Retired Air Force pilot Gail S. Halvorsen never thought anyone would know about his dropping candy to children during the Berlin airlift.
He tried to keep it a secret, mostly because it violated military rules. But word of the "Candy Bomber" spread, and the Provo resident remains renowned a half century later."To say that I'm surprised is the understatement of the century," he said. "I thought it would go away then."
Halvorsen will have a significant role at events in Europe in May and June commemorating the 50th anniversary of the airlift. He organized air drops of 23 tons of candy - via tiny parachutes made from handkerchiefs - during the operation that supplied food to 2 million Berliners from June 1948 to September 1949.
Halvorsen, 77, and two other pilots are flying to Germany Sunday from New York in a C-54 cargo plane, the same type of aircraft used in the airlift. The plane, named "Spirit of Freedom" and owned by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, has been converted into a flying museum.
They'll make a stop near Chicopee, Mass., where 22 schools bought candy, attached handkerchiefs and shipped it to Halvorsen during the airlift. Some of those students were located, and one will give Halvorsen a plaque she received 50 years later for her efforts. The memorabilia will be put on display in a new museum, he said.
Ceremonies in mid-May will celebrate the 49th anniversary of the end of the Soviet blockade.
President Clinton is scheduled to christen a C-17 cargo plane the "City of Berlin." The new aircraft will be nose to nose with a C-54 for the event, Halvorsen said.
Halvorsen will participate in an international air show in late May that will include a re-enactment of his "Operation Little Vittles" set to music. Air shows also are planned in England, Luxembourg and France.
On June 26th, Halvorsen will be in Berlin for the 50th anniversary of the start of the airlift. The C-54 will drop 5,000 Hershey bars and 7,500 pack of Wrigley's Doublemint gum, Halvorsen said.
It was two sticks of Doublemint that Halvorsen gave to some hungry children one July day in 1948 outside Rhein-Main Air Force Base that started the "candy bombings." Halvorsen told the children he'd wiggle his wings and drop treats on his return flights, which "Uncle Wiggly Wings" did until the airlift ended in Sept. 30, 1949.
"It's got to be a pretty big thing," he said. "It's fun."
Halvorsen will return home in mid-July.