Utahn Gail S. Halvorsen, a retired Air Force colonel who received fame as the "Candy Bomber" during the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, is in Washington, D.C., this weekend to be honored by the White House Commission on Remembrance.
Halvorsen, 87, will be busy this year helping Americans in several states and Germans celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift to supply the 2 million people in what was then West Berlin with food and fuel after the Soviets cut off all ground transport to the city deep inside Russian-occupied East Germany.
Halvorsen, a pilot of one of the hundreds of C-47 transport planes flying from bases in England and France during the airlift dubbed Operation Vittles, was so struck with the excitement of the children when he shared some gum with them through an air base fence that he wanted to do something special for them. At first he passed out all the candy and gum he could get from his buddies. As the number of children waiting on the perimeters of the three Berlin air fields grew, he launched Operation Little Vittles.
With help from the American Confectioners Association and schoolchildren in Chicopee, Mass., who made about 250,000 small parachutes for the candy drops, eHalvorsen and other pilots ended up dropping some 23 tons of candy to nearly 100,000 children all over West Berlin.
The Air Force awarded Halvorsen the Cheney Award in 1948 for "an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest."
Viola Drath, a member of the White House Commission on Remembrance, is sponsoring the dinner to honor Halvorsen at her Georgetown home Sunday night. "It took Americans with vision and courage, like Col. Halvorsen, to make good on Gen. Curtis LeMay's pledge to supply Berliners in spite of the blockade, till the end of time," she said.In 1991 the Air Force christened a new 25,000-pound loader the Halvorsen Loader. About 300 of them are deployed around the world. In 2000 he was inducted into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame.