Colonel Halvorsen served as a C-47/C-54 transport pilot during World War II in the South Atlantic 1944-46.
During his volunteer assignment in the Berlin Airlift (Operation Vittles), he instituted Operation Little Vittles by dropping small parachutes laden with candy to the children of Berlin, including those in East Berlin. This self-initiated act of kindness became the humanitarian heart that kept the aircrews going, fueled the hope of all Berliners, and set the mold for all future humanitarian airlift. It also provided a catalyst for widespread support throughout the United States for what airlifters were trying to achieve – keep Berlin free from the Soviet yoke. The fame and recognition that followed would open doors for him to serve as a positive “diplomat” to Germany for years to come; a role he humbly accepts without personal compensation to this day.
He was the 1949 winner of the prestigious Cheney Award for his actions during the Berlin Airlift. Recently awarded the Air Force Association Ira Eaker Fellowship Award and the Air Force Sergeant’s Association 1998 Americanism Award.
He served as a project engineer for cargo aircraft research and development with the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson AFB and Hill AFB from 1952 to 1957.
From 1957 to 1969 he was involved in various aspects of our growing space program to include the Titan III/Dyna-Soar program, advanced manned reusable spacecraft, and the Manned Orbital Laboratory Project – lift in another realm – Spacelift.
He was the commander of Templehof Air Base, Germany, 1970-1974, where one of his roles was to insure the free movement from the Berlin air corridors and plan airlift contingencies in case the Soviets would attempt another blockade. He was also the USAF Representative in Berlin.
He has been awarded the German Service Cross to the Order of Merit by the President of Germany for his efforts on behalf of that country and the Eric Warburg Award from the Atlantic Brucke Association.
After his retirement from the military, he helped to establish, in 1980, the Airlift of Understanding, a high school student exchange program between the State of Utah and the City of Berlin, which continues to this day.
Gail Halvorsen’s life is a history of a boy’s love of flying and service to his country. Over the years he has represented airlift and his country as a statesman of the highest caliber. As an educator and church leader he has inspired a generation of young people to serve others. He richly deserves the honor of being numbered among our Airlift/Tanker Hall of Famers.
Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen was born on 10 October 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He began his aviation career in 1941, when he obtained his private pilot license through a scholarship in the Non-College Civilian Pilot Training Program. He began his military career in 1943 as an Aviation Cadet in the Army Air Corps. He received his wings on 17 June 1944 from the Royal Air Force Flying Training School in Miami, Oklahoma. He first served as a C-47/54 Transport pilot in the South Atlantic Theater of Operations in Natal, Brazil. He returned to the United States in 1945 and flew the C-54 and C-74 aircraft overseas from Brookley Field, Alabama. In 1947 he completed the Air Tactical School at Tyndall AFB, Florida.
In July of 1948 he volunteered for the recently initiated Operation Vittles, or more commonly known as the Berlin Airlift. During that operation, he flew C-54 aircraft, delivering essential food, coal, and other supplies to the Soviet blockaded city of Berlin. It was during this period that Lt Halvorsen became affectionately known as the “Candy Bomber, Chocolate Pilot, Raisin Bomber and Uncle Wiggly Wings,” after he started dropping small candy-laden parachutes to the children of Berlin. This self-initiated act of kindness, on behalf of the starving children of Berlin, blossomed into a unique activity within the “Big Lift” and was called Operation Little Vittles. After a trip back to the United States on behalf of Operation Little Vittles, the operation became a national crusade supported by several towns and cities and by the U.S. candy companies. He and other volunteer aircrews even dropped goodies to the children of East Berlin, until the Soviets protested. He was awarded the Cheney Award for his efforts during the Berlin Airlift.
Completing that tour of duty, he returned to the United States and attended the University of Florida as part of an Air Force Institute of Technology program. In 1951 he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and in 1952 a Masters Degree in Engineering. After his AFIT schooling, he was assigned to the Wright Air Development Center at Dayton, Ohio, as a research and development project officer for cargo aircraft, and eventually was reassigned to similar activities at Hill AFB, Utah.
