Gail Halvorsen

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Gail Halvorsen
Gail "Uncle Wiggly Wings" Halvorsen "Hal" connects candies to small parachutes
(Photo: US Air Force)
Birth name Gail Halvorsen
Nickname(s) Candy bomber,
"Onkel Wackelflügel" ("Uncle Wiggly Wings"),
Chocolate Flier
Born (1920-10-10) 10 October 1920 (age 94)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars World War II
Berlin airlift
Awards Congressional Gold Medal
Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
Spouse(s) Alta Jolley (1949–99; her death)
Lorraine Pace (2004–present)
Gail Halvorsen in Berlin in 1989, during the 40th anniversary of the airlift.

Colonel Gail S. "Hal" 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 and a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.[1] 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 Vittles") during 1948–1949.[2] On his 94th birthday, Gail was profiled in a feature-length documentary titled Meet the Mormons, which highlights his experience as the Candy Bomber among the life experiences of other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gail is perhaps best known for advocating themes of service towards others: "Service is the bottom line to happiness and fulfillment."[3][4]


Born in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 10, 1920, Halvorsen grew up on small farms in Utah and Idaho. He earned a private pilot license under the non-college Civilian Pilot Training Program in September 1941. Almost concurrently Gail joined the Civil Air Patrol as a pilot. He joined the United States Army Air Corps in June 1942. Fighter pilot training was with the Royal Air Force after which he was returned to the Army Air Corps and was assigned flight duties in foreign transport operations in the South Atlantic Theater. After WW-II he flew in the Berlin Airlift where he became known as, "Uncle Wiggly Wings," the "Chocolate flier" and the "Berlin Candy Bomber".

1949-1952, Bachelor and Masters degrees in Aeronautical Engineering. 1952 to 1970 Air Force Systems Command in aircraft and, beginning in 1958, research and development and operational duties in the Air Force Space Program. The Titan III Space Launch vehicle: chaired source selection.

1970 to 1974 Colonel Halvorsen was assigned as the Commander of Tempelhof Central Airport in Berlin and as the United States Air Force Representative to the city of Berlin. Masters degree in Counseling and Guidance in 1973. Gail retired from the Air Force 30 September 1974 with over 8000 flying hours. In addition to other Air Force decorations he has been awarded the Legion of Merit; Cheney Award 1948-49; Ira Eaker “Fellow” Award 1998; Americanism Award Air Force Sergeants Association 1998. Service Cross to the Order of Merit from the President of Germany 1974; the Freedom Award from the City of Provo; The Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the Institute of German American Relations, 1999. The Eric Warburg Pries. 1976 until 1986 he was the Assistant Dean of Student Life at Brigham Young University, 1986-1987 he and Alta, served a mission for their church in England. March 1994 he participated in C-130 night food resupply drop over Bosnia. 1995 to 1997 he and Alta, served a mission for their Church in St. Petersburg, Russia. 1998 he was a pilot on the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation C-54, the “Spirit of Freedom,” across the North Atlantic for 69 days and 27 air shows in four European countries.

Candy Bomber[edit]

Main Article: Berlin Blockade

Gail Halvorsen in Berlin 1983

During the Berlin Airlift, Gail Halverson flew one of the innumerable C-54 cargo aircraft ferrying supplies into Berlin, then deep within the Soviet sector of control in Germany. On his days off, he went sightseeing in Berlin and shot film on his personal handheld movie camera. One on such visit, he saw thirty children lined up behind a fence at Tempelhof airport, the main landing site for the airlift. He went to meet them and noticed these kids had nothing without the aid of the US air force. He looked into his pocket and took out some candy to give to the kids who hadn’t had any sweets for years. He realized that he did not have enough candy for thirty but gave to the kids anyway; they didn’t fight for it, instead they let the ones who got it kept it. Halverson thought for a moment and decided that he would drop candy out of his C-54. The kids asked how they would know what plane was his. He replied, "I’ll wiggle my wings." This led to his nickname among the Berliners: "Onkel Wackelflügel" or "Uncle Wiggly Wings."

