Keeping the “Ammunition” Flowing
When First Lieutenant Halvorsen rotated back to the States in January of 1949 he handed off leadership of Operation Little Vittles to his friend Captain Lawrence Caskey. When on 13 May 1949 Operation Little Vittles was completed the numbers were staggering. The Candy Bomber and his fellow transport crews dropped some 23 tons ( ! ) of candy and gum, suspended from over 250,000 parachutes, to those kids along the fences and many more. Overall the Berlin Airlift delivered 2,334,374 tons of cargo, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 278,228 US Air Force, US Navy, and Royal Air Force flights (totaling a distance of more than 92 million miles) to Berlin. A high price was paid by the aircrews. 31 American crew members perished in 17 aircraft crashes along with 40 British crew members lost in eight mishaps.
An Investment Pays Off for the Air Force
Hal stayed in the Air Force, earning the bachelor’s degree he forewent in order to join the Army Air Force in 1942. He later earned a master’s in Aeronautical Engineering and another master’s in Guidance and Counseling later in his career. And what a career his was. Wright-Patterson AFB as project engineer for cargo aircraft R&D. Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB. Air Force Space Systems Division of Air Force Systems Command working on the Titan III launch vehicle system. Duty in Wiesbaden, West Germany with the Foreign Technology Division of Systems Command. Deputy Chief of Staff for R&D at the Pentagon. Hal worked on the advanced manned reusable spacecraft, space policy and procedures, and on the Manned Orbital Laboratory Project.
High-Profile Commands and Familiar Ground
Halvorsen also commanded the 6596th Instrumentation Squadron of the AF Systems Command Satellite Control Facility at Vandenberg AFB in California, which was involved in both satellite launch and orbit operations. When in February of 1970 Halvorsen was assigned as the Commander of the 7350th Air Base Group at Tempelhof Central Airport, Berlin, West Germany, he was also the US Air Force Europe (USAFE) Representative in Berlin. He met many times with people to whom he had given hope via parachute more than twenty years earlier. Colonel Halverson finally retired from the US Air Force after completing his final assignment as the Inspector General at Ogden Air Materiel Center at Hill AFB in Utah after 31 years of service on 31 August 1974. But that wasn’t the end for the Candy Bomber.
In 1949 Gail Seymour Halvorsen married Alta Jolley in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hal and Alta had five children together. The family stayed together while Hal’s Air Force career took him across the country and the Atlantic to Germany and back. Hal and Alta eventually settled back in Utah, both became active with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and served as missionaries together for many years. Hal and Alta’s union eventually produced 24 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. After Alta passed away in 1999, Hal remarried and still lives in Utah- although he and has wife winter in Arizona now. Hal is nearly 100 years old at the time this piece is in production.
Spreading Goodwill and Hope Around the World
Hal has participated in several re-enactments of Operation Little Vittles missions since he started the whole thing back in 1948. He has met the grandchildren of the children to whom he dropped candy more than 70 years ago. He was part of the crew of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation’s C-54 “Spirit of Freedom” when the aircraft and several other veterans went on a commemorative 71-day European tour in 1998. In 1994 he dropped hundreds of candy bars over Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Operation Provide Promise. Kosovo in 1999, Baghdad in 2003 and 2004, Albania, Guam, Japan, and multiple natural disaster-affected locations in the United States have gotten the Candy Bomber treatment.
Awards Earned and Recognition
A sampling of Gail Halvorsen’s various military awards includes the Bronze star, Silver oak leaf cluster, Bronze oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Medal for Humane Action, Air Force Longevity Service Award with 1 silver and 1 bronze oak leaf clusters, and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg awarded Halvorsen with the Cheney Award, given by the Air Force to recognize humanitarian action for the inception of Operation Little Vittles in 1949.
A Lasting Legacy That Continues to Grow
Hal also received the Ira Baker “Fellow” Award from the USAF Chief of Staff General John Dale Ryan, the Air Force Sergeants Association “Americanism” Award, The Freedom Award from the City of Provo, Utah, The Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the Institute of German Relations, and the Patriot Award from Brigham Young University ROTC. Halvorsen became a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that Congress can give to a civilian, in 2014. He was also inducted into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame and the Airlift/Tanker Hall of Fame in May 2001. He’s been awarded, honored as parade Grand Marshal, and had schools in the United States and in Germany named after him. The Air Force even named its latest high-capacity aircraft loading vehicle after him. Are you an outstanding individual who has maintained sustained excellence in aerial port operations? If so, you could be the next recipient of the Colonel Gail Halvorsen Award from the Airlift/Tanker Association.
No Parking Zone?
When Gail Halvorsen left for Germany in 1948 he parked his brand new Chevrolet under a stand of palm trees near Brookley AFB and pocketed the keys figuring he’d be back before long. The Berlin Airlift would only last a couple of weeks, right? Maybe a month at the outside? Well after Halvorsen’s memorable six months in Germany he never saw that spanking new Chevy again.
This short feature about the Candy Bomber was uploaded to YouTube by the Armed Forces Network-Europe.