The Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation was founded to too share Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen’s love of learning, aviation and his principles of “service before self, attitude, gratitude, and that little things add up to big things.”
Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, or, “The Berlin Candy Bomber” served as a catalyst for what came to be known as “Operation Little Vittles.” His legacy has inspired generations of children to become pilots, teachers, and so much more, but has also inspired people the world over to give more and serve their communities.
Learn about Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen Operation Little Vittles and his legacy of Service by clicking on these images.
Dreaming of Flying
Impressions of a Berlin Airlift Pilot
Food for Freedom
One day at the Fence
From Moment to Movement
Service Before Self
100 Years Strong
Dreaming of flight, Halvorsen applied for and was accepted into a pilot-training program in Tremonton, Utah. The attack on Pearl Harbor prompted him to join the Army Air Corps, and he trained on fighters with the Royal Air Force.
In Gail’s own words: “I began my life on small farms in Idaho and Utah. Things were peaceful. I received a flight scholarship for a private pilot license. I flew Civil Air Patrol missions. Then came Pearl Harbor and everything changed. I trained as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force then served as a transport pilot in the South Atlantic Theater of Operations.”
Gail’s Legacy of Service: The Foundation continues Gail’s legacy of service with service opportunities in schools, communities and organizations throughout the valley. You can be a part of that legacy by volunteering for our programs here.
The Airlift was not just an Air Force operation. The Army and Navy were also heavily involved. The Navy had two top flight squadrons of R=5Ds (C-54s) and had the vital Sea Lift across the Atlantic. The Army had many roles but the greatest was moving everything on the ground. America was not alone. The British and French were partners.
On that first flight to Berlin I was deep in thought. Hitler began this war of destruction. It had interrupted the orderly progress of my life. Now I was 27 years old. I should have had one or two children by now. Instead I wasn’t even engaged to be married. Several of my buddies had returned from the war to see their previously conceived child for the first time. Many did not return. They would not see their newborn child in this life. My close friend, Conrad Stefen from Tremonton, Utah was still missing. I had interested him in being a pilot by flying him in my J-3 Cub before the war. Maybe his remains were somewhere under the flight path I had flown that very day, on my way from Frankfurt to Berlin. He had been shot down three years before in his P-47 Thunderbolt.
We had just left the security and comfort of life in America. We were beginning to get our lives back to normal after the war. Now, here we were flying night and day in all kinds of weather; living in tents and tar paper shacks that had housed Hitler’s Displaced Persons work gangs. As for me my bed was in the attic of a farmer’s old barn in Zepplinheim! We had left for Germany so fast I had to drive the first new car of my life under the trees in Mobile Alabama, put the keys in my pocket, look back once and leave. I would never see that new, red, four door Chevy again.
Impressions of a Berlin Airlift Pilot (Written March 18, 2008): “When World War II ended, the last thing I ever thought might happen was that in 1948 I would be in Europe, flying day and night to Berlin. Flights would be in thunderstorms, fog, ice and snow to feed the former enemy. On my first trip to Berlin the flattened ruins of the once proud and sophisticated capital looked like a moonscape as the wreckage passed beneath the wings of my flour laden C-54 Skymaster. Below my wings were splintered buildings, gaping to the sky with open roofs. Their once stately walls were broken into individual bricks and scattered in the streets and across lots now vacant; lots that once held architecturally classic buildings. It was a signature of war evident in countries around the world.
Why was the Berlin Airlift so important? The Soviet Union’s blockade of West Berlin was the opening salvo in the Cold War. America and her allies stepped up and made it a desicive victory. It was a daunting task to supply the food and other needs for so many civilians for an unknown length of time. Without firing a shot, the Soviet plan to hold West Berlin hostage was defeated.
In Gail’s own words: “One of my fellow Airlift pilots had bombed Berlin during the war. I asked him how he felt about flying day and night on behalf of the enemy, the very ones who did their best to kill him as he flew over Berlin in 1944. He hesitated a moment, shuffling his feet and then said, “It feels a lot better to feed them than it does to kill ’em.”
Food for Freedom: West Berliners told Col. Halorsen and othr pilots, ” 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.”
