During and after World War II, many people tried to ease the suffering of others, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. One such person was Gail Halvorsen. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah and raised on small farms in Utah and Idaho, Halvorsen became a pilot during World War II. Following the war, he flew supplies to the city of West Berlin, which was occupied by the Soviet Union. He became a hero to German children when he started dropping candy from his planes to them.
- After World War II, Germany was divided among the British, French, and Americans (allies) and the Soviet Union. The Soviets weren’t happy about the Allied involvement in Germany. They blocked West Berlin so that no supplies could come in or out. They hoped that the Allies would then leave.
- Over 2 million German citizens were left without food, fuel, or basic supplies in a country already devastated by war. People worried that many Germans would die or the conflict would start a third world war.
- President Truman ordered millions of pounds of food and supplies to be flown into Germany – over 1,500 tons of food were needed every day to feed the people of West Berlin. Hungry Germans were grateful to have simple supplies such as flour. They cut down trees for food and searched through garbage cans for food. They experienced great hardship, but they refused to submit to Soviet control.
- Gail Halvorsen was one of the pilots who flew supplies into West Berlin during this time. He was impressed by how strong the German people and children were. One day, he was talking to a group of children while he waited to fly his plane. They said, “When the weather gets too bad to fly, don’t worry about us. We can go without food, but we can’t go without freedom. Just don’t give up on us.”
- Halvorsen divided two pieces of gum in his pocket and gave it to the children. Their happiness and gratitude inspired him to do more. He told them to watch for him the next day. He would wiggle his plane wings as he flew overhead and then drop chocolates and gum in handkerchief parachutes.
- Over the next few weeks, Halvorsen and his co-pilots dropped more parachutes filled with candy to the German children. When their commander discovered their antics, he was angry at first. When he realized the good they were doing, he said, “Keep at it.”
- Hundreds of letters poured in from children all over Germany. Halvorsen later met an older man who had been a child during that time and had received one of the parachutes. The man said, “I kept that Hershey chocolate bar for a week and hid it. But the chocolate was not the important thing. The important thing was that someone in America knew I was in trouble and cared. And that meant hope.”
Questions and Answers
Question: Did other people help during and after the war?
Answer: Many people quietly tried to offer hope and encouragement. If you liked this story, you might like the book, Boxes for Katje.This picture book tells the true story of a little girl in Indiana who sent boxes of soap, socks, and chocolate to the people of Olste, Holland after the war.
Visit Wiggly Wings to read more about the Berlin Candy Bomber. Or, here to watch a PBS movie about him.
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Tobin, Declan. (2020). Fun Facts for Kids About Gail Halvorsen - American Hero Pilot. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/the-candy-bomber/