U.S. Air Force pilot, 98, known as the ‘Candy Bomber’ after he dropped sweets to starving children during the Berlin Airlift, receives a hero’s welcome returning to the German capital 70 years after the crisis
- Ex US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen, 98, has been given a warm reception in Germany as he celebrates 70 years since the end of the Berlin Airlift
- During that crisis of 1948 and 1949, Halvorsen and other military personnel airdropped supplies to starving and war ravaged residents in West Berlin
- Halvorsen became known as the ‘Candy Bomber’ after he decided to parachute in sweets and chocolate for the city’s hungry children
- On Saturday, Halvorsen urged young people to closely monitor leaders in the current political climate in order to ensure continued freedom
A former US Air Force pilot famous for dropping candy to starving children during the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949 has returned to the German capital as a guest of honor 70 years after the end of the crisis.
Gail Halvorsen, 98, received a hero’s welcome as he donned his military uniform, signed autographs, and posed for photos with city residents on Saturday.
Halvorsen became known as the ‘Candy Bomber’ after inventing the idea to airdrop small bags of sweets to children in West Berlin, who were going hungry after the Soviet Union blocked railway, road and canal access to the city.
The blockade lasted from June 1948 until May 1949 and became known as the first crisis in the long-running Cold War.
Gail Halvorsen, better known as the ‘Candy Bomber’ has returned to Germany 70 years after his involvement in the Berlin Airlift of the 1948 and 1949
Halvorsen became famous after airdropping candy to starving children in West Germany
Western allies – including the US – responding by launching the Berlin Airlift, during which pilots flew in food and other supplies to the 2.5 million residents stricken in the city.
The operation lasted non-stop and through the harsh German winter, with more than two million tonnes of supplies dropped over the course of 277,000 flights.
As an act of kindness, Halvorsen began to drop bundles of chocolate with handkerchief parachutes to children waiting below.
To signal that he was about to release the sweet treats from the air, the Air Force commander would dip his plane’s wings.
Speaking with AFP on Friday, one elderly woman – who was a child during the time of the Berlin Airlift – recalled the special deliveries being dropped out of the sky by Halvorsen.
For almost a year, pilots flew in food and other supplies to the 2.5 million residents in West Berlin who were left starving at the hands of a Soviet Blockade
Halvorsen posed for photos with children in Berlin on Saturday
She told the publication that she wrote to Halvorsen to complain that the candy drops were stopping chickens from laying eggs, and she was surprised to find that he subsequently replied with a nice note.
‘It wasn’t the sweets that impressed me, it was the letter,” the woman explained, revealing that she and Halvorsen went on to have a long-lasting friendship.
She added: ‘I grew up fatherless, like a lot of [German] children at that time, so knowing that someone outside of Berlin was thinking of me gave me hope.’
However, Halvorsen was far more modest about his efforts during the the crisis, saying on Friday: ‘The heroes of the Berlin Airlift were not the pilots, the heroes were the Germans – the parents and children on the ground’.
Halvorsen has been modest about his efforts during the the Berlin Airlift. He is pictured meeting German children on Saturday
Halvorsen has returned to Germany as a guest of honor, 70 years after the end of the Berlin Airlift
He later warned young people to be vigilant about the current political landscape in order to ensure continued freedoms.
‘I would exhort the young people to keep an open mind to know that some leaders will lead free people in the wrong direction,’ he stated.
‘They need to use their judgement about what they believe in the news, that they need to make their own decision on who rules them.
‘Freedom is important and sometimes you have to fight for it.’
Halvorsen has warned young people to be vigilant about the current political landscape in order to ensure continued freedoms