The principle of freedom was more important than the pleasure of enough flour. “Just don’t give up on us.” they asked. The Soviets had offered the Berliners food rations but they would not capitulate.
In Gail’s own words: “One day in July 1948 I met 30 kids at the barbed wire fence at Tempelhof in Berlin. They were so excited. All I had was two sticks of gum. I broke them in two and passed them through the barbed wire. The result was unbelievable. 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.
“I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them I would drop enough gum for each of them the next day as I came over their heads to land. They would know my plane because I would wiggle the wings as I came over the airport.”
“When I got back to base I attached gum and even chocolate bars to three handkerchief parachutes. We wiggled the wings and delivered the goods the next day. What a jubilant celebration.”
From Moment to Movement: Col. Halvorsen enlisted the help of others and the candy drops grew. Soon letters began coming in.
In Gail’s own words: “A little girl, Mercedes, wrote that I scared her chickens as I flew in to land but it was OK if I dropped the goodies where the white chickens were. “When you see the white chickens, drop it there. I don’t care if it scares them.” I couldn’t find her chickens so I mailed her chocolate and gum through the Berlin mail.”
“Twenty two years later, 1970, I was assigned as the commander of Tempelhof. One letter kept asking us to come to dinner. In 1972 we accepted. The lady of the house handed me a letter dated November 1948. It said, “Dear Mercedes I can’t find your chickens. I hope this is OK. Your Chocolate Uncle.” I had attached a box of candy and gum. The lady said, “I am Mercedes step over here and I will show you where the chickens were.”
In Gail’s own words: “My experience on the Airlift taught me that gratitude, hope, and service before self can bring happiness to the soul when the opposite brings despair. Because not one of 30 children begged for chocolate, thousands of children in Berlin received over 20 tons of chocolate, gum and other goodies, delivered on the ground, or dropped from C-54 Skymaster aircraft over a 14 month period.”
Gail’s Legacy of Service: The airlift taught Gail to look outside himself and find ways to bring hope to others. The Foundation continues that legacy by bringing his principles of gratitude and service before self to schools and community organizations throughout the valley, along with giving students opportunities in STEM and aviation education.
Learn more about our Principles Programs here.
Learn more about our Education Programs here.
100 years old and still going strong!
Retrospective from ‘The Berlin Candy Bomber’ by Gail Halvorsen
As I look back at “Operation Little Vittles’ and the years that have followed there is one human characteristic above all others that gave it birth… the silent gratitude of the children at a barbed wire fence in Berlin, July, 1948. They did not beg for chocolate. Flour meant freedom. Because not one child begged, thousands received over 21 tons of candy from the sky, or delivered on the ground, over the next 14 months.
Other events are memorable: the excitement as the children chased the parachutes; the letters with heart given messages: the drawings; the gifts to crew members on the flight line: the assignment in 1970 for four years as Commander of Tempelhof Central Airport, a direct result of the Operation; the personal gifts of many descriptions including two Arabian stallions: the personal contact with Peter and Mercedes Wild and Berlin children now grown; and flying with Tim Chopp and crew in ‘The Spirit of Freedom’ since 1994, including the trip to Europe in 1998 for 69 days.
In man’s search for fulfillment and happiness, material rewards pale compared to the importance of gratitude, integrity and service before self. Gratitude brings unexpected special blessings, communication is facilitated, understanding is accomplished and progress accelerated. Gratitude, integrity and service to the unfortunate provide more rewards than all things material. They are the foundation upon which hope is born. They provide the strength by which hope endures.
A victim of the Blockade once told me. “Without hope the soul dies.” The Airlift with its dried eggs, dried potatoes, dried milk, coal and even chocolate meant hope for freedom. Freedom was more important than a full stomach or a rare treat. It was hope, not the flour, that gave the West Berliners the strength to carry on. That hope came to full fruition with the fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany in 1989/1990. The Americans, British, French, and Germans prevailed. Air crews, ground crews, and sea crews did the job!
It is one of the core values of the United States Air Force. Today the Air Mobility Command, in the Airlift tradition, launches a mission of mercy every 90 seconds somewhere around the world. The American flag on the aircraft tail is the symbol of hope to those in deep despair from what ever the source of oppression.