The Chocolate Pilot
Candy Bomber Making Drop for Children at Show
42 Years After Berlin Airlift
By David LaChance Union News July, 1990
WESTOVER AIR FORCE BASE -- The Candy Bomber flies again.
Forty-two years ago, during the Soviet blockade of West Berlin, Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen helped boost the spirits of children there by dropping candy that had been tied to tiny parachutes by the school children of Chicopee.
During this weekend's 50th anniversary air show at Westover, Halvorsen will once again take to the air to drop candy to the children below.
Halvorsen's efforts for the children of West Berlin was an outgrowth of "Operation Vittles," the airlift of nearly 8 million tons of food and supplies that helped the city survive the 327-day blockade.
Westover was a major hub for Operation Vittles, and the people of Chicopee were quick to respond when they learned of Halvorsen's efforts, which came to be called "Operation Little Vittles."
Local businesses donated more than 18 tons of chocolate, and children in 22 Chicopee schools made thousands of tiny parachutes for the candy.
"I've always had a soft spot for Holyoke and Springfield and Chicopee," Halvorsen said yesterday, in a telephone interview from his home in Provo, Utah. "I've never seen such a warm spirit, and I'm delighted to be coming back."
Halvorsen was known as "the Candy Bomber" on both sides of the Atlantic, but the West German children also called him "Uncle Wiggly Wings," because he would wiggle the wings of his C-54 transport plane as a signal before unloading his candy cargo.
Halvorsen said the idea of dropping candy came to him after he had met a group of German children outside the fence of Tempelhof Airport, the terminal for Operation Vittles.
"They spoke with me for about an hour, and gave me a real appreciation for freedom," he said.
Turning to leave, he suddenly realized that the children unlike youngsters in other countries in war-torn Europe, had not asked him for any candy or gum. They were so grateful for the shipments of food, he said, "They wouldn't lower themselves to being a beggar. That just blew my mind."
He fished in his pocket and found two sticks of gum. Those he broke in half and gave to four of the children, while the others were happy to simply sniff the wrapper, he said.
The idea then came to him to drop candy during his next delivery run. The crowds of children grew larger with each trip, and "Operation Little Vittles" was born.
Reports of his efforts in the newspapers, and the outpouring of support that followed, probably saved him from a court-martial, Halvorsen said, adding, "Thank goodness it hit the newspapers before it hit the colonel."
Westover employee Kathy Kies, who, with the help of her family, tied tiny parachutes to 300 candy bars for this weekend's airdrop, said Westover officials agreed that a recreation of Operation Little Vittles would be fitting.
One who helped tie the eight-inch-square pieces of cotton to the candy bars was retired pilot Robert Tinsman, who had been scheduled to participate in the Berlin airdrop when the Air Force changed his plans at the last minute, Kies said.
She said she was helped [by] her parents, Donna Lou and Norman Fournier; Tinsman and his wife, Virginia; friends of her parents, and Dona Fournier, her sister.
A Chicopee business, B.J's Wholesale Club of Memorial Drive, donated the candy.
Maj. Rick Dyer, a public affairs office for Westover, said the candy drops will also be a reminder of the humanitarian work done by the 439th Military Airlift Wing.
Humanitarian efforts, such as help given in areas hit by earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, "have always been a big part of our role," Dyer said."