Gail Halvorsen was born in October 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He and his family moved to Garland, Utah. He competed for and received a scholarship for a private pilot schooling. He had no money and he could not buy gas for the airplane. A friend of his named Conrad Steffen wanted to fly too so he offered to pay for the gas. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, his friend Conrad signed up for the Army Air Corps and became a fighter pilot escorting bombers over Germany. Conrad was shot down and killed and Halvorsen had to overcome that to be able to continue to fly. Halvorsen would eventually fly as part of the Berlin Airlift. [Annotator's Note: The Berlin Airlift was the Western Allies' operation to supply the blockaded city of West Berlin from 26 June 1948 to 30 September 1949.] He had signed up in 1942 and went on active duty in 1943. The British Royal Air Force [Annotator's Note: also referred to by the initials RAF] was training in the United States and wanted some Americans to train them and Halvorsen volunteered. He received his wings in the RAF as a fighter pilot. The Air Corps had too many fighter pilots, so he was assigned to transport aircraft, C-47s [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain cargo and transport aircraft]. After a short time, he started flying C-54s [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo and transport aircraft] and flew them for rest of the war. He was sent to Brazil in 1944 and flew supplies into Ascension Island three times a week. He also flew support flights into Africa. He remained in the Air Force. He originally planned to start a business but the military convinced him to stay in by offering to send him to school. He went to the University of Florida and got his degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He was then assigned to the Wright Air Development Center in Dayton, Ohio and then eventually the space program in Los Angeles, California. He ultimately went on to become the commander of Tempelhof Air Base [Annotator's Note: now Berlin Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany] from 1970 until 1974.
After World War 2 ended, Gail Halvorsen remained in the US Air Force. He had flown in the Berlin Airlift [Annotator's Note: the Western Allies' operation to supply the blockaded city of West Berlin from 26 June 1948 to 30 September 1949] and then came back to the United States to fly transportation operations out of Mobile, Alabama. He had volunteered for the Berlin Airlift duty. His best friend, who was married and had a brand-new baby, was called to go on that duty. Halvorsen volunteered to take his place so he could stay with his family. He was stationed in Wiesbaden, West Germany where he would fly over to East Germany to land in Berlin. When he first flew over Berlin to land, it looked like a moonscape of empty buildings and he could not believe the level of destruction. He could not wait to get the food he was carrying on the ground for them. He had a large hurdle to overcome emotionally. The Germans had shot down and killed his best friend who was a fighter pilot escorting American bombers. He was not sure how he would react, but when he landed with the food and saw the former enemy come through and look at him like he was an angel from heaven, his anger vanished. He flew three round trips a day totaling 16 hours in a 24-hour-a-day operation.
Gail Halvorsen thought the Berlin Airlift [Annotator's Note: the Western Allies' operation to supply the blockaded city of West Berlin from 26 June 1948 to 30 September 1949] would not last long because Stalin [Annotator's Note: Russian Premiere Joseph Stalin] was losing the propaganda war. Halvorsen had only seen Berlin, Germany from the air and he wanted to get pictures on the ground. So instead of going to bed when his next missions were over, he jumped on another plane and got a ride into the city. He got out and started taking movie pictures of the planes coming in. 30 kids were there watching them too and were asking him questions. He stayed for an hour and nobody asked him for chocolate. They were so grateful to be getting food brought in that they did not ask for anything more. They taught him how important freedom is. They would not lower themselves to be beggars. He told them that America would not give up on them and they asked him why. He then told them that he would be flying over the next day. He only had two sticks of gum with him, but he gave them to them, thinking they would fight over it, but they did not. They tore it into pieces and shared it between themselves. Halvorsen stood there dumfounded. An airplane flew over him and he got the idea that he could drop candy to them with a parachute. He thought to himself that he was going to do it even if he got in trouble for it. He told them that he would do it only if they would share it. They jumped up and down and said yes. They said they would not be able to know what airplane he would be in. Halvorsen told them he would wiggle the wings of his plane when he came over so they would know it was him. He got his crew to give him their candy rations and figured out how to make parachutes out of handkerchiefs. He came over the field and when those kids saw him wiggle the wings, they got excited. As they were leaving the area, he saw the kids waving the parachutes at him. That was the start of 23 tons of candy being delivered by parachutes over the course of the airlift. [Annotator's Note: Halvorsen would become known as the "Candy Man", "the Berlin Candy Bomber" or "Uncle Wiggly Wings" for this work.] Halvorsen did get in trouble for doing it, but General Tunner [Annotator's Note: US Air Force General William H. Tunner] approved and saved him from any disciplinary measures. Because of doing that in 1948, in 1970 he was pulled from the space program because the Germans wanted him to be the new commander at Tempelhof [Annotator's Note: now Berlin Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany]. He did not want to leave the space program, but he was told he had no choice. He could have eaten for free for four years from the number of dinner invitations he recieved from Germans who had caught parachutes with candy as kids. One girl, named Mercedes Wild, had written Halvorsen a letter that his planes were scaring her chickens when he flew over the farm and they would not lay eggs. He kept trying to land the items on her farm without success and finally had to ship her some instead. The two of them became fast friends after that later meeting at Tempelhof.
Gail Halvorsen says that his most memorable experiences of World War 2 was meeting the kids in Berlin, Germany, finding that people who had been his bitter enemies became his good friends, and learning that the people are not the problem, it's the people over the people. He learned we should be careful in our judgements of other people. He also learned that attitude means a lot in life. His attitude towards the Germans was bitter and caused him mental and physical anguish. He quotes the Serenity Prayer [Annotator's Note: common name for a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr]. The Berlin Airlift [Annotator's Note: the Western Allies' operation to supply the blockaded city of West Berlin from 26 June 1948 to 30 September 1949] taught him about attitude. The whole world said that it was not possible to feed two and a half million people by air drops, but we had the attitude that we could do it and we did. Gratitude is the other component that opens the door. Gratitude from the kids is what made him create the whole enterprise of dropping candy to them. The Berlin Airlift was the verification of what he learned at the knee of his parents working long hours on their farm. All of his buddies had bombed Berlin during the war. Halvorsen asked one buddy what it was like to be in the country of the people who had tried to kill him. His buddy replied that it was a hell of lot better to try to feed them than to try to kill them.
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