Red Cross honoring WWII pilot at Heroes event

Courtesy photo
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, a C-52 Skymaster aircraft pilot known as the ‘Candy Bomber,’ poses for a recent photo.
By RICHARD WOODRUFF
American Red Cross, Utah and Nevada Region
March 30, 2017

Every year, the American Red Cross honors community members who have demonstrated heroism through extraordinary acts of courage and kindness. Among the 13 award categories is also the Lifetime Achievement award. This year’s recipient is Col. Gail Seymour “Hal” Halverson. 

Halvorsen is a retired career officer and command pilot in the United States Air Force. He is well known as the original Candy Bomber—the “Rosinenbomber” in Germany—and a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal. He piloted C-47 and C-54 aircraft during the Berlin Airlift (“Operation Vittles”) from 1948–1949. Halvorsen grew up as a farm boy in Utah and Idaho before earning his private pilot’s license in 1941. He joined the Civil Air Patrol and later the United States Army Air Corps in 1942. During World War II, he was assigned to fly transport operations in the South Atlantic Theater.

Halvorsen retired from the Air Force in 1974, but his candy drops caught on and he became well-known as the “Candy Bomber,” re-enacting his flights around the U.S. and Germany. As he performed his duties, then Lt. Halvorsen began to notice the German children gathered by the fences of Tempelhof Air Base. Knowing that they had very little, he one day offered them some chewing gum. From that small act an idea sprang: He would bomb Berlin with candy. Fashioning small parachutes, he and his crew sent them floating down as they approached the Berlin airport, wiggling the wings of their C-54s as a signal to the children that their anticipated cargo would soon arrive.

Lt. Halvorsen became known by hundreds, if not thousands, of children in Berlin as “Uncle Wiggly Wings” or the “Candy Bomber.” Word soon spread, and donations of candy and other supplies poured in from sympathetic Americans. Lt. Halvorsen’s small idea became a great symbol of hope not only to German children in a bombed-out city but to all those who yearned for freedom.

On July 4, 2015, he parachuted sweets down to Orem, Utah, to celebrate Independence Day. He flew over the area three times before releasing the cargo of 1,000 chocolate bars attached to tiny parachutes into the hands of the children below. More than 50,000 people stood in 100-degree temperatures to watch the drop. Halvorsen flew in a fixed-wing bomber from World War II with two escort planes attending. 

Halvorsen was featured in the movie Meet the Mormons and has been in many national news feature stories. The book Christmas From Heaven was written by famed broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw. 

This year’s Every Day Heroes Recognition event will be held on Monday April 10th from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Little America, 500 Main Street in Salt Lake City. For sponsorship opportunities contact Margie Woodruff at 801-323-7015 or email Margie.Woodruff@redcross.org. You can also purchase tickets online at redcross.org/Utah

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