DENVER (AP) — U.S. military pilot Gail S. Halvorsen — known as the “Candy Bomber” for his candy airdrops during the Berlin airlift after World War II ended — has died at age 101.
Halvorsen died Wednesday following a brief illness in his home state of Utah, surrounded by most of his children, James Stewart, the director of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, said Thursday.
Halvorsen was beloved and venerated in Berlin, which he last visited in 2019 when the city celebrated the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets lifted their post-War World II blockade cutting off supplies to West Berlin with a big party at the former Tempelhof airport in the German capital.
After the United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Halvorsen trained as a fighter pilot and served as a transport pilot in the south Atlantic during World War II before flying food and other supplies to West Berlin as part of the airlift.
According to his account on the foundation’s website, Halvorsen had mixed feelings about the mission to help the United States’ former enemy after losing friends during the war.
But his attitude changed, and his new mission was launched, after meeting a group of children behind a fence at Templehof airport.
He offered them the two pieces of gum that he had, broken in half, and was touched to see those who got the gum sharing pieces of the wrapper with the other children, who smelled the paper. He promised to drop enough for all of them the following day as he flew, wiggling the wings of his plane as he flew over the airport, Halvorsen recalled.
He started doing so regularly, using his own candy ration, with handkerchiefs as parachutes to carry them to the ground. Soon other pilots and crews joined in what would be dubbed “Operation Little Vittles.”
After an Associated Press story appeared under the headline “Lollipop Bomber Flies Over Berlin,” a wave of candy and handkerchief donations, followed.