a group of children playing along the other side of the fence.

Halvorsen remembers: “I met about thirty children at the barbed wire fence that protected Tempelhof’s huge area. They were excited and told me that ‘when the weather gets so bad that you can’t land, don’t worry about us. We can get by on a little food, but if we lose our freedom, we may never get it back.'”

As Halvorsen said goodbye and took only a few steps, he was stunned by the childrens humble nature and reached into his pocket to pull out two pieces of gum. Breaking each piece of gum in half, Halvorsen reached out his small offering to the children and observed as they shared the gum amongst themselves, and those who did not end up receiving a piece, were given the wrappers to embrace the scent of the sweet candy.

Feeling compassion for these children, Halvorsen noted that he would have enough gum for them all the following day and that he would drop candy to them from his plane. When the children asked how they could identify which plane was his, Halvorsen told the children he would wiggle his wings before the drop. Hence, how Pilot Halvorsen received the nickname “Uncle Wiggly Wings.”

The following day, as Halvorsen flew across the field to drop three small parachutes full of candy from the sky, he noticed the group of children eager for his appearance and sweet treat. After landing, Halvorsen’s eyes looked to the fenceline where the children had been waiting to see three white handkerchiefs waving delightfully in the air as a token of gratitude.

This act of kindness grew and grew, until it officially became “Operation Little Vittles” on September 22nd, 1948. His story became nationally recognized as donations and supplies of both chocolate and handkerchiefs were donated to the base to continue spreading joy, love, and hope to all the German children.

Berliners watch a C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948 .USAF – United States Air Force Historical Research Agency via Cees Steijger ( Wikipedia)

Rumors flooded all of West Berlin and even to parts of the East city where, at the time, three-year-old Regine Lovely and her two older brothers lived. Her siblings would often try to run after them, as the wind on occasion would blow a few parachutes across the wall dividing the city.

Being extremely young, Regine called these falling parachutes “Candy from Heaven”, later learning that they were sent out the doors of American airplanes.

After snagging a piece of chewing gum from one of the straggling parachutes to cross the wall, now 76-year old Regine, explains how precious that small piece of gum was to her:

“When I had that chewing gum, first off all, it was mine – I didn’t have to share it with anybody! I opened it up and smelled it – oh, it was wonderful – that mint smell, I’ve never seen or even heard of gum before. I chewed it, and I chewed it, and I chewed it for two months. I was literally one of those kids who stuck the gum at nighttime on the bedpost and in the morning, would pop it back in.”

“That gum gave me, what I didn’t have – which was hope! Hope where I could live where they have gum, and they have candy, and all those treasures that are important to little children. And nobody fights you for it.. I decided right there that I was going to live in America.”

Three-year-old Regine Lovely and her older brother

Regine moved to the United States in the spring of 1966 with high hopes of finding her hero; Gail Halvorsen. After a long life-long journey of searching for the Berlin Candy Bomber, Regine finally was able to make connections through email to thank him for the great impact he made on her life.

The two eventually met face to face in Berlin, during the filming of a short bibliography in celebration for Germany’s Memorial Day.

76-year-old Regine Lovely presenting the Inaugural Gail Halvorsen Lifetime Service Award to 100-year-old veteran Gail S. Halvorsen

On Saturday, children eagerly rushed across the Greater Zion field as Halvorsen yet again, made another historic candy drop from a helicopter during the pre-show event. Following the drop, Regine presented him with the Inaugural Gail Halvorsen Lifetime Service Award on stage where she got to embrace her hero with a warm hug!

It was nothing but all smiles for Gail as the heroic cheers from the crowd overflowed the air in gratitude for his service and greater impact in spreading hope and love throughout some of history’s most difficult times.