Utah veteran delighted children as ‘The Candy Bomber,’ receives high honor

World War II-era veteran Col. Gail S. Halvorsen USAF, retired, "The Berlin Candy Bomber" (in color to the right) has been named the first recipient the C.R. England Honored Veteran Award in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 2016 | Background photo of candy bomber from wigglywings.weebly.com, Halvorsen's website; St. George News

 

ST. GEORGE – C.R. England, a Utah-based refrigerated transportation company, recently bestowed its first Honored Veteran Award on retired Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, 95, beloved around the world as “The Berlin Candy Bomber” for his acts of inspiration and kindness toward children of Berlin, Germany, following World War II.

L-R: Katie Freisen, senior director of global distribution and transportation for The Hersey Company; drivers Mark Evans, Robert St. John, and Brian Walk; Dan England, C.R England chairman; retired Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen; Gene England, C.R. England president emeritus; drivers Tim Williams, Leland Boyles and Dennis Hallowell during an award ceremony at C.R. England's corporate headquarters Friday. The company recognized Halvorsen, a World War II-era veteran, "The Berlin Candy Bomber," as its first recipient of an Honored Veteran Award. Salt Lake City, Utah, June 17, 2016 | PRNewsFoto / C.R. England Inc.; St. George News
L-R: Katie Freisen, senior director of global distribution and transportation for The Hersey Company; drivers Mark Evans, Robert St. John, and Brian Walk; Dan England, C.R England chairman; retired Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen; Gene England, C.R. England president emeritus; drivers Tim Williams, Leland Boyles and Dennis Hallowell during an award ceremony at C.R. England’s corporate headquarters Friday. Salt Lake City, Utah, June 17, 2016 | PRNewsFoto / C.R. England Inc.; St. George News

Dan England, C.R. England’s chairman, and Katie Freisen, senior director of global distribution and transportation for The Hershey Company, presented the award to Halvorsen June 17 at C.R. England’s corporate offices in Salt Lake City.

Hershey supplied many of the chocolate bars The Berlin Candy Bomber dropped on postwar West Berlin.

How Halvorsen became the Berlin Candy Bomber

Halvorsen grew up on small farms in Utah and Idaho before earning a private pilot license in September 1941 and joining the Civil Air Patrol as a pilot. He then joined the United States Army Air Corps — precursor to the U.S. Air Force — in June 1942. After training as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force, he was returned to the Army Air Corps and was assigned flight duty in foreign transport operations in the South Atlantic Theater.

At the conclusion of World War II, Halvorsen flew in the Berlin Airlift that was conducted during the West Berlin blockade from June 1948 to May 1949 and thereafter with flights continuing through September 1949 to build up reserves. 

During the 15-month period of the airlift called Operation Vittles, American and British pilots delivered more than 2 million tons of supplies to the city.

But it was Halvorsen’s decision to airdrop candy to children in what became known as Operation Little Vittles that clinched an ideological battle with international implications and earned him affection as The Candy Bomber, Uncle Wiggly Wings and the Chocolate Pilot.

Touched by the hunger-stricken condition of children during almost nonstop flying during the Berlin Airlift following WWII, Gail Halvorsen "candy bomb" the children with gum and Hershey bars. West Berlin, Germany, circa 1948 | Photo courtesy of Halvorsen, The Candy Bomber website; St. George News
Touched by the hunger-stricken condition of children during almost nonstop flying during the Berlin Airlift following WWII, Gail Halvorsen “candy bombs” the children with gum and Hershey bars. West Berlin, Germany, circa 1948 | Photo courtesy of Halvorsen, The Candy Bomber website; St. George News

Halvorsen’s own account of his experiences on The Berlin Candy Bomber website describes the background that led to his monikers.

World War II was over, and Stalin and the Soviet Union were the new threat to the West, he reflects, aiming their sights on West Berlin in Germany.

“We knew that Berlin was populated by mostly women and children,” his account states. “When word came that Stalin had cut off all the food and energy supplies to these suffering people this assignment became a worthwhile challenge.”

