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‘Candy Bomber’ who dropped sweets during Berlin airlift dies

A U.S. military pilot known as the “Candy Bomber” for his airdrops of sweets during the Berlin airlift after World War II ended has died

DENVER — U.S. military pilot Gail S. Halvorsen — known as the “Candy Bomber” for his candy airdrops during the Berlin airlift after World War II ended — has died at age 101.

Halvorsen died Wednesday following a brief illness in his home state of Utah, surrounded by most of his children, James Stewart, the director of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, said Thursday.

DENVER — U.S. military pilot Gail S. Halvorsen — known as the “Candy Bomber” for his candy airdrops during the Berlin airlift after World War II ended — has died at age 101.

Halvorsen died Wednesday following a brief illness in his home state of Utah, surrounded by most of his children, James Stewart, the director of the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation, said Thursday.

Halvorsen was beloved and venerated in Berlin, which he last visited in 2019 when the city celebrated the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets lifted their post-World War II blockade cutting off supplies to West Berlin with a big party at the former Tempelhof airport in the German capital.

“Halvorsen’s deeply human act has never been forgotten,” Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey said in a statement.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also praised Halvorsen, who was born in Salt Lake City but grew up on farms before getting his pilot’s license.

“I know he’s up there, handing out candy behind the pearly gates somewhere,” he said.

After the United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Halvorsen trained as a fighter pilot and served as a transport pilot in the south Atlantic during World War II before flying food and other supplies to West Berlin as part of the airlift.

According to his account on the foundation’s website, Halvorsen had mixed feelings about the mission to help the United States’ former enemy after losing friends during the war.

But his attitude changed, and his new mission was launched, after meeting a group of children behind a fence at Templehof airport.

He offered them the two pieces of gum that he had, broken in half, and was touched to see those who got the gum sharing pieces of the wrapper with the other children, who smelled the paper. He promised to drop enough for all of them the following day as he flew, wiggling the wings of his plane as he flew over the airport, Halvorsen recalled.

He started doing so regularly, using his own candy ration, with handkerchiefs as parachutes to carry them to the ground. Soon other pilots and crews joined in what would be dubbed “Operation Little Vittles.”

After an Associated Press story appeared under the headline “Lollipop Bomber Flies Over Berlin,” a wave of candy and handkerchief donations, followed.

The airlift began on June 26, 1948, in an ambitious plan to feed and supply West Berlin after the Soviets — one of the four occupying powers of a divided Berlin after World War II — blockaded the city in an attempt to squeeze the U.S., Britain and France out of the enclave within Soviet-occupied eastern Germany.

Allied pilots flew 278,000 flights to Berlin, carrying about 2.3 million tons of food, coal, medicine and other supplies.

Finally, on May 12, 1949, the Soviets realized the blockade was futile and lifted their barricades. The airlift continued for several more months, however, as a precaution in case the Soviets changed their minds.

Memories in Germany of American soldiers handing out candy, chewing gum or fresh oranges are still omnipresent — especially for the older generation born during or right after the war.

Many fondly remember eating their first candy and fresh fruit during an era when people in bombed-out cities were starving or selling their family heirlooms on the black market for small amounts of of flour, butter or oil just so they could get by.

Halvorsen’s efforts to reach out to the people of Berlin helped send a message that they were not forgotten and would not be abandoned, Stewart said.

Despite his initial ambivalence about the airlift, Halvorsen, who grew up poor during the Great Depression, recognized a bit of himself in the children behind the fence and made a connection with them, he said.

“A simple person to person act of kindness can really change the world,” Stewart said.


Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Sam Metz contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.

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Sounds to me to be one Hell of a good Officer!

In 1935, Adolf Hitler approached a man and offered him the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The man was Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, a great German general of the First World War who had orchestrated successful guerrilla campaigns in Africa and fought until the end of the war without suffering a battlefield defeat. For this, he was decorated with Germany’s highest military honors and was at that moment one of the greatest living German military men, commander of the only German army to surrender undefeated in WWI.

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

As the commander of many soldiers of African descent, he was progressive with his treatment of race, holding his Black comrades as equals and protecting them from discrimination by white officers and even superior commanders. All of his soldiers were fanatically loyal to him.

