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TV review: KUED's 'The Candy Bomber' relates Utahn's act of goodwill but also importance of Berlin Airlift

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4 2013 4:10 p.m. MST

Gail Hal Halvorsen, the Candy Bomber, brought cheer to children in West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.

Courtesy KUED

As a 13-year-old, Brigitte Murdock remembers standing in one line while her mother and brother stood in two separate lines. When their wait was over, the Murdock family received their rationed portions of food.

For nearly a year, supplies delivered by American planes sustained more than 2 million people in post-World War II West Berlin. In response to the Soviet blockade of land routes into the besieged city, the United States began a massive airlift of food, water and medicine.

When stores ran out of butter, the West Berliners received margarine, Murdock relates. When the supply of margarine was depleted, it was replaced with lard.

“We never had lard in our lives,” she says, “but when you’re hungry you’ll eat anything.”

She also recalls the handmade miniature parachutes delivering sweet treats from the Candy Bomber.

In the KUED-produced film, “The Candy Bomber” — airing Thursday, Dec. 5, at 8:30 p.m. with encores Sunday, Dec. 8, at 4 p.m. and Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 8:30 p.m. — the story of Garland, Utah, native Gail “Hal” Halvorsen is retold. The uplifting documentary also relates the importance of the Berlin Airlift and the magnanimous efforts of the Allied forces that prompted Halvorsen’s act of charity that grew exponentially.

During this time of uncertainty and deprivation, Western Allied pilots dropped 23 tons of candy for West Berlin children — but also 2 million tons of supplies to prevent starvation of a defeated enemy.

Halvorsen is interviewed to relate the story he has told many times before, but the magnificence of “The Candy Bomber” program are the accompanying accounts from Murdock and other grateful recipients of the Berlin Airlift.

Ninety tons of supplies were transported each day during the first week when the airlift began in June 1948. By the second week, the total reached 1,000 tons. The Communist press ridiculed the project, derisively referring to “the futile attempts of the Americans to save face and to maintain their untenable position in Berlin.”

Within one month, the airlift was succeeding. By April 1949, more cargo was airlifted than had previously been transported into the city by rail. Aircrews from the U.S. Air Force, British Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and South African Air Force flew more than 200,000 flights, providing up to 4,700 tons of necessities daily.

Along with Halvorsen and Murdock, producer Elizabeth Searles was able to interview Halvorsen’s commander, Lt. Col. Guy B. Dunn, who had summoned the Candy Bomber pilot to his office. Instead of a reprimand, Dunn told Halvorsen, “Keep doing it!”

After a German reporter was hit in the head by a falling chocolate bar, a newspaper article about the candy’s unique delivery method was relayed around the world. And the response was enormous. Women’s clubs volunteered to contribute makeshift handkerchief parachutes. Students at a college in Massachusetts processed 18 tons of candy in seven months. The American Confectioners Association sent 600 pounds of candy by boat and rail.

The outpouring of charity that came to be known as Operations Little Vittles began when Halvorsen happened upon a crowd of children gathered at the end of Tempelhof Airport runway to watch the near-constant stream of aircraft. In a single gesture of goodwill, the young pilot dug into his pocket to find two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum.

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