The Berlin ‘Candy Bomber’ Revisited
When one sees, hears or reads nothing but depressing stories, it is like music to the soul to learn about an act of kindness, courage and humanity – whether such happened yesterday or decades ago.
So it was five years ago when – in the midst of the horror perpetrated by ISIS in and around places such as Irbil, Mount Sinjar and Amirli in Iraq – a couple of U.S. Air Force Master Sergeants attached candy collected by their squadron to pallets loaded with fresh drinking water to be airdropped over the area of Amirli, Iraq, in the hopes of bringing at least a little cheer to the children of that town who, along with their families, had been driven out of their homes and deprived of food and water by the ISIS terrorists.
U.S. Air Force Master Sergeants, Stephen Brown and Emily Edmunds, attaching candy to pallets loaded with fresh drinking water in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over the area of Amirli, Iraq
Those acts of charity and kindness described in “The ‘Candy Bombers’ of Iraq,” in turn reminded the author of other such acts by other brave airmen – such as by then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, the original Berlin “Candy Bomber,” during what has come to be known as “Operation Little Vittles,” now 70 years ago.
Halvorsen’s story is retold below.
It is in the news again, because the now-98-year-old retired U.S. Air Force colonel recently returned to Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the 15-month Soviet blockade and of the intrepid airborne lifeline that kept the city alive and free.
When referred to as a hero, Halverson insists that the real heroes “were the Germans – the parents and children on the ground,” whom he calls “the stalwarts of the confrontation with the Soviet Union”. Link
True, but the Candy Bomber is a hero, along with the “at least 78 US, British and German pilots and ground crew [who] lost their lives in accidents in the air and on the ground, as the Allies delivered fuel and food to prevent Berlin’s population from starving.”
Now, the rest of the story:
Relations between the western powers and the Soviet Union soured quickly after World War II and the situation turned hostile when the Soviet Union, in 1948, attempted to absorb all of Berlin into Soviet-controlled East Germany.
When the Soviets, in June of 1948, imposed a land blockade preventing the allies to have any rail, road or water access to “West Berlin,” the U.S. and England responded with a massive airlift of food, fuel, and other goods from allied air bases in West Germany using its “air corridors” into Tempelhof airport in West Berlin.
The “Berlin Airlift” kept life going in the beleaguered city for 11 months with a total delivery of 2,323,738 tons of food, fuel, machinery, and other supplies.
The U.S. contribution to this gigantic airlift — at the height of the airlift, one allied aircraft landed every 45 seconds at Tempelhof — was called “Operation Vittles.” A portion of those “2,323,738 tons of supplies was, would you believe, candy, sweets and chocolate.
You see, a young U.S. Air Force pilot, 1st Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen, who had flown several airlift missions into Berlin, on one of his stopovers in Berlin came across some kids who had gathered outside the fence surrounding Tempelhof to watch the non-stop takeoffs and landings of Operation Vittles. After talking to them for a while, Halvorsen realized that there was something different about these children compared to experiences with kids in other countries he had flown missions to.
In Halvorsen’s own words, “These kids didn’t have enough to eat, but they were so proud of what the airlift was doing that not one of them even made a motion to ask for candy.”
[Halvorsen] found two sticks of gum in his pockets, broke them in half and passed them through the barbed wire to the children.“I couldn’t believe the looks on the faces of the kids who got a piece. They unwrapped it very carefully so they wouldn’t lose a piece of the broken off end and then they took the wrappers and tore them into little pieces and passed them around. The other kids were happy just smelling a piece of the gum wrapper.“For 30 cents, I figured, I can put these kids on easy street.”
And this is how the story — the legend — of the “Candy Bomber,” the “Chocolate Flyer,” “Operation Little Vittles” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” started.
“A quick dip of the wings of his C-54 Skymaster transport plane, and fruit, chocolate and other sweets would parachute down from the sky,” says the Stripes.
Candy first fell from the skies over Berlin, a few ounces at a time, by way of little handkerchief parachutes attached to bags of candy, fruit, chocolates and other sweets.
Then, after receiving a wink and a nod from his commanding officer, “it was gangbusters” Halvorsen tells the Stripes. “Members of the unit chipped in their candy rations — a real sacrifice, Halvorsen notes. because you could get a German to do a week’s washing for one chocolate bar — and the men donated handkerchiefs to keep the candy bombing operation underway,” according to the Stripes.
Halvorsen rigging candy bar parachutes. Photo U.S. Army.mil
Eventually, as word of Halvorsen’s “airdrops” spread, “thousands of parachutes with sweets attached were boxed and sent to Germany for delivery” and confectioners started donating candies by the ton, which were flown to Berlin in 100-pound shipments, guarded like gold until distributed to the kids in Berlin.
The Soviet Union finally relented, lifted the blockade in May 1949 and the allies ended the “Berlin Airlift” in September of that year.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Watch a great video here.
Halvorsen has made dozens of return trips to Berlin; has continued to make candy drops around the world, including dropping candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina and continues to assist in various humanitarian efforts world-wide.
Retired Col. Gail S. Halvorsen stands in front of a C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bennie J. Davis III)