Wednesday, November 29 at 11:00 p.m.
To children living in the rubble of post-war Germany, it was candy from heaven. Some saw it as a sign that somebody in America cared about them. To Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, who became known worldwide as the Candy Bomber, the Berlin Airlift was the healing balm on the wounds of war.
The British, American and Frenchair forces delivered 2.3 million tons of lifegiving supplies on the ground at the three West Berlin airports. There were 277,569 flights over 16 months. Gail and his Air force buddies dropped 20 tons of treats on handkerchief parachutes and delivered 6,500 pounds of chocolate bars to the 1948 West Berlin children’s Christmas parties on the ground.
Halvorsen, who hailed from Garland, Utah, was a C-54pilot in the summer of 1948 after a Soviet blockade left the vanquished citizens of Berlin’s Western zone without food and supplies. Two million citizens faced starvation. Halvorsen was part of “Operation Vittles” that flew in flour, dried food and coal.
One day, in a simple gesture of goodwill, Halvorsen gave two sticks of Wrigley’s doublemint gum to a few German children watching the planes at Tempelhof Airbase in Berlin. Impressed by how they shared the small treat, he promised to bring more candy the next day and told them to watch for a plane that wiggled its wings. That would mean there was candy on board that he would drop.
The children gathered and waited. Other pilots had given Halvorsen their rations for the children. Halvorsen put handkerchief parachutes on the candy to soften the fall. Every day, more children came to wave for candy from Uncle Wiggly Wings.
The touching story of one man’s efforts to bring a little joy to the children of a defeated enemy are chronicled through first-hand stories from two Berlin children, now in their 70s, Halvorson’s friend and fellow airlift pilot, and, of course, Colonel Gail Halverson, The Candy Bomber.
After a German reporter was nearly hit in the head by a chocolate bar, the reporter put a story out that went around the world. Halvorsen was told to report to his superiors. Instead of a reprimand, he was told to “keep doing it!”
The operation grew organically. Women’s clubs tied handkerchief parachutes and two German secretaries were hired to answer all the letters from children, some of whom sent empty handkerchiefs to be refilled. Recognizing the public relations value of the growing operation, Gen. William Tunner sent Halvorsen to New York on a press tour.
When stories began appearing on TV and radio, the American Confectioners Association sent 6,500 pounds of candy by boat and rail. A college in Massachusetts organized 22 schools and processed 18 tons of candy in 7 months.
One little boy who said his legs weren’t long enough to run for the candy sent a letter with a map. He told Uncle Wiggly Wings how to get to the backyard of his bombed out house for a candy drop. When the candy didn’t arrive, the boy sent another letter.
“You are a pilot. I sent you a map. How did you guys win the war anyway?” Halvorsen mailed him his candy.
Grateful children and their parents brought gifts to Halvorsen. In a particularly moving sequence in the film, Halvorsen tells of a little girl who gave him her teddy bear. She told him that during the bombing of Berlin, when they sought shelter in cellars, the teddy bear was always with her.
“The Airlift saved my life,” she told him. Now, she wanted the good luck bear to save the lives of the men flying the candy planes.
“It was such a powerful force,” says Halvorsen of the operation that won the hearts of a former enemy.
A 60-year old man quietly approached Halvorsen at the 1998 Berlin Airlift Anniversary ceremony. He summed up the true meaning of the gift he had received as a 10-year-old thanks to Halvorsen.
“What was important was not the candy bar, but that somebody in America knew I was in trouble and somebody cared. I can live on thin rations,” he said, “But not without hope. Without hope the soul dies.”