KUED Tells Inspiring Story of "The Candy Bomber"
To children living in the rubble of post-war Germany, it was candy from heaven. Some saw it as a sign that somebody in America cared about them. To Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, who became known worldwide as the Candy Bomber, the Berlin Airlift was the healing balm on the wounds of war. He and his fellow American pilots dropped more than two million tons of supplies and 23 tons of candy to the people and children of West Berlin.
Halvorsen, who hailed from Garland, Utah, was a C-54 pilot in the summer of 1948 after a Soviet blockade left the vanquished citizens of Berlin’s Western zone without food and supplies, leaving two million citizens to face starvation. Halvorsen was part of “Operation Vittles” that flew in flour, dried food and coal.
One day, in a simple gesture of goodwill, Halvorsen gave two sticks of gum to a few German children watching the planes at Tempelhof Airbase in Berlin. Impressed by how they shared the small treat, he promised to bring more candy the next day. He told them to watch for a plane that wiggled its wings, a signal that there was candy on board that he would drop. Other pilots had given Halvorsen their rations for the children. Halvorsen put handkerchief parachutes on the candy to soften the fall. Every day, more children came to wave for candy from Uncle Wiggly Wings. Halvorsen’s tender gesture of dropping a few candy bars grew into Operation Little Vittles.
The touching story of one man’s efforts to bring a little joy to the children of a defeated enemy are chronicled in a new KUED film, The Candy Bomber, produced by the award-winning Elizabeth Searles, producer of Utah’s World War II Stories. The film airs Thursday, Dec. 5 at 8:30 p.m. and encores Sunday, December 8 at 4:00 p.m. and Tuesday, December 10 at 8:30 p.m.
After a German reporter was hit in the head by a chocolate bar, the reporter put a story out that went around the world. Halvorsen was told to report to his superiors. Instead of a reprimand, he was told to “keep doing it!” Opeartion Little VIttles continued to grow.
Women’s clubs tied handkerchief parachutes and two German secretaries were hired to answer all the letters from children, some of whom sent empty handkerchiefs to be refilled.
Recognizing the public relations value of the growing operation, Gen. William Tunner sent Halvorsen to New York on a press tour. When stories began appearing on TV and radio, the American Confectioners Association sent 600 pounds of candy by boat and rail. A college in Massachusetts organized 22 schools to process 18 tons of candy in seven months.
One little boy who said his legs weren’t long enough to run for the candy sent a letter with a map to tell Uncle Wiggly Wings how to get the backyard of his bombed-out house for a candy drop. When the candy didn’t arrive, the boy sent another letter. “You are a pilot. I sent you a map. How did you guys win the war anyway?” Halvorsen mailed him his candy.
Grateful children and their parents brought gifts to Halvorsen. In a particularly moving sequence in the film, Halvorsen tells of a little girl who gave him her teddy bear. She told him that during the bombing of Berlin, when her family sought shelter in cellars, the teddy bear was always with her. “It saved my life,” she told him. Now, she wanted the good luck bear to save the lives of the men flying the candy planes.
“It was such a powerful force,” says Halvorsen of the operation that won the hearts of a former enemy.
At the 1998 Berlin Airlift Anniversary ceremony, a 60-year old man quietly approached Halvorsen. He summed up the true meaning of the gift he had received as a 10-year-old thanks to Halvorsen. “What was important was not the candy bar, but that somebody in America knew I was in trouble and somebody cared.”
The Candy Bomber is made possible in part by the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, the Robert D. Kent, Jr. Charitable Trust and the contributing members of KUED.