Beloved aviator Gail S. Halvorsen — a.k.a. ‘The Candy Bomber’ — dies at age 101

Gail Halvorsen, the Berlin Candy Bomber, poses for a photo in the backyard of his Provo home days before his 100th birthday. Credit: Lee Benson, Deseret News
Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, the Candy Bomber, brought cheer to children in West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. Credit: Courtesy KUED
Gail Halvorsen, the "Candy Bomber." Credit: Photo courtesy Gail Halvorsen
Col. Gail Halvorsen, the "Candy Bomber", at North Park Elementary School in Tremonton, Utah May 16, 2002 looks at the book about him with Garrett Fronk, at a school assembly and "candy drop" from a plane. Photo by Tom Smart (Submission date: 05/16/2002) Credit: Tom Smart, Deseret News

Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen — a beloved Latter-day Saint aviator known by legions as “The Berlin Candy Bomber” — died Feb. 16, 2022, at a hospital in Provo, Utah. 

He was 101.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen —  the Berlin Candy Bomber,” the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation announced Thursday on its Facebook page. “Gail passed away peacefully last evening, February 16, 2022, at 8:32 pm MST at Utah Valley Hospital after a brief illness. He was surrounded by most of his children.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Halvorsen’s generous efforts to deliver a bit of joy to children experiencing the horrors of war made him a global symbol of hope and reconciliation. He was motivated by a Christian impulse to look out for others in need.

The Candy Bomber’s story

The Candy Bomber’s story is well known — particularly among Germans.

The Latter-day Saint bomber pilot gained renown for dropping, or “bombing,” chocolates and other candy for war-weary German children during the Berlin Airlift in the aftermath of World War II.

His efforts to brighten the lives of little boys and little girls who were citizens of what had once been an enemy nation has become a transcendent account of friendship and compassion without borders. 

A new generation was introduced to “The Candy Bomber”  in the 2014 Church-produced film “Meet the Mormons.”

“I’m grateful to be here in this special place where those of many nations, called by their governments to serve, have given their lives for the cause they were called to do,” he said while speaking at Utah’s annual German National Day of Remembrance Cay at Fort Douglas Cemetery in 2014.

 The retired U.S. Air Force colonel spoke of the internal change he experienced when he was assigned to deliver life-sustaining provisions to Germany — a nation he had once regarded as enemy territory.

“It was the change that occurs by following the Savior’s example of service before self,” he said.

While on his flight missions during the Berlin Airlift he would often see impoverished German children lining the fences outside the airfields. On one occasion he pulled out two sticks of gum from his pockets and offered it to a large crowd of children. To his surprise, the little ones did not fight over his meager gift but shared what they could with each other.

He resolved to give more to the children in future visits. Soon he was parachuting chocolate bars that he had gathered from his personal rations to the airfield children waiting on the ground. When others found out what he was doing they joined the effort and the amount of chocolate and other kinds of candy in the regular “bombing runs” dramatically increased.

His efforts to offer a tiny bit of pleasure to these children of war offered the youngsters a few moments of brightness and hope. The children, he said, knew that somebody cared.

“The wounds of war were healed,” he said, “and enemies became friends.”

Tributes to the Candy Bomber

A fellow Latter-day Saint aviator, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, paid tribute to his friend on Thursday via Facebook:

“Colonel Halvorsen, Brother Gail, or the Candy Bomber, as you may know him, was a dear man, and we shared the thrill of having ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings’ (John Gillespie Magee Jr., “High Flight”). Today my friend has flown to even greater heights and returned to his heavenly home. He will be remembered with love and missed by many.

“He lived an exemplary life of goodness and represented the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide in a very unique and authentic way. Harriet and I will miss him but look forward to seeing him again. Our prayers are with the extensive Halvorsen family as they celebrate his life and mourn his passing. We pray they will be comforted in the knowledge that they will see this dear man again.

“Godspeed, my dear friend.”

In a Thursday Twitter post, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox paid tribute to his fellow Utahn:

“Col. Gail Halvorsen is a hero to so many. His courage and compassion in the most difficult of times have inspired generations and remind us all that kindness and goodness can win.

Rest in peace, Col. Halvorsen. We will never forget your service.”

The German Embassy in the United States also saluted Halvorsen.

“Berlin’s ‘Candy Bomber’, has passed at 101 years-old. When supplies were short during the Berlin Airlift, he dropped candy from his plane for the children of the city….  Thank you for your kindness, Colonel.”

Utah Senator Mitt Romney wrote on Facebook, “From Garland, Utah, to the skies over Berlin, ‘Candy Bomber’ Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen epitomized the defining characteristics of the Greatest Generation. May he ever remind us that hope always exists, even in our darkest hour. Rest in peace to one of the world’s finest men.”

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed