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Candy Bomber Marks 50th Anniversary

May 4, 1998

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ As a little girl living in Berlin in 1948, a city cut off from the rest of postwar Europe by the Soviets, Waltraud Johnson remembers too little food, clothing or coal for heat. Candy was the last thing most children could hope for.

And then from the sky came gum and candy bars, floating slowly to the playground.

``I was playing in a park when suddenly these little parachutes came down. ... I devoured the candy bar,″ she recalls now at 61. ``If there were more children around I wouldn’t have had any candy. I was just a skinny little girl and there was a lot of pushing.″

The Candy Bomber had struck again.

Gail Halvorsen’s sugary aerial assault was a one-man offshoot of the massive effort to supply the German capital that was cut off 100 miles behind Soviet lines.

Eventually, it brought tons of candy to children living behind barbed wire fences. Halvorsen, now a 77-year-old retired Air Force colonel living back in his home state of Utah, often starts the story this way: ``Because of two sticks of gum.″

Fifty years ago, Halvorsen, a U.S. airman, spied a group of children quietly watching the American planes land at Tempelhof Airport.

He walked over and handed them two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint through the fence.

``They never begged for it even though they didn’t have anything,″ Halvorsen said.

Touched by the childrens’ reaction, Halvorsen vowed to continue the air drop of candy bars and gum to the hungry and delighted children in the city.

When he returned to Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt for his next airlift flight, Halvorsen began collecting candy bars and gum from his fellow airmen. He tied them to strings attached to handkerchiefs and dropped them out of the plane’s flare chutes to the children watching planes land in Berlin.

After the third candy drop, a news photographer snapped a photo of children scrambling after the tiny parachutes. Halvorsen’s superiors soon wanted to know what was going on.

Halvorsen got a brief scolding for blindsiding his commanders. But Air Force brass quickly saw the promotional value in the candy drops and made sure Halvorsen’s good deeds got worldwide attention.

Soon, crates of candy bars and gum were being donated to the cause and the candy bombings became a regular event that Berlin children looked forward to during the yearlong airlift. In all, some 23 tons of candy was dropped.

The planes also brought coal, clothing and dried food that helped Johnson’s family survive.

``The airlift has a special meaning to Berliners,″ said Ms. Johnson, who now coincidentally lives about 70 miles from Halvorsen in Ogden. ``I wouldn’t be here without it. I mean, I wouldn’t be alive.″

During the airlift, Berlin had to get all its food and coal by air _ 277,246 flights carrying some 2 million tons of supplies _ until negotiations finally brought an end to the blockade on May 12, 1949.

The candy drop transformed the life of Halvorsen, who had spent most of his life in the tiny northern Utah town of Garland before World War II. After the war, he became the dean of student life at Brigham Young University.

The original two sticks of gum have resulted in an annual cultural exchange between high school students in Berlin and Provo, countless reunions with grateful Germans like Ms. Johnson and unexpected gifts from people who read his story.

Now the Candy Bomber is returning to the site of his sweetest triumph.

Halvorsen left Utah on Sunday to begin a two-month tour of Europe.

He is set to reenact his candy drop on June 26 by showering Berlin with thousands of chocolate bars and packages of gum from a C-54 Skymaster cargo plane _ the same aircraft used in the airlift 50 years ago.

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