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  • Laureta Huit

Operation Vittles

Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen is known simply as the Berlin Candy Bomber or Wiggly Wings. He routinely made supply drops during the Berlin Airlift. He talks about his experience and how his perspective changed after the war.

“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."

The Soviet Union’s blockade of West Berlin was the definitive first action in the Cold War. The United States as well as our allies sought to help the civilians enduring occupation on the other side of this geographical line. They maintained food and supplies for the people breaking the Soviet land blockade of Berlin’s Allied-occupied western sectors. Their efforts were successful, and the Soviet plan to maintain control of West Berlin failed.

“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.”

“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.”

Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen saw the triumph of small joys and saw the immediate impact it could have on the lives of the children he brought them to. He saw that kindness endured the tragedies of war and occupation. The children hand maintained their goodness in the face of this, and he wanted to reach as many as he could. The children had so little at this time that even the minty smell of a discarded wrapper brought them joy.



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