Berlin Airlift ‘Candy Bomber’ still dropping sweets from the sky after 70 years

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A World War II veteran who’s been delivering sweet surprises from the sky for 70 years continues to brings smiles to the faces of children and some adults as the “Candy Bomber.”

“There’s something magic[al] about a chocolate bar come floatin’ about of the sky,” Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen told ABC News. “[It’s] tied on an actual parachute. Hopefully some kids appreciate it.”

Halvorsen, now 97, started his candy drops when he was an American pilot for the Allied forces during the Berlin Airlift. In 1948, the Russians cut off food and supplies to West Berlin, Germany. The U.S. and its allies started airdropping packages filled with flour, milk, meat and even coal to the starving city.

PHOTO: Col. Gail Hal Halvorsen started his candy drops when he was a pilot for the U.S. Air Force during the war. In 1948, the Russians cut off food and supplies to West Berlin, Germany. The U.S. and its allies started airdropping packages.
Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen started his candy drops when he was a pilot for the U.S. Air Force during the war. In 1948, the Russians cut off food and supplies to West Berlin, Germany. The U.S. and its allies started airdropping packages. (Photo: Janet Weinstein/ABC News)

Ruth Cheever, who was born in Berlin around that time, said her city had gotten hit very hard in years prior during World War II.

“It’s horrifying to a child. It’s still embedded inside of your heart,” she said.

PHOTO: Civil Air Patrol groups now help him get the candy ready, tying the parachutes together in his special way and following his every instruction. Then, Halvorsen boards a helicopter to make his special delivery.
Civil Air Patrol groups now help him get the candy ready, tying the parachutes together in his special way and following his every instruction. Then, Halvorsen boards a helicopter to make his special delivery. (Photo: Janet Weinstein/ABC News)

Halvorsen, who was 27 at the time, was one of the pilots dropping packages into the city. He said he was inspired to do something special for the suffering children.

“I thought, ‘Well gosh, I get a chocolate ration. I can share it,'” he said. And, so he did.

There’s something [magical] about a chocolate bar come floatin’ about of the sky.

Cheever said Halvorsen’s drops were exciting. After Halvorsen was identified as the mysterious candy dropper by a journalist who spotted his plane’s tail number, he inspired other pilots to join his effort, dropping candy until 1949.

PHOTO: Col. Gail Hal Halvorsen sits in an airplane hangar in Utah. The purpose of the air drop, which occurred in July, was to bring more recognition and help with funding for the Halvorsen Aviation Education Center and museum thats going to be built.
Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen sits in an airplane hangar in Utah. The purpose of the air drop, which occurred in July, was to bring more recognition and help with funding for the Halvorsen Aviation Education Center and museum that’s going to be built. (Photo: Janet Weinstein/ABC News)

“We were hungry and you know for someone to come in and drop us some candy,” Cheever said. “[I] only can say thank you to Gail. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

In 1949, when he was released from the airlifts, Halvorsen flew to his hometown of Garland, Utah, where the tradition continued.

“They (children) run just has hard now as they did in 1948,” he said with a smile.

Halvorsen’s daughter, Denise Halvorsen Williams, said Civil Air Patrol groups now help him get the candy ready, tying the parachutes together in his special way and following his every instruction. Then, Halvorsen boards a helicopter to help make the special delivery.

PHOTO: Candy drops from the sky in Utah. Since 1948, when he was a pilot during World War II, Col. Gail Hal Halvorsen has been delivering treats to children. First in Germany and now in Utah.
Candy drops from the sky in Utah. Since 1948, when he was a pilot during World War II, Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen has been delivering treats to children. First in Germany and now in Utah. (Photo: Janet Weinstein/ABC News)

Williams said the the purpose of the air drops is to bring more recognition to that time in history and help with funding the Halvorsen Aviation Education Center and museum that’s going to be built in Spanish Fork, Utah, where Halvorsen lives.

“It’s an integral part of the Berlin Airlift celebration,” Halvorsen said of the candy drop. “If we get outside of ourselves in the road of life for somebody who is struggling more than you are then you’re going to be rewarded in a way you’ll never know.”

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