Colonel Halvorsen – the Candy Bomber – Honored at Wright Brothers Memorial on First Flight Anniversary

Paul E. Graber Shrine portrait of Lt. Gail Halvorsen as the Candy Bomber.
Paul E. Graber Shrine portrait of Lt. Gail Halvorsen as the Candy Bomber.

It’s nice when the good guys win, and with his induction into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine at the Wright Brothers National Memorial on December 17, Colonel Gail Halvorsen proved that nice guys really can finish first.

He’s 99 years old, still very engaged with the world, energetic, and seemingly optimistic. 

Get him talking about that fateful time during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 and an inside story about what was really happening emerges.

He was part of what is still considered the largest successful humanitarian airlift every. The Soviet Union, now Russia, sealed West Berlin off from the rest of the world and the only way in or out of the city was by air. 

For 15 months mostly American but also British aircraft filled the skies, keeping a city of 2.4 million alive. Day in and day out, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, every three minutes an aircraft landed with food and fuel.

It was not luxury living. All the food was dehydrated—powdered eggs, dry milk, beans— and there wasn’t that much of it; 750 calories a day for children and 1250 for adults. Homes could barely be heated. But it was enough to keep a city alive and the freedom intact the citizens of the city so desperately wanted.

And Gail Halvorsen, then a 1st Lieutenant, did something so simple yet so profound that what he did reverberates to this day.

He tied handkerchiefs as a parachute to bars of candy and dropped them from his plane for the children of Berlin. He was the Candy Bomber. 

If the aircraft flying into the city every three minute represented the power and wealth of the western world, that candy showed there was  compassion and heart as well.

Colonel Halvorsen has been coming to the Outer Banks for some time with the Spirit of Freedom, the restored C54 that makes December candy bombing runs at the Dare County Airport.

This year he had another reason for coming to the Outer Banks his induction into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine was the perfect way to recognize the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

Take some time to explore the Outer Banks and all it has to offer. A stay with Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates is the perfect way spend a week or two.

Candy Bomber Drops Candy for Hundreds of Outer Banks Children

Candy Bomber candy floating to the waiting hands of children.
Candy Bomber candy floating to the waiting hands of children.

As the C54 Spirit of America came in low over the trees at the Dare County Regional Airport, anticipation on the ground grew. Would this be the pass when the Candy Bomber dropped its load.

The first pass, just a few parachutes with candy attached floated to the ground, as the flight crew assessed the wind. 

But the next pass, a few hundred small white parachutes with the dark wrapping of a Hershey’s Chocolate bar fluttered from the four-engined aircraft.

And the next pass, the same thing happened.

The annual December visit from the Candy Bomber has become a wonderful part of the Outer Banks Christmas tradition. According to event organizers this is the 21st visit to the area.

What seems to make the Outer Banks Candy Bomber tradition so special is the original Candy Bomber, Colonel Gail Halvorsen, now 99 years old, makes the trip almost every year.

During the Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949, then Lt. Halvorsen took to dropping candy for the children of Berlin. At the time, West Berlin was sealed off from the rest of western Europe and the United States by the USSR, what is now Russia. 

The only way to get supplies to the city was by air, and Halvorsen and his fellow American and British pilots flew up to three times a day, day in and day out to keep the city alive.

Halvorsen, seeing that the children had no treats or candy, took to dropping candy with small parachutes attached as he flew over the city. Soon other pilots joined in.

The Outer Banks Candy Bomber is a wonderful reenactment of that act of generosity.

Take some time to learn about what a special place the Outer Banks is. Stay with us at Joe Lamb, Jr. & Associates for a week or two.