Gail Halvorsen, a former US airman known as the “Candy Bomber” for delivering sweets to children during the Berlin Airlift, died on Wednesday at the age of 101.
The Gail S Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation confirmed the veteran’s death in a statement on Thursday.
The foundation said he passed away peacefully and surrounded by family at the Utah Valley Hospital following a brief illness.
Halvorsen gained his “Candy Bomber” moniker during the 15-month Berlin Airlift after World War II that saw western allies drop essential supplies into West Berlin after it was blocked by the Soviet Union.
The airman had befriended a group of German children and promised to deliver them candy — a vow he made good on.
Attaching chocolates and gum to makeshift parachutes, Halvorsen started dropping sweets from his plane in hopes that they would end up in the hands of children on the ground.
Halvorsen described the experience himself in past quotes shared by the foundationsaying he had met about “30 kids at the barbed wire fence at Tempelhof in Berlin” one day in July 1948.
He said that he had two sticks of gum on him at the time and decided to break them in two and pass them through the fence.
“The result was unbelievable. Those with the gum tore off strips of the wrapper and gave them to the others. Those with the strips put them to their noses and smelled the tiny fragrance. The expression of pleasure was unmeasurable,” he said.
“I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them I would drop enough gum for each of them the next day as I came over their heads to land,” he said, adding that “they would know my plane because I would wiggle the wings as I came over the airport.”
Halvorsen’s actions laid the groundwork for what would come to be known as “Operation Little Vittles,” an effort to continue dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1948.
Tributes poured into following his death.
The governor of Utah, where the former airman spent much of his youth and retirement, remembered him as a hero.
“I don’t know if there are any better human beings on this planet and it’s sad in so many ways,” Gov. Spencer Cox said during a news conference.
Still, he said Halvorsen “lived an amazing life. I know he’s happy right now. I know he’s up there handing out candy behind the pearly gates somewhere.”
The German Embassy in the United States also paid tribute to the former airman, writing in a tweet: “Thank you for your kindness, Colonel.”
Sharing photos from an interview with Halvorsen from just a few days ago, the foundation said in a Facebook post that the former US airman had “wanted to remind all of us to have gratitude” in his final days.
“And gratitude we have in our hearts today for the joy of knowing Gail and having him in our lives,” it said.
“We shall miss him dearly, but sweet memories shall ever be with us to soften our hearts and encourage us to be better, to do good with whatever small means we have, and to encourage others to bring sweetness to the world,” the foundation said.