For Friday’s Aviation book we have reviewed Gail S. Halverson’s “Berlin candy Bomber.”In June 1948, Russia laid siege to Berlin, cutting off the flow of food and supplies over highways into the city. More than two million people faced economic collapse and starvation. The Americans, English, and French began a massive airlift to bring sustenance to the city and to thwart the Russian siege.Gail Halvorsen was one of hundreds of U.S. pilots involved in the airlift. While in Berlin, he met a group of children standing by the airport watching the incoming planes. Though they hadn’t asked for candy, he was impressed to share with them the two sticks of gum he had in his possession. Seeing how thrilled they were by this gesture, he promised to drop more candy to them the next time he flew to the area.
True to his word, as he flew in the next day, he wiggled the wings of his plane to identify himself, then dropped several small bundles of candy using parachutes crafted from handkerchiefs to slow their fall. Local newspapers picked up the story. Suddenly, letters addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings” began to arrive as the children requested candy drops in other areas of the city.What started as a single pilot’s car tour of bombed-out Berlin turned into an international campaign to help lighten the suffering of the children of West Berlin. The time was 1948, and the Soviet Union had closed all land access to the isolated Free World sectors of West Berlin in an attempt to starve the people into accepting Communist rule. On an impulse, a C-54 cargo pilot, Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen, shared the only two sticks of gum he had with a group of about 30 children. What started as a somewhat clandestine candy-dropping operation by Halvorsen and his buddies eventually became a USAF-sanctioned operation. As the airlift of food and fuel continued for almost two years, tons of candy were dropped (using tiny parachutes) for the children who waited in the flight path below. The text is liberally illustrated with black-and-white photos, copies of letters, and a diagram of how the flight patterns worked. Endpapers contain color reproductions of a few of the many pieces of children’s artwork that Halvorsen received as the “Chocolate Pilot,” “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” and “Dear Onkl of the Heaven.” Vocabulary is relatively easy, but adequate for the topic, which makes the text flow easily. The book concludes with extensive biographical, historical, and author’s notes. This is a real treat—a World War II title with a happy ending.
About Lt Col. Gail Halvorsen (Ret.):
Gail Halvorsen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and grew up on small farms in Utah and Idaho. He earned a private pilot license under the Civilian Pilot Training program in September of 1941. Almost concurrently Gail joined the Civil Air Patrol as a pilot. He joined the United States Army Air Corps in June 1942. Fighter pilot training was with the Royal Air Force after which he was returned to the Army Air Corps and was assigned flight duty in foreign transport operations in the South Atlantic Theater. After WWII he flew in the Berlin Airlift where he became known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, the “Chocolate Flyer” and the “Berlin Candy Bomber.” The blockade of Berlin began in June 1948 and ended 12 May 1949. Flights continued until 30 September 1949 to build up reserves.
Gail married Alta Jolley of Zion National Park on 16 April 1949. They have five children, 24 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Three of their grandchildren have attended a school named for him in Frankfurt, Germany.
After almost 50 years of marriage, Alta died in January 1999. Gail is now married to his high school steady from 62 years ago, Lorraine Pace, who has three children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. They presently live on their farm in Spanish Fork, Utah. Winters are at Lorraine’s place in Arizona.