Colonel Gail Halvorsen of Provo, Utah, http://www.hill.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=5979 was about twenty-four years old when he became one of many American pilots to fly the USAF C-54 Skymaster during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. The airlift was necessary because the Soviets closed the roads into Berlin, and Germans were starving. Halvorsen became known as the “Candy Bomber” because he dropped candy from his aircraft when he approached the runways.
The idea to drop candy to the children came almost by accident. On one of his trips to Tempelhof Airport, Halvorsen decided to walk to the end of the runway and photograph other C-54s during their landing approach. It was a tricky approach because several buildings were located outside the airport grounds. While he was standing next to the barbed wire fence, he started talking with the German children who came to watch the airplanes land. The children asked Halvorsen if he had any gum or candy. He had only two pieces of gum in his pockets, but he promised to bring more on his next flight. He told them that he would drop the gum as he passed over them on his landing approach. The children wanted to know how they would know which airplane was his, and he told them that he would “wiggle his wings” as he approached.
Halvorsen returned to his base and proceeded to make plans. He decided to use his Candy Ration Card to obtain treats for the children, and other pilots donated their rations also. He also made tiny parachutes out of handkerchiefs. On his next mission to Tempelhof Airport, he instructed his Flight Engineer to push three bundles of sweets through the flare chute on the C-54 flight deck. The small parcels floated down on the tiny, homemade handkerchief parachutes. Halvorsen did not know if the children caught the packages because he was busy landing his aircraft. When he prepared to depart the airfield and taxied to the end of the runway, he saw three white handkerchiefs waving back at him.
Over the next few weeks Halvorsen repeated the airdrops, and the crowd of German children kept growing larger. Letters arrived at the airport addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings – Tempelhof,” requesting special airdrops at other locations. The story was picked up by the local newspapers, and Halvorsen became famous. Other pilots joined the effort, and more candy was donated; volunteers made handkerchief parachutes. Soon the tiny parcels of treats were falling all over Berlin.
While on a brief trip back to the United States, Halvorsen was interviewed about his “Candy Bomber” operation. During the interview, he was asked what he needed to continue it. He replied, “box cars full of candy!” Even though he was joking, soon after his return a train car loaded with 3,000 pound of chocolate bars arrived for `Uncle Wiggly Wings.’
Other Americans joined the project and sent thousands of pounds of candy to support the airdrops. Still more pilots volunteered to drop the packages. Uncle Wiggly Wings received several letters from East Berlin, and a few airdrops were made to school yards there. When the angry Soviet officials complained about the Americans’ “attempted subversion of young minds,” Halvorsen said, “kids are kids everywhere.” When children wrote to tell him that they had never reached the “sweet gifts from the sky” before other children scooped them up, Halvorsen mailed packages of candy to them. The “Candy Bomber” did not miss any children. The candy airlift softened the attitudes of Germans towards Americans and improved relations between the two nations.