Nov 20th, 2023

The “Candy Bomber” of the Berlin Airlift

As Americans gather for Thanksgiving this year I wanted to share a story of hope and consideration.  Let me tell you about how a young American pilot, The Candy Bomber, made a big difference in hundreds of kids’ lives.

The Iron Curtain

Halverson in the late 1940s

Lieutenant Gail Halvorson was a young Air Force pilot in 1948.  The Second World War had ended and Germany was in shambles – both physically and politically.  As the British and Americans closed in from the west and the Russians moved in from the east, Hitler’s Germany found the noose tightening around their neck in 1945.

When the Third Reich fell, the Americans and British assumed that Germany would move to a democratic form of government.  Joseph Stalin had other ideas.  He wanted a communist regime put in place.  The end of World War II brought the beginning of the Iron Curtain.  Joseph Stalin and the Soviets established “puppet” communist regimes across Eastern Europe.  These regimes would stay in place until Ronald Reagan and his policies brought the collapse of communism in the late 1980s.

The Berlin Airlift

Germany was split into two parts, West Germany (under a democracy) and East Germany (under communism).  The capital of Berlin was like an island in East Germany.  The city was technically in Eastern Germany, but contained four zones, American, British, French and Russian.  In a stroke of defiance and pride, Stalin had the city blockaded, trying to force the city fully into Soviet hands.  The US and its allies did not want to start World War III, but they also did not want Berlin to fall to the Soviets.  For a fuller background on the crisis Click Here 

Hence the Berlin Airlift was conducted between June 1948 and September 1949.  For 15 months the Allies flew food and energy supplies into the city.  That is where Gail Halverson enters the scene. Halverson earned his pilot wings in 1944, near the end of the war.

By the time the Berlin Airlift occurred he was flying regularly.  He would land his C-54 on the runway at Tempelhof in Berlin.  He was able to get away one day for a sightseeing trip around Berlin.  While on his excursion he met about 30 children standing outside of a fence which separated the airfield from the city.  As he spoke with the children, his heart was touched.  They told him that they thought the war was the worst thing that could happen. Then they saw and heard what the communists were doing to their relatives and friends in East Berlin.  They told him that they would rather starve than fall into Communists hands.

The Children

One ten year old boy told Halverson, “I can live on thin rations but not without hope”.

Halverson relays that, “The Berlin children taught me to put principle before pleasure – to stand by what is important to you”.

Halverson was touched.  As he departed he decided to give the kids the only candy he had.  Two sticks of gum.  He tore them in two, resulting in four sticks.  He figured that four kids were eat the four sticks and they did.  But they tore the wrapper strips into smaller portions so that each child would at least get a smell of the gum.  They had not had candy in years.

C-54 Skymaster

Halverson was struck.  The children had asked about the flour being brought into the city, they never asked for candy, but were so grateful to get some.  He told them the next day that he would drop some candy out of his airplane for them.

The signal for the drop was a wiggle of the wings.  So that the candy was not like a projectile coming out of the plane, he tied handkerchiefs to the boxes so that they would float down in small parachutes.  The next day before the drop, he could see the children looking up with smiles on their faces.

This began a movement. When other pilots and aircrews heard about Halverson, they donated their own candy.  Others then joined in, by the end of the airlift thousands of pieces had been dropped.

Other Parts of the World

The Candy Bomber on his bunk

It reminded me of a story my Dad told me of poor children in South Korea in the late 1950s.  They would stand pitifully outside his Army post in Korea.  He had my Mom send over some candy to bring a smile to the children’s faces.

Gail Halverson became known as “The Candy Bomber” and the “Chocolate Pilot” of the Berlin Airlift.  A young man who made a big difference in dozens of children’s lives.  Halverson said, “Those two sticks of gum changed my life forever.  I received many honors and gifts on behalf of the pilots who volunteered for the candy drops.  However, all the gifts and other worldly things that resulted did not bring near the happiness and fulfillment that I received from serving others –even serving the former enemy, the Germans, who had become friends.”

Thanks to Glenn, a Christ Follower who shared this story with me.  It is found in a book entitled, “Candy Bomber” by Michael O. Tunnell.  Halverson has also written a book entitled, “The Berlin Candy Bomber”.

Note: An earlier version of this blog appeared in November 2017

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