Halvorsen: Children of Berlin valued freedom above all

Emily Jennings
USAG Wiesbaden Public Affairs

A C-47 Skytrain transports the “Candy Bomber,” retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, to a water salute June 10 at Wiesbaden Army Airfield during an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift

The “Candy Bomber,” retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, flew into the Berlin Airlift 70th anniversary commemoration on Clay Kaserne June 10, 2019, in a C-47 Skytrain, the type of airplane he flew during the airlift.
In 1948, as a U.S. Air Force pilot transporting supplies from Wiesbaden to West Berlin during the Cold War, Halvorsen began dropping tiny handmade parachutes with candy to children on the ground.
“It’s good to be home,” he said. “Wiesbaden ist meine zweite Heimat — Wiesbaden is my second home.” 
Halvorsen, 98, recalls getting the idea to drop candy after he met some of the children in Berlin. He had been wearing the same uniform they wore in World War II, he recounted, when a group of children came to the fence and expressed their gratitude.
For them to put out their hands in friendship, “I was so astonished at that reaction,” he said, after coming face to face with kids who lost their parents during the war with the Americans.

Peter Witmer, school liaison officer at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, reads excerpts from the children’s book “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” as the book’s main character Mercedes Wild (right) and Traute Grier, both children in Berlin during the airlift, listen during a memorial service June 10.

“It was a real life changer for me,” Halvorsen said.
He promised the children he would drop candy from his plane for them the next day.
“I didn’t want anybody to know about it,” he said, as it was a rule violation and he didn’t have time to get approval.
“I got concerned,” he said, “because I made about three drops, and then word got around that somebody’s dropping candy bars out of their airplane.”

It was the start of what would officially be dubbed Operation Little Vittles.
Airmen gave up their candy rations to supply candy for the children, and after word got back to the states, children and others began sending candy and cards to support the mission. Eventually, candy companies joined in. By the end of the airlift, pilots had dropped more than 23 tons of candy to children in Berlin.
“The kids were just wonderful,” Halvorsen said. “Freedom was the main goal, and that’s something we have to remember today — all of us on both sides of the Atlantic.

Children collect candy parachutes, dropped from planes onto the airfield; spectators watch as a formation flies overhead; and visitors check out vintage airplanes on display at the event.