Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, the Civil Air Patrol alumnus who brought candy and comfort to deprived German children as “Uncle Wiggly Wings” during the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift, died Feb. 16 at Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Utah, after a short illness. He was 101.
Halvorsen was also known as “the Berlin Candy Bomber” for his actions during the airlift, when he dropped candy and gum to the children below using handkerchiefs fashioned into tiny parachutes. The “Uncle Wiggly Wings” nickname stemmed from his practice of waggling his aircraft’s wings to let the children know the treats would soon arrive. More than 23 tons of candy were dropped during what became “Operation Little Vittles.”
“My experience on the airlift taught me that gratitude, hope, and service before self can bring happiness to the soul when the opposite brings despair,” Halvorsen said decades later. “Because not one of 30 children begged for chocolate, thousands of children in Berlin received over 20 tons of chocolate, gum and other goodies, delivered on the ground or dropped from C-54 Skymaster aircraft over a 14-month period.”
From 1970-1974 he returned to Berlin to serve as commander of Tempelhof Air Base. Halvorsen also worked in research and development for several space projects in the Air Force Space Division of Air Force Systems Command and in research and development projects at the Pentagon. After his Air Force career, he served as assistant dean of student life at Brigham Young University for 10 years.
Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, Civil Air Patrol national commander and CEO, hailed Halvorsen as “an aviation legend with deep connections to Civil Air Patrol for decades.”
Before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps and flying transport planes in the South Atlantic, Halvorsen honed his skills as a beginning pilot in one of the earliest Civil Air Patrol flight training programs shortly after CAP’s formation Dec. 1, 1941.
In December 2014 he was among the early Civil Air Patrol members honored in Washington, D.C., with replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal presented to CAP for its volunteer wartime service.
A group of Utah Wing members organized the Gail S. Halverson Aviation Education Foundation in 2016 to promote the Candy Bomber story to future generations and to encourage interest in aviation, reflecting Halvorsen’s belief in the importance of educating the next generation of aviators through motivational exposure and hands-on aviation and other experiences involving science, technology, engineering, and math.
Halvorsen cited principles he followed throughout his life as “service before self, attitude, gratitude, and that little things add up to big things.”
CAP’s aerospace education program includes an activity booklet about his role in the Berlin Airlift.
Civil Air Patrol Volunteer profile
Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame induction
“Christmas from Heaven: The Candy Bomber Story”
PBS American Experience profile
Air Force Times article on Halverson’s 100th Birthday