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Gail Halvorsen
Gail "Uncle Wiggly Wings" Halvorsen connects candies to small parachutes
(Photo: US Air Force)
Nickname Candy bomber, "Rosinenbomber", “Onkel Wackelflügel” (“Uncle Wiggly Wings”), Chocolate Flier
Born 10 October 1920(1920-10-10) (age 102)
Place of birth Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Us army air corps shield.svg United States Army Air Forces
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars Berlin airlift
Awards Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
Spouse(s) Alta Halvorsen

Gail Halvorsen in Berlin in 1989, during the 40th anniversary of the airlift.

Colonel Gail Halvorsen (born October 10, 1920) is a retired career officer and command pilot in the United States Air Force known as the original Candy Bomber or the "Rosinenbomber" in Germany. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is best known for piloting C-47s and C-54s during the Berlin airlift (also known as "Operation Little Vittles") during 1948–1949.

Operation Little Vittles

Gail Halvorsen in Berlin 1983

Shortly before landing at the Tempelhof airport in the American sector of Berlin, Halvorsen would drop candy attached to parachutes to children below. This action, which was dubbed Operation Little Vittles and sparked similar efforts by other crews, was the source of the popular name for the pilots: the candy bombers. Halvorsen wanted to help raise the morale of the children during the time of uncertainty and privation. Halvorsen started by giving a few treats to children watching the planes from outside the Tempelhof base. Wanting to give more, he promised to drop more candy from his plane the next day. Because the planes would arrive nearly every three minutes, the children naturally couldn't distinguish his aircraft from the others. However, Halvorsen promised to wiggle the wings to identify himself, which led to his nickname "Onkel Wackelflügel" ("Uncle Wiggly Wings"). The other American candy bombers became known as the Rosinenbomber (Raisin Bombers). Halvorsen's initiative drew the attention of the operation's commanding officer, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, who approved of it and ordered it expanded into Operation Little Vittles.

The operation was soon noticed by the press and gained widespread attention. A wave of public support led to donations which enabled Halvorsen and his crew to drop 850 pounds of candy. By the end of the airlift, around 25 plane crews had dropped 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum, and other candies over various places in Berlin. The Confectioners Association of America donated large amounts to the effort, and American school children cooperated in attaching the candies to parachutes.

Military career

Halvorsen would go on to fill several domestic and overseas assignments during the remainder of his Air Force career. He returned to Germany in the early 1970s, this time as the commander of Tempelhof Air Base in western Berlin. In this role Halvorsen was required to host official parties at his house. Being a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon, Halvorsen became famous for his non-alcoholic concoctions served at these parties.

German-American relations

Halvorsen's actions as the original candy bomber had a substantial impact on the postwar perception of Americans in Germany and are still pointed to as a symbol of German-American relations. Halvorsen has appeared many times on German TV over the years, often paired with some of the children, now grown adults, who received his candy parachutes. In 1974 he was decorated with the "Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz" (Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany), one of Germany's highest medals. During the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics on February 8, Halvorsen carried the German team's national placard into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium.

In 1989, Halvorsen engaged in a re-enactment of the actions in Berlin for the fortieth anniversary of the Airlift. During Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he dropped candy from a USAF C-130 of the 435th Airlift Wing, flying from Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany. Halvorsen also participated in closing ceremonies for Tempelhof Air Base in 1993 and in 50th anniversary celebrations of the Airlift in Berlin in 1998.In 2004 Halvorsen hoped to launch a similar action for the children of Iraq. The United States military has modeled some of Halvorsen's actions in Iraq, dropping toys, teddy bears, and soccer balls to Iraqi children.[1]

In 2008, Halvorsen was honored as Grand Marshal of the German-American Steuben Parade in New York City.[2] He was celebrated by tens of thousands of spectators on Fifth Avenue.


The US Air Force has helped cement Colonel Halvorsen's airlift legacy by naming its next-generation, 25,000-pound capacity aircraft loading vehicle in his honor. The Air Force has also named the award for outstanding air transportation support in the logistics readiness career field the Colonel Gail Halvorsen Award. Colonel Halvorsen's son, Robert, was a USAF C-130 pilot and is currently a captain with Delta Air Lines. Colonel Halvorsen's grandson is currently in the Navy as an LDS Chaplain at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. The Gail S. Halvorsen Elementary School at Rhein-Main Air Base, Frankfurt, Germany was named in his honor; Rhein-Main has since closed.

On June 15, 2013 a secondary school in the Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf was named in his honor. Colonel Halvorson was present for the naming of the school.[3] This marked the second time a school in Berlin has been named after a living namesake.

Service as LDS missionary

In 1995, Halvorsen, along with his wife Alta, arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia to serve as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their duties included training teachers and visiting institute classes, as well as working with church youth groups. Halvorsen and his wife also served as missionaries for the church in London, England in the 1980s.


Additional reading

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