When Halverson got back to his air force base he used his ration to get candy, and also asked his friends to contribute. The next step was to get some type of parachute since they could not use full size parachutes and of course he didn’t want to hurt the kids. They decided to use their extra clothes and handkerchiefs. In the morning when they would do their regular supply drops they also dropped three boxes of candy attached to handkerchiefs. They would do these drops once per a week; the children were very happy and began sending the parachutes back along with letters and artwork. Their popularity was increasing and then the commanding officer heard about it. Gail was called to his office thinking he was in trouble but the commander was instead proud.

Ultimately, word reached the commander of the airlift, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, who approved of it and ordered it expanded into Operation "Little Vittles," a play on the overall airlift's name of Operation Vittles. As news of Operation Little Vittles reached the United States, children all over the US began contributing candy, with candy-makers following suit shortly thereafter. 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.

With the groundswell of support, Little Vittles pilots, of which Halverson was now one of many, were dropping candy every other day. Children all over Berlin had sweets, and more and more artwork was getting sent back with kind letters attached to them. The American candy bombers became known as the Rosinenbomber (Raisin Bombers), but Halvorsen himself became known by many nicknames to the children of Berlin, including his original moniker of "Uncle Wiggly Wings," as well as "The Chocolate Uncle" and "The Chocolate Flier."

Later life[edit]

After the Berlin Airlift Gail flew and dropped candy over his hometown in Salt Lake City, Utah. The mission was so good and there were no casualties. In 2002 Gail Halverson was invited to the Olympics to lead Germany during the opening ceremony. He also was invited to a girl's, Mercedes, house; Gail had met her during the time of the airlift. When he went to her house he noticed she was married and had two kids, which made him very happy. Every year he goes back and drops candy to commemorate the Berlin Airlift.

May 1999 Albania Kosovo refuge Camp Hope with gifts for the children. November 1999 he was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame and into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame in May 2001. December 2000, based in Guam, he flew on the,“Christmas Drop” to natives of seven Micronesian Islands. June 2001 an aircraft loader (25,000 pound capacity) was named the,“Halvorsen Loader”. In 2012 he made five drops of parachutes and chocolate to elementary schools.

Three of Alta and Hal's grandchildren have attended a school named for him in Frankfurt, Germany. In December 2012, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did a program “Christmas from Heaven” about his candy drops. A Halvorsen middle school in Berlin was named in 2013. In 2014 he was part of an Honor Flight to Washington DC. On the way home in Texas he flew a two place P-51; a Life long dream! He belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and has been a Stake President, Bishop, and High Councilman.

Gail married Alta Jolley of Zion National Park on 16 April 1949. They have five children, 24 grandchildren and 43 great grandchildren. Approaching fifty years of marriage Alta died in January 1999. Gail is now married to his high school steady from 1939, Lorraine Pace. She has three children, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. They presently live most of the time in Arizona but Gail still manages his farm in Utah.

Military career[edit]

Halvorsen would go on to fill several domestic and overseas assignments during the remainder of his Air Force career. He returned to Germany in 1969 or early 1970, this time as the commander of Tempelhof Air Base in West 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, Halvorsen became famous for his non-alcoholic concoctions served at these parties.

German-American relations[edit]

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 television 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.[5]

In 2008, Halvorsen was honored as Grand Marshal of the German-American Steuben Parade in New York City.[6] He was celebrated by tens of thousands of spectators on Fifth Avenue.


The United States 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 an Air Force C-130 pilot and is currently[when?] a captain with Delta Air Lines. Colonel Halvorsen's grandson is currently[when?] 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 Halvorsen was present for the naming of the school.[7] This marked the second time a school in Berlin has been named after a living namesake.

Service as LDS missionary[edit]

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[edit]