Sixty-four years ago when the world was a much different place, Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen had a simple idea that created thousands of smiles.
Flying through the Russian blockade of Berlin in his C-54 aircraft, then-Lt. Halvorsen tied together tiny candy-laden parachute bundles to drop for the city’s hungry children.
It was a sweet alternative to the tons of food, coal and oil the Western nations were shuttling into Berlin around the clock.
From that point on, the idea spread. But to the children of Berlin, Halvorsen would always be known as the original “Candy Bomber.”
On Friday, the Charleston Air Force Base gave a thank you to Halvorsen for his goodwill, naming the building where the base’s aircrews practice on their C-17 Globemaster flight simulator in his honor.
Halvorsen, now 92, said he knew the children of Berlin were hungry, even as they shrugged off their condition.
“They spoke to me through a barbed wire fence, saying, ‘Don’t worry about us,’ ” he recalled. ‘We don’t have to have enough to eat, just give us a little and don’t give up.’ ”
True to his humble nature, Halvorsen, of Salt Lake City, deflected the base’s recognition Friday back to the pilots and other airmen who’d been lost during the 1948 airlift.
“There are 31 American heroes and 39 British heroes of the Berlin Airlift,” he said. “And I’m not one of them. Today’s dedication is not mine; the dedication is for those that gave their all for the cause of freedom. So I’m not here for just me, I’m here to represent them.”
The airlift effort eventually paid off and the Soviets later backed down, though the Cold War continued.
Halvorsen knows his legacy will always be as the candy bomber, but his message to others today is to find ways to spread joy in bad situations.
“In man’s search for happiness, sometimes he’ll chase for riches,” he said. “But money doesn’t buy happiness. The only real reward you get in life is helping others, and that’s worth more than anything money can buy.”
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or follow on Twitter at skropf47.