Thousands gather to pay tribute to Col. Gail S. Halvorsen and the hope he gave the world

A Legacy of Hope

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If you ever wonder how much difference one person can make in the world all you have to do is look at the life and legacy of Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, The Berlin Candy Bomber. Thousands gathered in Provo and Spanish Fork last month to celebrate the change he made in the world when he shared two sticks of gum at the fence around Berlin’s Templehof Airport in 1948. 

At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors administered by the allied countries. Although deep in the Russian sector, the city of Berlin was also split into four sectors. 

In the first move of what would become the Cold War, Stalin blockaded the roads, railways and waterways that led to the city of Berlin, completely cutting off the city from the supplies and support they desperately needed to survive. Stalin tried to force the allies to abandon Berliners rather than start World War III. What Stalin didn’t count on was American ingenuity and downright stubborn determination. With ground travel blocked the allies took to the skies to keep the city and the people of Berlin alive and free. 

Colonel Halvorsen at the Berlin Wall.

One day, while his plane was being unloaded, Colonel Halvorsen walked over to the fence around Templehof airport to photograph children gathered there. He wanted to give them something to encourage them, but all he had was two sticks of gum. He was amazed when the children took those two sticks of gum tore them into small pieces and passed them around to as many kids as possible. 

Those who didn’t get the gum took turns smelling the wrapper. Colonel Halvorsen came away from that fence determined to do more to bring smiles to the faces of those children. He told the children to watch for him to wiggle the wings of his plane when he came into the airport the next day.

Colonel Halvorsen went back to his barracks, gathered his and his bunkmates candy rations then tied parachutes to the bounty. The next day, on approach to Templehof, he wiggled his wings back and forth. Children below recognized the signal and ran to gather what they called “candy from heaven.” 

From the thoughtful act of one man, it grew into a movement that drew people in from around the world. The airlift was a resounding success and thanks to Colonel Halvorsen and the airlift pilots, food became just a small part of what was being delivered. Hope was delivered to Berlin on wiggling wings and white parachutes. 

For over 70 years Colonel Halvorsen shared the values and beliefs that led him to share those two sticks of gum with his family, community and the world. He passed away, at 101, this February.

The Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, Airlift Tankers Association, Civil Air Patrol, and Air Force Air Mobility Command, are just a few of the many organizations led by and impacted by Colonel Halvorsen’s lifelong mission. Last month they all came together to celebrate his life and challenge the next generation of candy bombers.

The two-day celebration began with tours of the new terminal at the Provo Airport and two planes that represent the mission Colonel Halvorsen dedicated his life too. 

An Air Force C-17 was renamed the “The Spirit of the Candy Bomber” for the two-day event in Provo and Spanish Fork. Photo by Robert Moore.

The Spirit of Freedom is a World War II era C-54 that has been lovingly restored by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation and turned into a living museum for the Berlin Airlift and Colonel Halvorsen. Following his military career, Colonel Halvorsen flew with Tim Chopp in The Spirit of Freedom for more than 20 years, delivering candy drops to air shows and other events, teaching about the Berlin Airlift and the power of kindness, all over the world.

Guests also toured the Air Force Air Mobility Command C-17 that was renamed The Spirit of the Candy Bomber during the event, in a ceremony that included one of the original Berlin Airlift kids, Doris Gallagher, General Mike Minihan of the Air Force Air Mobility Command and several of Colonel Halvorsen’s great-grandchildren. 

The next day the celebration moved to Spanish Fork Airport with an event that was aimed at doing the same thing Colonel Halvorsen came away from his first encounter at the fence determined to do, put smiles on children’s faces. 

“Gail spent his whole life bringing smiles to children,” said Lorene Moore, board member of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation. “We could hardly celebrate his life without seeking to do that very same thing.”

Spanish Fork Airport was buzzing with crowds participating in activities for young and old. Students from Nebo School District’s Advanced Learning Center demonstrated the activities and experiments they developed for the Halvorsen Foundation’s STEM Fun Bus.

Learning from the future and the past, kids took a turn piloting one of several flight simulators and heard stories from Berlin Airlift kids about what they received in those “bundles of hope” that the airlift brought them. 

Knighton Architecture gave visitors a preview of the Halvorsen Heritage Center the Halvorsen Foundation is working to build at the Spanish Fork Airport. The center will be home to the Halvorsen Airlift Historical Collection, as well as, classrooms, flight simulators and home to a new Civil Air Patrol Hangar. 

“We want the Halvorsen Heritage Center to be a place students and families can learn about Gail and all the people who came together to shine the bright light of hope onto Berlin during the airlift and to see how they can shine that same light in their world today,” noted Moore. 

The C-54 Spirit of Freedom, a World War II era aircraft, flies with the rechristened C-17 The Spirit of The Candy Bomber. Photo by Robert Moore.

General Mike Minihan, of the Air Force Air Mobility Command, spoke to the crowd and challenged them to carry on the mission of the Candy Bomber. “What will you do with your two sticks of gum?” he asked. 

Visitors toured the Spirit of Freedom throughout the morning. Then it capped the day flying side by side with The Spirit of the Candy Bomber for several passes before dropping candy tied to parachutes for the cheering crowd, just as Col. Halvorsen had done. 

One volunteer helping to pass out additional candy to children in the crowd after the drop summed up the feeling of the whole celebration when, filled with emotion, he stated, “I love that I get to be a Candy Bomber now too.”

To carry on Colonel Halvorsen’s mission, the Halvorsen Foundation challenges you to become a Candy Bomber. Do something for someone else. Put a smile on someone’s face and share it to your social media. Tag it with #twostickchallenge and keep the Candy Bomber mission alive. Like Colonel Halvorsen was more than 70 years ago, you can be the light that brings hope to those around you. (Serve Daily submission by Lorene Moore.)

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