TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Just last week, the famed Candy Bomber, a 99-year-old war hero, visited Travis Air Force Base in California to share his amazing story with the Airmen and families around the base.
As part of his visit, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen visited the 821st Contingency Response Squadron where he spoke about the importance of being a part of the airlift team and told Airmen there was no greater service than to save the lives of others.
As soon as he walked into the room, he was greeted by an outburst of clapping hands from the crowd.
“Well, it is good to see you all,” he said with a big smile on his face. “I’ve never had a handclap like that before.”
During Halvorsen’s visit to the squadron, Master Sgt. Christopher Swartz, 821st CRS aerial port flight chief, had the opportunity to share the history that made the “Candy Bomber” so beloved amongst Berliners.
“This part of history has fascinated me,” Swartz said. “My very first base was Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany, and the history of the airlift was all over the base.”
In 1948, the 11-month Berlin Airlift started in response to the Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin, allowing the United States and allies to airlift food, water, and medicine to the citizens there.
During the Berlin Airlift, then-1st Lt. Halvorsen flew missions to Berlin and gained fame for dropping candy to the German children during “Operation Little Vittles” from 1948 to 1949.
“For him to take it upon himself and get the other airlift pilots involved is monumental,” Swartz said. “Halvorsen and the other airlift pilots are all great humanitarians who always put the citizens of Berlin first. Berliners will always remember what he and the other airlift pilots did for their city.”
As a tribute to his legacy, Halvorsen was inducted into the squadron’s “Super-Howl” hall of fame. The Super-Howl was initiated by the squadron as a way to recognize military veterans who visit their unit and have played an important role in the nation’s history. The squadron displays this honor on a plaque at the unit where they add the name of the inductee next to the operation he or she served in.
Swartz said he has met Halvorsen several times over the years during conventions.
“He is always in good spirits and loves telling the story,” Swartz said. “My favorite memory of Col. Halvorsen during this visit was when a lady asked how old he was and he just looked at her and said, ‘I’m already married.’ For being 99 years old, he is still witty!”
Halvorsen said he was thrilled to be at Travis, and concluded by saying, “I’m honored to be part of the Air Force. I’m not retired yet!