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Cold War-era ‘Candy Bomber’ dies

The former US airman known as the ‘Candy Bomber’ for his supply drops during the Berlin airlift passed away on Wednesday at the age of 101, surrounded by his family, according to a statement from the director of the Aviation Education Foundation named after him. 

Colonel Gail Halvorsen was trained as a fighter pilot and transport aviator in the South Atlantic during the Second World War. Despite having initially had mixed feelings about helping German citizens after losing friends during the war, he eventually felt compelled to provide aid after meeting a group of children held behind a fence at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport during the city’s blockade.

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Using his own rations and parachutes designed from handkerchiefs, Halvorsen made regular candy drops into the city by wiggling the wings of his aircraft as he flew over the airport. After he began the supply drops, some of Halvorsen’s other pilots began to join in with his efforts and, as word spread, individuals began donating rations to drop to Berlin residents.

Following his death, the German Ambassador to the US, Emily Haber, tweeted her condolences, stating that Halvorsen’s actions gave “hope to millions,” adding she will “celebrate” his “101 years of life and friendship.”

“Two million people in Berlin needed food, mostly women and children. And so I felt very good about helping the former enemy, because they were grateful,” Halvorsen told CNN in 2009, discussing his work.

With Halvorsen having spent most of his childhood and retirement in Utah, the state’s governor, Spencer Cox, issued a statement mourning his loss on Thursday, calling the former airman an “international hero who demonstrated extraordinary compassion and kindness during a very dark time.”

Halvorsen was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 for his actions. He continued traveling to Berlin decades after the blockade, visiting as recently as 2019 to celebrate 70 years since it was lifted.

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