Re-enactment of Berlin Airlift ‘candy drop’ could return to the Outer Banks this year

Gail Halvorsen, a.k.a. the "Candy Bomber" of the Berlin Airlift, leans out of his plane in 1948. Halvorsen, now 100, may be the guest of honor if a reenactment of the candy drop takes place on North Carolina's Outer Banks this year.


By JEFF HAMPTON | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 24, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A re-enactment of a post-World War II act of kindness by American pilots for destitute German children could return to Dare County by summer’s end.

It’s known as the Berlin candy drop, and stems from Air Force pilots who flew over Berlin in the 1940s and dropped packets of candy from their planes to German children on the ground below.

Organizer Karin Edmond has been recreating the event for Dare County children for more than two decades. But the coronavirus pandemic — and tornado damage to a vintage airplane — derailed it last year.

But a nonprofit organization has found another plane and Edmond hopes for COVID-19 to subside enough to allow crowds at the Dare County Regional Airport.

“Oh yes, as soon as the pandemic allows it,” Edmond said. “I don’t want to give it up.”

The last of the original pilots who did the candy drops in Berlin, 100-year-old Gail Halvorsen, is expected to return.

The ceremonial candy drop, held at the Dare County airport, has become a tradition attended by roughly 1,000 people each year since 1999. As children wait on the ground, the aircraft drops hundreds of packets of candy tied to parachute handkerchiefs, much like American pilots did in 1948 and 1949 over Berlin.

The event serves as a reminder of sacrifices made by American and allied pilots to feed a starving people after the war, Edmond said.

A double dose of misfortune quashed last year’s flyover, which typically coincides with the Dec. 17 commemoration of the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903.

COVID-19 forced cancellations of events around the world. Large crowds were prohibited to try and slow the spread.

A tornado in April 2020 also badly damaged the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom” aircraft that flew the candy drops. It was sitting at an airport in South Carolina when the twister struck.

The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that will supply the plane for the candy drop, bought another authentic C-54, one of only two left in the United States that’s still capable of flying, said president and founder Tim Chopp.

“It was a miracle that we got it,” Chopp said. “As soon as it is flyable, we want to get back to Dare County.”

He expects the aircraft to be ready by midsummer and painted the same as the planes that flew missions more than 70 years ago. The tornado-damaged C-54 will be used for parts, he said.

COVID-19 cases are declining, too, raising hopes that crowds can gather again in a few months.

Edmond, 79, the organizer, was a child in Berlin during the war and saw planes fly overhead before they dropped the candy. But her father believed it was too dangerous for her and her siblings go through the bombed-out area of town to get there.

She remembers the scarcity of food and supplies. A sandwich of salt and lard between two pieces of stale bread was a treat, Edmond said. She wore a brown dress with white dots every day for two years.

Edmond, of Manteo, has already collected items to raffle as she’s working to raise roughly $10,000 for the event. The money pays for aircraft fuel, handkerchief parachutes and room and board for the crew including Halvorsen, among other things.

Halvorsen is actually the pilot who started the candy drops.

The Soviet Union had blocked access into Berlin following the war, causing a severe food shortage. So the United States and its allies stepped in to help the German people.

From June 1948 to September 1949, the allies delivered 2.5 million tons of food, medicine and coal to the city of 2 million people, according to the historical foundation.

A plane landed every 90 seconds, 24 hours a day, in all weather to meet the demand. More than 100 participants died in the effort, including 31 Americans, mostly from aircraft crashes.

One day, Halvorsen flew as a passenger to the Templehof airport in Berlin to film the food drops on his own time. He noticed children gathered at the perimeter of the airfield. He found out that many of them had never tasted candy before.

He promised the children he would drop candy for them when he next flew in supplies. He would wiggle his wings as he approached so they would know it was him. The children called him “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” He became more widely known as the candy bomber.

He tied the candy to parachutes made from handkerchiefs. Other pilots joined and candy donations flooded in.

Over the years, Halvorsen, with Chopp as the pilot, has re-enacted the candy drop around the country and in Europe, flying in the C-54 aircraft like the one he flew in Berlin.

Donations to help with funding the C-54 restoration can be made to the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, P.O. Box 782, Farmingdale, N.J., 07727.

Donations for the candy drop can be sent to: Berlin Airlift Candy Bomber, P.O. Box 1226, Manteo, N.C. 27954.


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