A simple decision to give a group of children two sticks of gum in Berlin brought hope to thousands of children across Germany during World War II.
Friday evening, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, more commonly known as ” the candy bomber,” spoke at the Orem Public Library with Michael Tunnell, author of a newly released children’s book called “Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s Chocolate Pilot.”
The book is recognized for its depiction of the little-known history behind the candy bomb operation started by Halvorsen. It has recently been nominated for the Beehive Book award for 2012.
The evening started with Brian Somers, associate director of communications for Gov. Gary Herbert, presenting a declaration from the governor. He declared Oct. 14 to be Gail S. Halvorsen day.
Halvorsen and Tunnell spoke side by side during the the presentation. They had worked closely together as Tunnell wrote the book. Halvorsen said Tunnell was the most professional person he’s worked with concerning his story.
In 1948, Halvorsen was one of the airmen involved in the Berlin Airlift. This operation involved flying over Berlin and delivering much-needed food to people from West Germany. Halvorsen said he couldn’t wait to see the reaction of the people of Berlin.
“Those kids were happy,” Halvorsen said.
The Soviets thought it would be impossible for the airlift to feed all the people in the city. Tunnell said it should have been, but somehow, each plane was able to hold 20,000 pounds of food. Tunnell said it was nothing short of a miracle.
It was during this time Halvorsen encountered a small group of children, many who spoke English. He gave them two sticks of gum to divide among themselves. He said the kids were very different. They didn’t fight over it, and were grateful for half a stick of gum, or to even just smell the tin foil to remember the taste of gum.
“You’re going to miss out on life if you don’t learn to share,” Halvorsen said to the children in the audience.
This simple act marked the beginning of the candy dropping operation that became a U.S. Air Force operation over the following months.
Halvorsen said the small decisions people make are the important ones.
“When you make a decision, those footsteps lead to where you end up,” he said. “The Holy Ghost will help you.”
At first, the operation was small, but he decided to do it, no matter what. It grew much larger than he could have ever expected.
To help support the operation, Operation Little Vittles started in Massachusetts. This group helped gather and create the parachutes of candy to be dropped. Candy companies across the United States offered to help with the mission, Tunnell said. The operation ended up dropping so much chocolate, it had to be stored somewhere because chocolate bars were so valuable at that time, Tunnell said.
Halvorsen received thousands of letters and pictures from the children in Berlin. One child drew him a map of where to drop the candy, because he never got any.
“Look, I can’t run very fast at seven years old and can’t get to this stuff,” the little boy said.
In response, Halvorsen mailed this particular child some candy, which showed that he cared about each of these children individually. Children that were in hospitals would give letters to their doctor to send to Halvorsen, asking him to drop candy at the hospital, Halvorsen said. In response, he did several drops at hospitals so these children wouldn’t miss out.
Although Halvorsen was rotated home before the end of the airlift in May 1949, the operation continued, led by Capt. Eugene Williams.
Going home was not the end of this for Halvorsen. He participated in many more humanitarian drops around the world, including over Bosnia and to children in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
Even at the age of 91, Halvorsen still participates in events commemorating the candy drop operation and helping others. On Oct. 29, Halvorsen will fly a plane at the First in Flight Festival in Elizabeth, N.C. This will be part of a Berlin Airlift re-enactment and candy drop.
At the end of the presentation, Halvorsen told a story about a little boy who finally got a candy bar after waiting for a long time. The boy cherished it and took a week to eat it.
“It wasn’t the chocolate that was important to him,” Halvorsen said. “What it meant to him was that someone in America knew he was in trouble.”
He said this boy could live on rations, but he couldn’t live without hope. He ended the evening by emphasizing the importance of hope in every person’s life.
“Hope is essential in the scheme of life,” Halvorsen said. “That is what the airlift was for.”
Halvorsen received a standing ovation. His small act of kindness in 1948 led to the lives of many being uplifted and has inspired people around the world ever since.