HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Col. Gail Halvorsen, known as the Berlin candy bomber 65 years ago, said he is only able to speak to people about his experiences dropping chocolate candy bars hooked to small parachutes from his airplane during the Berlin Airlift because of two sticks of gum.
While Halvorsen was flying food into Berlin during 1948 and 1949, he noticed a group of children that would linger by the airstrip just beyond the barbed wire fence and wave to the pilots, the very pilots who a few years earlier were bombing the city. Halvorsen wondered why the kids were so friendly, and spent time talking to them one day, wondering how he could help them, eventually giving them the only thing he could find — two sticks of gum.
Halvorsen began collecting other Airmen’s rations of chocolate bars and started dropping them to the kids, and once word reached the States, 23 tons of chocolate over the years were sent from the States via ship and rail.
“Those little decisions determine where you will end up in life,” said Halvorsen.
The kids knew what the situation was like in other countries, so they urged Halvorsen to not give up on them.
“They said to me, ‘Someday we will get enough to eat, but we don’t want to lose our freedom.’ Here these kids were, fresh out of the Nazi system and they understood what it meant to have freedom,” said Halvorsen.
Once Halvorsen spoke to a boy whose mom and dad were killed by a pilot wearing the same uniform as Halvorsen. Halvorsen became friends with the boy, even helping him get adopted by a family in the United States.
Halvorsen talked to a large crowd on Saturday during the Plane Talk event held regularly at the Hill Aerospace Museum and hoped his words would impact the many kids in attendance.
Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces after he landed and could see the kids waving their parachutes in the air was a feeling that can’t be bought with money.
“It’s the small things that determine where you end up, because it’s all about service and attitude,” said Halvorsen. “Happiness doesn’t come from a bigger car, house, or fancier vacation. It comes from serving others.”
Even though many of Halvorsen’s fellow Airmen were killed in action by Germans shooting them down, there they were serving the Germans with food and supplies.
Halvorsen said one of his comrades who had bombed Berlin said it’s a whole lot better to feed them than to kill them.
“That attitude is crucial in our everyday living,” said Halvorsen, who talked about how important it is to remember the freedom the country is founded on. “The bottom line is that we have the freedom to choose our destiny, and that is how this country was founded because of those men who paid the price for us.”
Col. Todd Murphy, the 388th Operations Group commander, brought his kids to the event, hoping they could learn from Halvorsen’s experience.
“It is good to expose different generations to some of our history, and helps them appreciate what we have here because we have a unique country.”