News Story

The “Candy Bomber”, Gail S. Halvorsen, opens “Friends Always” exhibit 65 years after the Berlin Airlift

On Tuesday, 18 June 2013, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a VIP reception for the opening of a week-long exhibit called “Friends Always” in commemoration of the beginning of the Berlin Airlift 65 years ago. The exhibit features Col. Gail S. Halvorsen “The Candy Bomber” and the surrounding events of the Berlin Airlift. Personal friends of Gail Halvorsen and community leaders attended the opening reception.

Bernd von Kostka, curator of the AlliiertenMuseum in Berlin, spoke first giving an overview of the airlift’s history. He emphasized the powerful affect that Halvorsen’s actions have had on the American-German relations and the hope that he brought to those young children in West Berlin many years ago.

Anna-Margareta Peters of the Stiftung Luftbrückendank, honored Halvorsen with the ABC’s of the airlift. For each letter of the alphabet, she named a corresponding virtue that Halvorsen and his crew displayed during the airlift. She also talked about Halvorsen’s various nicknames including “Uncle Wiggly Wings” “The Candy Bomber” and “The Chocolate Pilot”. “Nicknames are either a term of endearment or hold a negative connotation. In this case, [referring to Halvorsen] there is no question,” said Peters.

“When we think about the start of Berlin Airlift 65 years ago, we feel lots of different emotions. The memory is still living for Berliners – and one man, almost 93 years old, keeps us close to the memory through his life and personal experiences. We are proud and thankful that Col. Gail Halvorsen was and is a part of Berlin’s history as a member of our Church,” said David Ruetz, Stake President of the Berlin/Brandenburg area. 

In reference to the opening of the exhibit, Hartmut Rhein, the commissioner of Churches and Religion in the area of Berlin said, “I am especially excited that Gail S. Halvorsen, a very treasured and honored Pilot here in Berlin, was able to be present at this exhibit opening. No one in our city has forgotten his efforts by dropping small parachutes with Hershey chocolate to Berlin’s youth. They made him the “Candy Bomber”, who then turned former enemies to long-lasting friends!”

Halvorsen also spoke to the guests himself by answering a series of questions from the host, President Ruetz.

Why did you decide to throw chocolate parachutes?

“The kids started it, not me!” responded Halvorsen. He retold the story of how it all started after he gave two pieces of gum to the children in West Berlin on the other side of the barbed wire fence. He expected the children to beg and to show some evidence of selfishness or greed. However, after they received the gum, they shared. They held the gum wrappers up to their noses and savored the smell. Gail said this moment changed his life forever. He was so struck by their humble reaction that his mind began to churn with ideas about how to continue to bring treats to the children. From this experience, he learned an important life lesson.

“The key principle to happiness is gratitude. It was the gratitude of the children that day that changed me,” said Halvorsen.

What was the most emotional part of the operation for you?

He remembered that the most emotional part of “Operation Vittles” was receiving letters from children. They would write him letters addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and thank him for dropping the chocolate. It was a rewarding feeling for him to fly overhead and watch the children chase the parachutes.

“The airlift taught me that the only way to live happily was by serving others,” Halvorsen continued, “The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach us that out of little things proceeds that which is great.” In this case, two sticks of gum turned into over 20 tons of candy.

Halvorsen insisted that service is always better than money. His experience taught him how important it was to give hope to those that have no hope. It put into perspective what in life is most essential. One recipient of the candy wrote him and said, “Someday we will eat, but if we lose our freedom, we will never get it back.” For some West Berliners, the chocolate showed that someone in America knew they were in trouble and cared enough to help.

At the conclusion of the event, Halvorsen announced to all of the attending guests in German, “Die Ausstellung ist eröffnet!” (“The exhibit is open!”)

Following the official opening, Heinz-Gerd Reese of the Stiftung Luftbrückendank led the guests in a tour of the exhibit detailing the events of the airlift. 

The exhibit is open to the public from June 19 – June 26 from 14:00 to 20:00 at the Church’s meetinghouse in downtown Berlin, Klingelhöferstr. 24. 

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