Lettow-Vorbeck, with his hard-headed, pragmatic view of race, was not all too fond of Hitler.

Adolf Hitler

So when Hitler asked him if he would be his ambassador to the UK, Lettow-Vorbeck refused him quite harshly.

How harshly? Well, in the 1960s, a former officer under Lettow-Vorbeck was interviewed by British author Charles Miller, and said this:

MILLER: I understand that von Lettow told Hitler to go fuck himself.

OFFICER: That’s right, except that I don’t think he put it that politely.

This man stood straight up and personally told Adolf Hitler, one of the most important and most terrible men ever, to go fuck himself. That’s pretty savage.

Manly Stuff


The hospital can be the site of some of the most powerful of human experiences.
(Source: Daan Stevens, Unsplash)


It was late on a Monday evening at the VA hospital. I had been at it since 6 a.m. and was in for a long night and day. I walked into the dimly lit room and could tell at a glance the man was dying.

His breath came thick and heavy. His chest heaved with the struggle. I called him softly by name. To my surprise, he stiffened slightly. I had mistakenly thought him too far gone for conversation. I soon discerned he was lucid and could answer my questions, albeit only in brief spurts.

He was not an exceptionally old man, but he was clearly spent. A combat veteran of the Korean War, he had been diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma of his sinuses five years before. The radiation and chemotherapy had burned out his olfactory and optic nerves, leaving him completely blind and without his sense of smell or taste. He was utterly deaf in one ear and had 70% hearing loss in the other. His salivary glands no longer functioned, so he had to constantly sip from a cup of water. He also had a profound diabetic neuropathy that robbed him of sensation in his hands and feet.

As if that weren’t enough, two years prior his cancer had metastasized to his lungs. Now he lay before me unable to see, taste, smell or feel and only barely able to hear as he drowned incrementally in his own fluids. He was by far the most pitiful human being I had ever imagined.

In pathetic gasps, he told me the details of his medical odyssey. I got to his social history, and he reported two packs of cigarettes a day, daily alcohol consumption and heavy drug use for 35 years. As he clearly did not drink, smoke or do drugs now, I innocently inquired as to when he had stopped those things.

Without hesitation, he gave me a specific date. I asked him what was significant about that day, and he replied, “That’s when I gave my heart to Jesus.”

This opened the floodgates, and he enthusiastically explained the details of his spiritual transformation. He called himself a messianic Jew, claiming Jesus had forever changed his life.

As I listened enraptured, he told me not to feel sorry for him. He said he hated being sick, but because of his illness, he had been able to lead his daughter and one of his chemotherapy nurses to Jesus. He said he could clearly see God’s will in his illness. The strength and confidence he exuded were superhuman.

By the time I finished the interview, we were both exhausted. I checked his medication orders a final time and put him to bed.

In his final hours, the man used his last words to pray for me and my family until he could no longer speak.


The night was busy, something or other requiring my attention throughout the evening. The next morning, I met the man’s wife and daughter and found their faith was up to the challenge.

The day was long, and he gradually declined. By 6 p.m. the next day, I was thoroughly spent but dropped by to check on my sickest patient before heading home.

He was gasping in an oxygen mask, his wife, daughter and a nurse in attendance. I took his hand and explained I was going home for the night. He took a surprisingly firm grasp on my arm and pulled me close, his strongest voice now little more than a whisper. With his other hand he reached up, removed his oxygen mask and immediately began turning blue. With literally his dying breath, the man prayed for me.

He did not pray for me to alleviate his pain or conjure some miraculous cure. Instead, he prayed for me and my ministry in the hospital. He prayed for the well-being of my family. He prayed I might enjoy the abundant life in Christ he had enjoyed. He prayed until he could no longer speak.

I replaced his oxygen mask and slid to the floor, stunned. Right there, in front of him, his family, the VA nurse and God himself, I wept like a child. I weakly thanked him before heading home, now having quite a lot to ponder.

The next morning, I arrived at the hospital early to find his condition worse still. At 10:47, with my arm around his wife’s shoulders, I watched him die. I had known him less than three days, yet I count him among my dearest friends. He showed me how to die well.

I look forward to seeing him again.

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