Halvorsen children reflect on ‘Candy Bomber’ legacy
PROVO, Utah—Sons and daughters of famed ‘Candy Bomber’ Gail Halvorsen gathered Thursday to reflect on his life and the legacy he leaves behind.
Halvorsen passed away Wednesday at the age of 101 after a brief illness. The American pilot first became known when in 1948 he became a notable part of the Berlin airlift that brought humanitarian aid to the bombed-out and blockaded German city.
“One of the last stops he made was at the fence of the airlift—he wanted to take pictures of the airplanes landing at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin,” recalled son Brad Halvorsen. “As he was taking pictures, he noticed 30 children by the barbed wire fence. They were watching him and started talking to him and were very polite, very respectful. They did speak English they’d learned in school and they just basically told him, ‘don’t give up on us.’”
The son said Halvorsen heard a voice inside him that instructed him to go back to the fence, where he tore up a couple sticks of gum he had and gave it to some of the children, who then shared with others.
“He thought, ‘well, I could make these kids really, really happy,” Brad explained. “He told them that if they came back tomorrow, he’d drop enough candy and gum for all of them if they would share it.”
He told the children they would know it was him because he would wiggle the plane’s wings and then circle around and land.
Halvorsen, according to family members, told his crew he needed all their rations and then pooled all the candy and gum.
“He got 3 handkerchiefs and tied little tiny parachutes with gum and candy,” Brad said. “They dropped that through the flare chute which was right behind the pilot seats.”
The son said Halvorsen completed 3 drops before being discovered by a German newspaper man who was nearly hit in the head by a candy bar.
“He got a picture of his airplane, his tail number and everything and it was all in the German newspapers,” Brad said. “The whole operation just grew from there—leaps and bounds.”
The son said Halvorsen dropped 20 tons of candy on parachutes and also coordinated efforts to deliver 3 tons on a box car for children in the hospitals.
“There was a candy company in Chicopee, Mass. and a school there where kids tied parachutes with candy and had that shipped over,” Brad said. “They were quite an operation there that supported the airlift and made sure they had the supplies to drop the candy to the kids.”
Daughter Denise Williams said Halvorsen became so popular among the German children that the airport began using 3 secretaries to read and answer all the mail, which collected in large sacks.
“He would always just say, ‘it was always the kids,’ and he doesn’t even seem to recognize or acknowledge that he at that time helped avert World War III and changed the course of history between Germans and Americans,” Williams said.
Family members said Halvorsen always cared deeply about children and about freedom.
In later years, he conducted candy air drops for kids around the world, across the country and in Utah as he continued to be remembered and honored by the Germans he helped.
Williams said one woman who found a parachute candy as a child continued to write Halvorsen every two weeks up until his death and became a friend to the family.
Halvorsen leaves behind 5 children, 4 of whom spoke to KSL 5 on Thursday afternoon. The fifth was traveling from North Carolina, the others said.They all remembered their father as a tremendous example.
“He was a person who stuck by the rules, flew by the book and he was always known for that,” Williams said.
They recalled the lessons they had learned from him.
“I think (it’s) just to realize that we’re all struggling and we all have our challenges and to be kind to one another,” Brad said. “Give each other a break and try to help each other.”
Daughter Marilyn Sorensen said she will always value having a positive attitude and positivity.
“Look for the good, look for the beauty in the world around us,” Williams said.
Son Bob Halvorsen added that his father taught all the children the value of hard work as well as the joys of the outdoors, fishing and flying. Multiple members of his family tree are pilots, the children said.
Though the Candy Bomber had passed on, his family knew the legacy of his service would continue to live on well into the future.
“The little things in life make a big difference,” Brad Halvorsen said.
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