The "Candy Bomber" has struck again, this time in Bosnia.
Retired Air Force pilot Gail S. Halvorsen, who started dropping sweets to German children from his C-54 transport plane during the Berlin Airlift, took to the skies again this month.While in Germany for the opening of a Berlin Airlift exhibit, Halvorsen persuaded the Air Force to let him join a C-130 crew as it dropped food and clothing in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Operation Provide Promise. Using pieces of old sheets for parachutes, Halvorsen let fly hundreds of Hershey and Baby Ruth bars about 30 miles outside Sarajevo.
"It brought back many memories of the airlift. The smell of the hydraulic fluid in the airplane. I had the uniform on. It was just like old times," he said. Halvorsen, 73, earned his "Candy Bomber" nickname 46 years ago when he started what became known as Operation Little Vittles.
Candy bars scattered over villages outside Sarajevo might seem insignificant in the war-ravaged country, but Halvorsen is confident the treats will brighten a child's day.
"I know that it will work. I've seen it work many times before. They will come down, and the kids will find them sometime," he said.
Halvorsen, of Provo, said post-World War II children in East Berlin and Bosnian children today have hunger and uncertainty in common. But "kids in Berlin were not as bad off as kids in Bosnia. Kids there are faced with trying to stay alive and keep from being shot."
Provide Promise, a relief project centered at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, aims to keep war refugees supplied with basic foodstuffs and clothing. Fifteen planes - 12 American, two German and one French - drop 20,000 pounds apiece every night, mostly to areas unreachable on the ground. The planes also drop meat-free "humanitarian daily rations" for Bosnian Muslims, a food package similar to the military's "meals ready to eat" or MREs. About 90 percent of the items are recovered and usable, Halvorsen said.
"They've been dropping there more than a year," he said. "We don't know how long it's going to last. They're not able to get convoys in there yet."
While at Rhein-Main, Halvorsen had a chance interview with a six-member U.N. inspection team, including two Serbs, a Croat and a Bosnian Muslim, that checks the air packages for weapons.
Though splintered ethnically, politically and religiously, Halvorsen said they shared a common bond: Kresmir Cosic, the former Yugoslavian and Brigham Young University basketball star. Halvorsen and Cosic got to know each other last summer when both received Freedom Awards at America's Freedom Festival at Provo.
When Halvorsen mentioned Cosic, "that kind of chill that was in the air just disappeared."
"I didn't get into politics and stir up the pot. I wanted to see them as human beings," he said.
Halvorsen said he realized "people are people" during the Berlin Airlift when Germans, former hated enemies, "looked at us like angels from heaven" for delivering them food.
"Person to person, people can get along. It's the system that's screwed up," he said.
Halvorsen never expected to be dropping candy to a new group of deprived children four decades after World War II. "I thought it would end when I came back to the states," he said.
But his legacy continues to fly. "I'd just like to keep going over there and drop like mad."