Lieutenant Gail Halverson had been a pilot with transport operations during World War II. After the war, he was stationed at Brookley Air Base in Alabama. When his base received orders to provide 4 aircraft and crews to participate in the German airlift he volunteered to replace his friend whose wife had just delivered twin boys. He parked his new red 1948 Chevrolet under a tree on the base when he left for Germany and never saw it again. His orders were for 30 days but he remained in Germany for six months.

Like many other pilots he started with some uneasiness. After all, just a few years earlier Germany was the enemy. Minutes after his plane landed in Rhein-Main airbase he saw a raggedly dressed man sweeping up flour with a small clothes brush as the plane was being loaded. He thought, “if flour is that valuable here what must it be like in Berlin”. He found out the next morning after he slept in the second floor of a barn that became filled with other airmen who had also just arrived. The barn was better than the tar paper shacks offered as refugees evacuated to parts unknown making room for arriving airmen.

His first flight into Templehof airport Berlin was at 1300 hrs. (1PM) He got back to the barn and sleep at 0300 hrs.(the next morning) After three round trips each with 10 tons of flour for a devastated city nothing he had heard, read or seen prepared him for the desolate, ravage sight of broken outlines of once majestic buildings surrounded by piles of rubble stretched from one end of the city to the other. In the cockpit of the C-54 the three crew members could only shake their heads wondering where people lived. When they parked the doors opened for unloading the flour and five men hurried up a wooden ramp from their crew trailer and ran forward to shake his hands.

He didn’t know what to expect but there was an expression of humble gratitude thru body language and the tone of unintelligible greeting. They were united in a common cause no matter what had gone on before and he was learning a valuable lesson about prejudging individuals because they belonged to a certain nation, color or race. These weren’t defiant hard supermen Germans he had been at war with; these were gracious men who wanted to live like free men. Each time he landed in Berlin during his 6 month stay it reinforced his respect for the Berliners struggling in the most difficult of time.

One day, everything changed. An avid hobby photographer, Lt. Halverson decided to spend his downtime touring the city taking photographs. Instead of sleeping after 14 hours of flying he hopped on another Berlin bound C-54. At Templehof he had made arrangement with a jeep driver to pick him up in an hour down by the end of the runway. That’s where found a group of around 30 kids watching the planes land. They were curious of this American airman and they asked him a lot of questions about what was in the planes. But it was what they DIDN’T ask that surprised him. Not one child begged for the candy that GIs got as part of their meals.

Some of the children spoke pretty good English and on girl said “Thank you for bringing food to keep us alive, we don’t care if were skinny but if we lose our freedom we’ll never get it back”. The horn on the jeep sounded and headed for it, then stopped. He went back to the fence with the 2 sticks of gum from his pocket. He broke them in half and handed it to the kids. They tore the wrappers into smaller pieces so they could share and smiled as they sniffed the sweetness. Impressed by their behavior, he promised to come back the next day, and to drop candy from his plane for them. With all the planes overhead, how would they know it was his? He assured the children he would wiggle the wings, with outstretched arms he showed them and he was named Uncle Wiggly Wings.

That evening he gathered up as many chocolate bars from his crew members as possible. (a big ask, candy could be traded for services like laundry.) Parachutes were the answer! He carefully tied his handkerchiefs to the candy bars so they could safely fall to earth. The next morning true to his word, he wiggled the wings of the plane as they came in to land… he dropped three parachutes out of the planes flare tube. When he looked back he saw smiling kids sharing the candy. He did it a week later as they only got rations once a week. But this time there was about 300 kids and the following week, groups of kids waited for “Onkel Wackel Flügel” (Uncle Wiggly Wings) and his little parachutes. The word spread, and a reporter wrote up the story about the Candy Bomber for a news article published in Europe and America. When Lt. Halverson got called in to his superior’s office, he was certain that he’d be court-martialed. Instead, he was commended for his initiative and told that it could expand… Operation Little Vittles got underway.


Operation Little Vittles drops Candy from the Sky!
“It wasn’t just chocolate, it was hope”

What started out as a generous gesture grew into a massive military and civilian operation. Lt. Halverson would find his bunk covered in chocolate bars, gum, and handkerchiefs, all donated by fellow airmen. There were letters, more every day addressed to “Uncle Wiggle Wings” with instructions on where to drop parachutes…’the house with the white chickens’ or ‘the house with the red roof’. The base hired civilian secretaries to cope with all of the mail! And fabric for the parachutes was becoming scarce, all the extra handkerchiefs were used up, and shirts were being cut into squares.

The public relations were golden. Historian Keate O’Connell in Smithsonian Magazine said it best… “Halvorsen provided a face for the airlift and the U.S.’s humanitarian mission at large, while successfully enlisting the American public in an early Cold War contest for hearts and minds”. “Americans previously weary of continued food aid for Europe eagerly embraced the opportunity to gift candy and chocolate to German children.” (Smithsonian Magazine – The Sweet Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber by Kat Eshner, Oct 10, 2017) After years of war, and before that, years of deprivation brought on by the Great Depression, Americans united behind the cause everyone could appreciate, helping children. And in Germany, people were reminded that America wasn’t there as an occupation force, they were there to set the country back on its feet.

When word reached the United States, candy companies stepped up to donate chocolate and gum. The Hershey Chocolate Company, Lifesavers, Paris gum all sent crates of goodies. The American Confectioner’s association sent 6500 pounds of candy! 800 candy bars arrived from the Springfield Massachusetts (MA) Social Club. And fabric…hundreds of handkerchiefs! The Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia donated 11,000 yards of Irish Linen, all cut to tiny parachute size.

To coordinate all of this, the town of Chicopee, near Westover Air Force Base MA volunteered to act as stateside headquarters for the massive operation. Westover was the main supply station for support to the airlift. All donations were directed to a local firehouse. Every afternoon after school from 2- 5pm, and Saturdays from 9 – noon, young people from 22 local schools, from elementary to college, volunteered by tying the candy parachutes. (The kids were compensated with candy!) Adult volunteers worked around the clock. Then the completed parachutes were loaded into boxes and sent to Berlin for delivery. These kids helping other kids sent an astonishing 12 TONS of candy to the children of Berlin!

Eventually the blockade was ended by the soviets and the airlift was ended. Also, much of the animosity and hostility between the United States and Germany was wiped away, all because a humble man from Utah came through on his promise to a bunch of kids. The Candy Bomber, Gail Halverson, affectionately known as Onkel Wackel Flügel, led the way for thousands of candy drops.  After he returned to the states Operation Little Vittles continued and was an unqualified success.


After the Berlin Airlift ended Gail Halverson never stopped spreading a message of hope and international togetherness. He was honored and appreciated for decades after the airlift all the way up to his death at the age of 101 in 2022.


Credit for this article goes to Karen Lodder. Her website is 


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