- Mar 13, 2018
Via Daily Mail:
A former U.S. Air Force pilot famous for dropping candy to starving children during the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949 has returned to the German capital as a guest of honor 70 years after the end of the crisis.
Gail Halvorsen, 98, received a hero’s welcome as he donned his military uniform, signed autographs, and posed for photos with city residents on Saturday.
Halvorsen became known as the ‘Candy Bomber’ after inventing the idea to airdrop small bags of sweets to children in West Berlin, who were going hungry after the Soviet Union blocked railway, road and canal access to the city.
The blockade lasted from June 1948 until May 1949 and became known as the first crisis in the Cold War.
Western allies – including the U.S. – responded by launching the Berlin Airlift, in which pilots flew food and other supplies to the 2.5 million residents in the city.
The operation lasted non-stop through the harsh German winter, with more than two million tonnes of supplies dropped over the course of 277,000 flights.
As an act of kindness, Halvorsen began to drop bundles of chocolate with handkerchief parachutes to children waiting below.
To signal that he was about to release the treats from the air, the Air Force commander would dip his plane's wings.
Speaking with AFP on Friday, one elderly woman - who was a child during the time of the Airlift - recalled the special deliveries dropped out of the sky by Halvorsen.
She told the publication that she wrote to Halvorsen to complain that the candy drops were stopping chickens from laying eggs, and she was surprised to find that he subsequently replied with a nice note.
'It wasn't the sweets that impressed me, it was the letter,' the woman explained, revealing that she and Halvorsen went on to have a long-lasting friendship.
She added: 'I grew up fatherless, like a lot of [German] children at that time, so knowing that someone outside of Berlin was thinking of me gave me hope.'
However, Halvorsen was far more modest about his efforts during the the crisis, saying on Friday: 'The heroes of the Berlin Airlift were not the pilots, the heroes were the Germans - the parents and children on the ground'.
He later warned young people to be vigilant about the current political landscape in order to ensure continued freedoms.
'I would exhort the young people to keep an open mind to know that some leaders will lead free people in the wrong direction,' he stated.
'They need to use their judgement about what they believe in the news, that they need to make their own decision on who rules them.
'Freedom is important and sometimes you have to fight for it.'