In 1957 he was assigned to the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He next served at the Air Force Space Systems Division of Air Force Systems Command, Inglewood, California, spending four years in the research and development of various space projects, particularly the Titan III launch vehicle program, in which he played a key role. The Titan III was planned for Dyna-Soar and to be used to launch military satellites. He was really still in the “lift” business only now it was Spacecraft.
From 1962 to 1965, Colonel Halvorsen served in Wiesbaden, West Germany, with the Foreign Technology division of AF Systems Command. He was next assigned to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development, HQ USAF, the Pentagon, and in the Directorate of Space and Technology. He developed plans for the advanced manned reusable spacecraft, space policy and procedures, and on the Manned Orbital Laboratory Project. He then was given the command of the 659th Instrumentation Squadron of the AF Systems Command Satellite Control Facility, Vandenberg AFB, California, which was involved in both satellite launch and orbit operations.
Colonel Halvorsen then became the Commander of the 7350th Air Base Group at Templehof Central Airport, Berlin, Germany, in February 1974. It was the very same airfield he flew to daily during the Berlin Airlift, and the same location he formulated his candy airdrop plans after meeting several children at the end of the runway. During this period, he also served as the US Air Force Europe Representative in Berlin until February 1974, as well as completing a Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Wayne State University through an on-base educational program. His final assignment was as the Inspector General, Ogden Air Materiel Center, Hill AFB, Utah, where he retired on 31 August 1974, having accumulated over 8,000 flying hours and 31 years of military service.
Some of his awards include the Legion of Merit, the Cheney Award for 1948-49, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Medal for Humane Action, the German Service Cross to the Order of Merit from the President of Germany, and the Freedom Award, 1993, from the City of Provo, Utah. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honorary scholastic fraternity, and Sigma Tau, the honorary engineering fraternity. He has also received the AFA Ira Eaker Fellowship Award, AFSA Americanism Award, and the Atlantic Brucke Association Eric Warburg Award.
After his retirement, Gail continued his public service as an educator at Brigham Young University. From 1976 until 1986, he was Assistant Dean of Student Life. During that same period he helped to establish a high school student exchange program called the Airlift of Understanding between the State of Utah and the City of Berlin. This education “Luftbrucke,” or Air Bridge, continues to this day. In the years after his retirement, Colonel Halvorsen continues to voluntarily represent the U.S. Air Force and the United States of America. He has returned to Berlin and Germany multiple times as a Goodwill Ambassador and to participate in ceremonies commemorating both the Berlin Airlift and his comrades who gave their lives so Berlin would remain free. He has reenacted his Candy Bomber airdrops on many occasions and in September 1989 he flew over Templehof with a television team from Good Morning America commemorating the 40th anniversary of the last Berlin Airlift flight. He also reenacted the candy drop, providing goodies to the grandchildren of the very boys and girls he befriended in 1948. In 1990, he wrote and published a book titled “The Berlin Candy Bomber.” The book describes the magnanimous efforts of the U.S. aviators, but it’s also an inspiring story of compassion and service for a former enemy in the post World War II era. Again in 1993, he reenacted the candy airdrop for 700 school children in Berlin, and in 1994 he helped to open an extended Berlin Airlift exhibit at the Frankfurt International Airport and later that same month he flew on an Operation PROVIDE PROMISE C-130 mission over Bosnia and dropped candy parachutes to the Bosnian children. He also was a guest of the City of Berlin for the ceremony honoring the allied forces as they departed Berlin, and a second ceremony honoring those who gave their lives 45 years earlier during the “Big Lift.” During 1998 he has spoken around the world on a weekly basis about the Airlift and about the United States Air Force. Even at the young age of 78, he continued to contribute selflessly to the young people of this country. He speaks all over the United States, without compensation, at civic and church organizations, Airlift/Tanker and Daedalian Chapters, ROTC Detachments, etc.
Colonel Halvorsen was married to the former Alta Jolley of Zion National Park, Utah, who passed away in January 1999. Colonel Halvorsen has five married children and 23 grandchildren. Three of his grandchildren have attended the Gail S. Halvorsen Elementary School at Rhein-Main Air Base, Frankfurt, Germany.
Want to learn more about Gail Halvorsen and the Berlin Airlift? Read the book, To Save a City Ð The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949, by Roger G. Miller.