He had some pangs of doubt, pangs that left him when the first load of 20,000 pounds of flour landed at Tempelhof, West Berlin, he recalled in his account, describing the event:

The German unloading crew poured through the open cargo door in the back of my aircraft.  The lead man came toward the cockpit, moist eyes, hand out thrust in friendship. Unintelligible words but his expression said it all. He looked at the bags of flour and back to us like we were angels from heaven. People were hungry for food and freedom. We were giving them both and they were most grateful. Gratitude is the magic potion that makes enemies friends and seemingly impossible tasks doable. From then on the pangs of doubt were gone.

In July 1948, Halvorsen met 30 kids at the barbed wire fence at Tempelhof, according to his account. They were excited, he said, telling him: “When the weather gets so bad you can’t land don’t worry about us. We can get by on little food but if we lose our freedom we may never get it back.”

… For the hour I was at the fence not one child asked for gum or candy. Children I had met during and after the war like them in other countries had always begged insistently for such treasures. These Berlin children were so grateful for flour, to be free, they wouldn’t lower themselves to be beggars for something more. It was even the more impressive because they hadn’t had gum nor candy for months. When I realized this silent, mature show of gratitude and the strength that it took not to ask, I had to do something.

All he had was two sticks of gum, he wrote in his account, which he broke in half, passing the gum through the barbed wire.

“The result was unbelievable,” he said. “Those with the gum tore off strips of the wrapper and gave them to the others. Those with the strips put them to their noses and smelled the tiny fragrance. The expression of pleasure was unmeasurable.”

He was so moved by what he saw and what he describes as the children’s incredible restraint that he promised them he would drop enough gum for each of them the next day as he flew over them to land.

“They would know my plane,” he wrote in his account, “because I would wiggle the wings as I came over the airport.”

Halvorsen relates doing as he promised, attaching gum and chocolate bars to three handkerchief parachutes.

“We wiggled the wings and delivered the goods the next day,” his account says. “What a jubilant celebration. We did the same thing for several weeks before we got caught, threatened with a court martial, which was followed by an immediate pardon. General Tunner said, ‘Keep it up.'”

Halvorsen and his wife, Lorraine, currently spend most of their time in Arizona, according to the Candy Bomber website, but the two still spend a considerable amount of time managing a farm in Spanish Fork.

Halvorsen has received many letters from those affected by his candy bombs, even reuniting with some of the children years later, and he continues on occasion to drop Hershey candy bars to children at events such as a 2015 Independence Day celebration in Orem, as reported by Military Times. He also meets with children in classrooms and participates in veterans and other community affairs and speaking engagements.

Read his account here.

C.R. England Honored Veterans Truck and Trailer (PRNewsFoto/C.R. England, Inc.)
C.R. England Honored Veterans Truck and Trailer (PRNewsFoto/C.R. England, Inc.)

C.R. England’s honored veterans fleet awards

C.R. England also recognized six new drivers at the ceremony as they were added to its honored veterans fleet.

The transportation company has been recognizing superior drivers with military service backgrounds in its honored veterans fleet since 2014, according to its news release. The newest members of its honored veterans fleet include the following:

  • Mark Evans, 23-year Air Force veteran
  • Leland Boyles, 10-year Army veteran
  • Bryan Walk, eight-year Navy veteran
  • Dennis Hallowell, seven-year Marine Corps and Army veteran
  • Timothy Williams, four-year Navy veteran
  • Robert St. John, four-year Marine Corps veteran

About C.R. England

C.R. England Inc. was founded in 1920 with corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City and is currently one of North America’s largest refrigerated transportation companies, according to its news release. The company’s truckload services extend nationally, to Mexico and regionally, as well as to dedicated and intermodal services. More information about C. R. England is available on its website.

Resources

The Candy Bomber website | Gail Halvorsen Facebook page

Email: jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic  @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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1 Comment

  • Henry June 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you for a great story about a true hero! I lived in Germany for 3 years and met many people who were still very appreciative of the U.S. humanitarian efforts after WWII.

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