Candy man recalls airlift



    Practicing random acts of kindness found new meaning in the life of Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen of Provo.

    Fifty years ago Russian Joseph Stalin blocked all traffic to and from surrounding areas of the Russian sector of Berlin. Halvorsen flew in the Berlin Airlift, bringing food and supplies to the starving people of Berlin.

    One day Halvorsen was flying into Berlin. “All of the sudden on the other side of the barbed wire fence were about 30 kids right up against the runway,” Halvorsen said.

    As he approached them he noticed that not one of them was begging for food, Halvorsen said.

    “When people don’t beg for things and are grateful for what you are doing for them, you want to give them something,” Halvorsen said. “You want to give them all you got.”

    Halvorsen reached into his pockets to see what he had, he said. He discovered that he only had two sticks of gum.

    As he went to go give the children the gum, he hesitated and thought that all 30 of them might fight over only two sticks of gum, Halvorsen said.

    “I thought, ‘we’re going to have bloody noses all over the place’, and I turned to go back to the jeep,” Halvorsen said.

    But Halvorsen changed his mind. “If they’re going to fight, it’s up to them,” Halvorsen thought. “Give them what you got.”

    He turned around and went back to the fence where the children were standing.

    “I broke the two sticks (of gum) in half and passed them through the barbed wire,” Halvorsen said. “That little decision to go back to the fence changed the rest of my life.”

    Halvorsen told the children that day that he would return to bring them more candy, Halvorsen said.

    One child asked how they would know that it was Halvorsen, he said.

    “I told them I would wiggle the wings (of the plane) to show them it was me,” Halvorsen said.

    Halvorsen gathered candy and gum from the other pilots and crew members.

    “My co-pilot and engineers gave me their candy rations,” Halvorsen said. “We had three weeks of candy rations.”

    The next time that Halvorsen flew into that same runway the children were waiting for him.

    “I wiggled the wings of the air plane and (the children) just went crazy,” Halvorsen said.

    After those first instances on the runway, Halvorsen continued to drop candy to the children of Berlin.

    To insure the gentle landing of the candy to the children, Halvorsen began attaching the candy to parachutes fashioned out of handkerchiefs and old strips of cloth, Halvorsen said.

    The American Confectioners Association got word of Halvorsen’s efforts to drop candy to the children of Berlin. “(They) would donate all (the candy) we could use,” Halvorsen said.

    Halvorsen’s operation to drop all the donated candy was further aided by school children in the United States. Twenty-two schools in Chicopee, Mass. tied candy and gum to parachutes that they made, Halvorsen said.

    Halvorsen and other pilots in Germany received the pre-made candy packages to drop to the children.

    Many German children wrote to Halvorsen and the other pilots expressing their gratitude, Halvorsen said.

    More than just candy and food, Halvorsen and the other pilots of the Berlin Airlift brought hope to the people of Berlin, Halvorsen said.

    “You can be on starvation rations, but if you have no hope, your soul dies,” Halvorsen said.

    “I think anybody would have done it,” Halvorsen said. “The only way of finding happiness and fulfillment in life is (through) sharing.”

    Halvorsen is a natural people person, said Woodruff Thomson, friend and neighbor of Halvorsen. Thomson is also the president of the Central Utah chapter of the Retired Officers Association.

    “He is a local hero,” Thomson said.

    Halvorsen along with his wife Alta traveled to Germany, England and France this summer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

    Halvorsen was recognized by President Clinton in Germany. Halvorsen also was presented to Prince Phillip in England.

    “I am proud of him,” said Mrs. Halvorsen. “It was just his nature that he liked children.”

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