A Sweet Legacy
A Sweet Legacy
Oklahoma Wing's 1st Lt. Stembridge Remembers
Col Gail “Hal” Halvorsen
Col. Gail "Hal" Halvorsen greets the crowd during the 2019 Berlin Airlift anniversary held in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Following the Second World War, Berlin, Germany was divided into two parts; Eastern and Western Berlin. The Soviet Union controlled the East while the U.S. and its allies controlled the West. On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union started blockading rail, road, and water access to the Allied-controlled areas. This resulted in the people within Berlin not having the resources necessary to survive. The Allied response to this was airlifting food, fuel, and other resources to bases in Western Germany to aid them during the siege. After suffering through another war, the people of Berlin were at their lowest and I imagine moral was almost nonexistent. The Allied troops were still largely upset with Germany, but not one pilot.
Assigned to deliver aid from the sky, Colonel Hal Halvorsen decided to do something entirely different for the German people. During the summer of 1948, he began his first actions as the “Candy Bomber” by giving a group of children some sticks of gum. When he noticed the effects of his actions, he told the children he would send them chocolate bars from the sky, and that’s exactly what he did. He also told the children that he would wiggle his wings back and forth to let them know who had the “goods.” This eventually coined him as “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” Throughout the Berlin Blockade crisis, Col. Halvorsen continued to drop candy down to the children of Berlin. The actions of this one pilot gave significant hope to a very tired people. To this day, the people of Berlin hold a special place in their heart for Uncle Wiggly Wings.
Full of life, energy, love, and happiness. I remember his smile being so contagious that he just made everyone around him so happy.
In June 2019, Col. Halvorsen returned to Germany to drop candy bars for one final time. It was during this time in Wiesbaden, Germany that I had the opportunity to meet him. Seventy years after the Berlin Airlift, Col. Hal Halvorsen was the same man. Full of life, energy, love and happiness. I remember his smile being so contagious that he just made everyone around him so happy. I was there representing Civil Air Patrol with the Ramstein Cadet Squadron as their public affairs officer, so I had some unique opportunities to capture photos and witness his interactions with cadets. He loved speaking to new people and most especially loved meeting our cadets. Many were not aware, but Col. Halvorsen was a longtime member of Civil Air Patrol, so there was a special place in his heart for our program and the cadets. As our cadets walked up to him to say hello and get an autograph, he always greeted them with the biggest smile and sometimes a corny joke. I’m happy that I had this experience and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand. He told me I had a firm grip and honestly all I remember is him staring into my eyes. No words. Just happiness. I will never forget that moment and I will never forget him.
Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen’s legacy will live on forever and we’ll never forget our Candy Bomber.
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About Civil Air Patrol
Now celebrating its 80th year, Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and as such is a member of its Total Force. In its auxiliary role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine Cessna aircraft and more than 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and performs about 90% of all search and rescue operations within the contiguous United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Often using innovative cellphone forensics and radar analysis software, CAP was credited by the AFRCC with saving 130 lives during the past fiscal year. CAP’s 60,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. As a nonprofit organization, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace education using national academic standards-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Members also serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.