Gail Halvorsen

Article

August 14, 2022

Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, born October 10, 1920 in Salt Lake City (Utah) and died February 16, 2022 in Provo (Utah), was a career officer in the United States aviation in which he acquired a certain celebrity under the nicknames of "flying chocolate", "candy bomber" or "Onkel Wackelflügel" ("uncle who flaps his wings"). This results from airdrops of sugary treats he made in West Berlin during the Soviet blockade in 1948–1949.

Operation Little Vittles

Gail Halvorsen was in the first group of airmen sent to Frankfurt am Main to help the Germans airlift food, medicine and other basics into the former Reich capital during the Soviet blockade in 1948-1949. Airmen usually stayed in Berlin only to unload their cargo and refuel their aircraft. During a break at the airport, Halvorsen found a barbed wire fence that separated him from some German children who were playing. “Most of the kids crowded around me shouting and asking for candy and chewing gum,” he later recounted, “but these were different. These children had endured so much, their town had been practically destroyed; many of them had lost family members during the war. However, none of them asked for chewing gum or sweets”. Through the barbed wire, he gave the children two tablets of chewing gum he had in his pocket. Without arguing, the children shared the tablets of chewing gum by cutting them into small pieces and when there was none left to share, they passed the wrapping paper to smell it. He told the children that he would be back the next day and that, if they would share them among themselves, he would drop candies from his plane as he flew over the city, that he would tilt the wings of his plane in recognition and that he would drop little parachutes made of handkerchiefs. The next day, Gail Halvorsen dropped three parachutes loaded with candy to the children waiting for her. To identify himself, he gave his plane a roll motion, which led to his nickname "Onkel Wackelflügel" ("Uncle flapping his wings"). The operation continued on a small scale for several weeks. Gail Halvorsen began dropping not only her candy rations but also those that other men in her unit were giving out. One day, returning to his quarters, he found a packet of letters addressed to "uncle who is faltering" and "chocolate volant". He was summoned by his superior a few days later, who explained to him that a candy had fallen at the end of a runway, that he had hit a German reporter in the head and that the story of the "candy bombing was now on the front page of every Berlin newspaper. Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner approved, allowed him to continue parachuting candy, even ordered it to be a full-fledged armed forces operation, which he named "Operation Little Vittles." The soldiers contributed by giving their rations of sweets but also their handkerchiefs, then the sleeves of their shirts which served as parachutes. Finally they began to attach a note asking to return the parachutes so that they could be reused; most of the parachutes were returned. As the operation escalated, radio stations across the East Coast of the United States took notice and began asking their listeners to send tissues to Frankfurt. At the height of the operation, five mailbags full of handkerchiefs arrived in Germany every two days. The inhabitants of Chicopee Falls (Massachusetts), sent many cardboard boxes full of candies and