Eagle Profile

Gail S. Halvorsen is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber,” “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” or “Der Schokoladen-flieger.” Born in 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Halvorsen was always fascinated by flight. At 18, he soloed for the first time. His aviation career began in earnest in 1941, when he earned a private pilot license through the Non-College Civilian Pilot Training Program. His military career started in 1943 as an Aviation Cadet in the Army Air Corps and he earned his wings on June 17, 1944. Halvorsen’s first assignment was as a transport pilot flying C-47s and C-54s in the South Atlantic during World War II. Returning home in 1945, he flew C-54 and C-47 aircraft from Brookley Field, Alabama.

In July 1948, he volunteered to fly C-54 transports in Operation VITTLES, better known as the Berlin Airlift. During this operation, he earned his nickname by dropping small candy-laden parachutes to the children of Berlin. This self-initiated act of kindness for the starving children took on a life of its own known as “Operation LITTLE VITTLES.” It bolstered the Airmen’s morale, fueled the hope of all Berliners, and provided a catalyst for widespread support throughout the United States for the goal of keeping Berlin free. In 1949, he received the Cheney Award for his personal sacrifice and valor during the humanitarian efforts involved in the Berlin Airlift. Upon returning to the United States, he attended the University of Florida as part of the Air Force Institute of Technology program, where he earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

After graduation, he was assigned as a research and development project officer at Wright Air Development Center. In 1957, he attended Air Command and Staff College. He was also assigned to the Air Force Space Systems Division in Inglewood, California, where he played a key role in the development of the Titan III launch vehicle. He then returned to Germany with the Foreign Technology Division of AF Systems Command. As a proven “rocket scientist,” his next assignment was to the Pentagon where he developed plans for the advanced manned reusable spacecraft and the Manned Orbital Laboratory. He then assumed command of the 659th Instrumentation Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California, where he was in charge of both satellite launch and on-orbit operations.

Halvorsen returned again to Germany as the Commander of the 7350th Air Base Group (at the same airfield he flew into every day during the Berlin Airlift). He retired from Hill AFB on August 31, 1974, after serving as the Ogden Air Materiel Center’s Inspector General. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the German Service Cross to the Order of Merit from the President of Germany, and the Freedom Award. Halvorsen is truly a “servant leader” and speaks regularly to civic and military organizations. He has reenacted the candy drop and written a book, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.” During Operation PROVIDE PROMISE, Halvorsen participated in an airlift mission and dropped candy-laden parachutes to children in Bosnia. Col Halvorsen was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College‚Äôs Gathering of Eagles in 1982 and subsequently honored in 2005, 2012, and 2016, respectively.

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1982 Lithograph
2005 Lithograph
2012 Lithograph
2016 Lithograph

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Shown in the painting is one of the C-54 Skymasters used in the Berlin Airlift. On one of his first flights into Templehof, Colonel Halvorsen began rocking his wings and waving to the children near the runway. One day, he dropped small parachutes carrying candy and chewing gum to the children and thus began Operation "Little Vittles." He was awarded the 1948 Cheney Trophy for his humanitarian actions during the airlift.

On July 18, 1948, Gail Halvorsen dropped three candy-laden parachutes from his C-54 Skymaster to children gathered around the airport in Berlin. This first act of kindness was the start of Operation LITTLE VITTLES which expanded into an all-out effort by the members of his squadron, people throughout America, and candy companies all over the world to bring smiles to children of the besieged city. The Berlin Candy Bomber became the symbol of the Berlin Airlift for hundreds of thousands of Germans and Americans alike.

From 12 July 1948 to 3 January 1949, LT Gail Halvorsen flew a C-54 Skymaster during the Berlin Airlift. Inspired by the children affected by the soviet blockade, he took the initiative to airdrop candy to them during his approach into Berlin's Tempelhof airport. After the drops were reported on the front page of European newspapers, his candy drops were officially sanctioned under the name Operation LITTLE VITTLES.

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.

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