Gail S. Halvorsen had a profound impact on the Berlin Airlift and became the face of American freedom when a gift of two pieces of gum shared by 30 starving children was all it took to start Operation Little Vittles. Halvorsen was born in Utah on 10 October 1920. At 18 years old, he found his calling to fly while thinning sugar beet fields when a friend buzzed him during a fly-by. Through a competition in early 1941 he was able to obtain his private pilot license. By June 1944, he earned his wings in the Army Air Corps. Halvorson flew the airlift missions in the C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster in Brazil before his assignment to Mobile, Alabama, where he flew the C-74 Globemaster. On 10 July 1948, Halvorsen’s squadron was called to deploy its C-54s to Germany for the Berlin Airlift, also called Operation Vittles. Halvorsen was quick to volunteer and just 36 hours after leaving Alabama, he flew his first mission into Templehof Airfield in Berlin.
During the operation, aircrews typically flew two to three missions daily carrying food, coal, and medicine into Berlin. During one of Halvorsen’s crew rest periods, he hitched a flight to Berlin to see more of the city. While on his ground tour, he met a crowd of 30 children at the end of the Templehof runway. Halvorsen was touched by their polite and thoughtful nature. One child pleaded with Halvorsen to keep flying missions through the winter saying: “We don’t have enough to eat. Just don’t leave us. Some day we will have enough to eat but if we lose our freedom we will never get it back.” Inspired, Halvorsen offered the children the only gift he had; two sticks of gum. Wanting to do more, he promised to drop more candy from his airplane the next day. Halvorsen told the children they could identify his aircraft because he would rock his wings. Thus, he became known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” or more commonly, the Berlin Candy Bomber. Halvorsen’s secret candy drops became public knowledge when his humanitarian initiative was reported on the front page of European newspapers. After that, candy drops were officially sanctioned under the name Operation Little Vittles. The American military in Berlin and subsequently the American public rallied behind the idea. Before the airlift ended in September 1949 they supplied over 22 tons of goodies, which Halvorsen and crews dropped by small parachutes to German children. Following his return to the United States, Halvorsen earned a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Florida. Subsequently, he worked on the Dyna-Soar, Titan III, and reusable manned spacecraft programs. His final flying assignment was as the Templehof Air Base Commander. During the fragile peace following World War II, his actions mended relations between bitter wartime enemies; he fueled the hope of all Berliners, created a positive American image in postwar Germany and inspired American support in the cause of keeping Berlin free. His legacy is enduring as the ultimate servant-leader. Colonel Halvorsen’s final assignment was as the Inspector General, Ogden Air Materiel Center, Hill AFB, Utah, where he retired on 31 August 1974, having accumulated over 8,000 flying hours and 31 years of military service.
Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen is known as the Berlin Candy Bomber for dropping candy to the children of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. In 1949 he received the German Service Cross to the Order of Merit from the President of Germany for his actions. More than a humanitarian, Halvorsen is also a rocket scientist. He was key in the design for the Titan III launch vehicle as well as the initial design of the space shuttle and Skylab.