The Candy Bomber

You may have noticed that our website has a new address! The Halvorsen Aviation Foundation wouldn’t exist without our namesake, Gail Halvorsen, the famous Berlin Candy Bomber. This month marks two years since his passing. We honor his memory and express our love for him and gratitude for his legacy.

But Gail wasn’t always famous. In fact he started out in humble circumstances, working on his family’s sugar beet farm in Northern Utah. What is a sugar beet, you may ask? That’s an entry for another day. Needless to say, Gail dreamed of getting off the ground and into the air. After years of hard work and waiting he found himself in the midst of supplying a beleaguered Berlin with the essentials of life—in the massively successful operation known as the Berlin Airlift.

Why did the Candy Bomber drop candy?

Perhaps it was his natural optimism and outlook on life that inspired him to bring hope to the children of Berlin and their families. Gail, like all the other pilots in service for America at that time, had a ration of gum and candy for his personal use. The flight route from Frankfurt to Berlin was long and rigorous at times, and the pilots’ schedules were stringent. If they weren’t flying, they were sleeping…at least most of them were. The candy and gum were essential in keeping the pilots awake at all hours of the day and night and in all kinds of weather. Gum and candy, unlike the sugar beet, inspire smiles all around the world and the Berlin kids were no different. Gail knew they would like the candy, and that was his first motivation for dropping it to them.

Once he’d done a few drops, however, he realized it meant more to the kids than just receiving a few sweets for the first time in years. The kids were starting to express hope and joy that they hadn’t dared feel for years, and they sent him letters by the bagful to prove it. Once that happened, there was no way he was going to stop the drops.

How did the Candy Bomber get started with his big idea?

When Gail met a bunch of well-mannered, freedom-loving German kids on the runway one day, it only made sense that he would reach into his pocket to share some of his rations with them—two sticks of Wrigley’s spearmint gum. Even though he didn’t have enough to go around, he took out the gum and shared it with a few of the kids. He was so humbled by their grateful reaction that he wanted to do more for them. Inspired by the planes flying overhead, he rashly promised them that he would drop them more candy—the next day!

How did the Candy Bomber drop the candy to the kids?

When Gail returned to his living quarters (the loft of an old barn), he stewed over how to get the candy to the kids without injuring them. He hit upon making parachutes out of his handkerchiefs (he had plenty), like he’d done as a kid. First, he tied string to the four corners, then he put the gum and candy in the middle, and secured it tightly. He experimented with his parachutes from the upper floor of the barn to ensure that they floated down safely. Little did he know when he and his crew dropped three parachutes the next day that he was planting a seed of hope amongst the Germans. It would flower into something that would change the post-War world forever.

What impact did the Candy Bomber have on the Berliners?

The words of the Berliners tell it all. Gail often told of meeting a sixty-year old German man who had caught a parachute in 1948 with a candy bar attached to it. Gail wrote, “He said, ‘Fifty years ago I was a boy of ten going to school in Berlin. The clouds were very low. It was raining. I could hear the planes landing and taking off. I couldn’t see them. Suddenly out of the clouds a parachute with a fresh Hershey candy bar landed right at my feet. It took me a week to eat that candy bar. I hid it day and night. But the chocolate was not the most important thing. The most important thing was that someone in America knew I was in trouble and someone cared.’ He paused and said with moist eyes, ‘I can live on thin rations but not without hope. Without hope the soul dies.'”

The Candy Bomber

You may have noticed that our website has a new address! The Halvorsen Aviation Foundation wouldn't exist without our namesake, Gail Halvorsen,

This story and many more like it are proof that the Candy Bomber’s legacy is much more than sweets found in a parachute. He always emphasized that he was the one that benefited that day on the tarmac from meeting those remarkable children. They insisted that he saved them. As it turns out, their mutual connection changed the world for the better!


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