Service Before Self:  The Tale of the Berlin Candy Bomber

Dec 19, 2016 | Categories: Aviation History

Service Before Self:

The Tale of the Berlin Candy Bomber

“Service Before Self,” is a phrase with a variety of interpretations and profound meaning for those who have defined it for themselves. During this time of the year, it conjures images of individuals helping the homeless, donating Christmas trees and gifts for those less fortunate, or volunteering at a food bank. However, for our men and women in the military, Service Before Self has a different though not unrelated meaning. A wonderful example is Gail Halvorsen, a WWII pilot who took on a unique and self-appointed mission.

As a young man, Mr. Halvorsen dreamt of flying. After attending a flight school in Ogden, he obtained his license in 1941. On December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day,) Gail put Service Before Self and joined the Army Air Corp. He volunteered to train as a fighter pilot with the RAF, but after completing the training, was transitioned to flying transport missions because the Army Air Corp had enough fighter pilots. The transport missions he flew would eventually lead him to his most rewarding experience.

On orders that were supposed to last about 23 days, he and four other transport crews were sent to Germany on a humanitarian mission. Stalin cut off supplies to West Berlin and the people there were starving. Halvorsen’s group was to deliver flour and food supplies to them. On one trip, he saw a group of children at a fence at Templehof Airport watching him. He walked over to speak with them. The children asked him not to give up on them and their freedom. He was touched by their words, but impressed with their strength. They did not beg, they did not cry, they simply wanted to be thought of as human beings and supported as such. He gave them two sticks of Wrigley’s gum and watched as the children smelled it and eventually ripped it apart to share. He decided that these children needed more. They needed hope and…candy.

Gail vowed to return the next day and drop them some candy. The children asked how they would know it was him. He would wiggle his wings he said. Realizing the candy could hurt someone if dropped from a plane, he took handkerchiefs and made small parachutes. He returned to the same field the next day. As he passed over the field, he wiggled his wings and heard the children scream with excitement. The small parachutes were dropped and the children devoured the candy. The Berlin Candy Bomber was born. He continued his “candy missions” for three weeks. However, Operations began receiving letters for “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” At the time, no one knew who Uncle Wiggly Wings was and Gail did not wish to be found out so future “missions” were cancelled. Two weeks went by and the group of kids grew significantly. They were waiting patiently for their candy. One more time couldn’t hurt. This time Halvorsen dropped two weeks’ worth of rations. Unfortunately, he was photographed and published in a newspaper. His Colonel called him in and though there could have been trouble, the Colonel encouraged his pilot to continue. Eventually, the project received additional support from candy companies and people were sending handkerchiefs from the States. The Berlin Candy Bomber was a success. His definition of Service Before Self had expanded to include the very individuals he had been fighting against.