Gail Halvorsen, a former US aviator known as the “Candy Bomber” for delivering candy to children during the Berlin Airlift, died Wednesday at the age of 101.
The Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation confirmed the veteran’s death in a statement Thursday.
The foundation said he died peacefully surrounded by his family at Utah Valley Hospital following a brief illness.
Halvorsen earned his nickname “Candy Bomber” during the 15-month post-World War II Berlin Airlift, which saw Western Allies drop critical supplies into West Berlin after it was blockaded by the Soviet Union.
The airman had befriended a group of German children and promised to deliver candy to them – a vow he kept.
Strapping chocolates and gumballs to makeshift parachutes, Halvorsen began dropping candies from his plane in hopes they would end up in the hands of children on the ground.
Halvorsen himself described the experience in past quotes shared by the foundation, saying he encountered around “30 children at the Tempelhof barbed wire fence in Berlin” one day in July 1948.
He said he had two pieces of gum on him at the time and decided to break them in half and put them through the fence.
“The result was amazing. Those who had the gum tore strips from the wrapper and gave them to others. Those who had strips put them to their noses and smelled the little scent. The expression of pleasure was immeasurable,” he said.
“I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them that I would drop enough gum for each of them the next day as I came over their heads to landing,” he said, adding that “they would know my plane because I was flapping my wings when I got to the airport.
Halvorsen’s actions laid the foundation for what came to be known as “Operation Little Vittles”, an effort to continue distributing candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift of 1948–48.
Tributes poured in after his death.
The governor of Utah, where the former airman spent much of his youth and retirement, remembered him as a hero.
“I don’t know if there are better human beings on this planet and that’s sad in many ways,” Governor Spencer Cox said at a press conference.
Still, he said Halvorsen “has lived an incredible life. I know he’s happy right now. I know he’s up there handing out candy behind the pearly doors somewhere.”
The German Embassy in the United States also paid tribute to the former aviator, writing in a Tweeter: “Thank you for your kindness, Colonel.”
Sharing photos from an interview with Halvorsen from just days ago, the foundation said in a Facebook post that the former US aviator had “wanted to remind us all to be grateful” in his final days. .
“And the gratitude we have in our hearts today for the joy of knowing Gail and having her in our lives,” he said.
“We will miss him dearly, but sweet memories will always be with us to soften our hearts and encourage us to be better, to do good with the little means at our disposal and to encourage others to bring sweetness to the world,” said the foundation. noted.