‘Candy Bomber’ honored with dedication, airlift re-creation


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Candy is dropped out of a C-54 aircraft during a celebration of Gail Halvorsen at the Spanish Fork Airport on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Members of the Halvorsen family and others unveil the “Spirit of the Candy Bomber” design placed on an active C-17 aircraft at the Provo Airport on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Historian Eddie Ide tells attendees about Gail Halvorsen and the Berlin Airlift onboard a C-54 aircraft at the Provo Airport on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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A C-54 aircraft, packed with candy to drop, takes off as hundreds of people look on during a celebration of Gail Halvorsen at the Spanish Fork Airport on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, speaks to the crowd gathered for a celebration of Gail Halvorsen at the Spanish Fork Airport on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Candy attached to parachutes floats down to the ground as a C-54 flies away at a celebration of Gail Halvorsen at the Spanish Fork Airport on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Members of Travis Brass, an ensemble of the Air Force Band of the Golden West, are seen playing music through the window of a C-54 housing Gail Halvorsen artifacts at the Provo Airport on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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The “Spirit of the Candy Bomber” design was revealed on an active C-17 aircraft at the Provo Airport on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi speaks to the crowd gathered for a celebration of Gail Halvorsen at the Provo Airport on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Members of the public walk through a museum of Gail Halvorsen memorabilia on board a C-54 aircraft at the Provo Airport on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens speaks to the crowd gathered for a celebration of Gail Halvorsen at the Spanish Fork Airport on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald


Every action has a ripple effect. One good deed leads to another, impacting hundreds, thousands, millions of people. The actions of Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, the “Candy Bomber” himself, have echoed across the United State and Europe for decades.

On Friday and Saturday, the late Utah County icon was honored by the U.S. Air Force, representatives from the German government and people whose lives he touched — whether he knew it or not.

Halvoresen became a sensation when, during the Berlin Airlift of 1948, he dropped candy and gum to German children.

“I would say Col. Gail Halvorsen is among the top three most popular, most famous Americans in Germany. He enhanced our German-American friendship his whole life,” said Frank Graefe, brigadier general defense attache, who attended the ceremonies on behalf of the German embassy and government. “He laid one of the foundations for our close friendship we have today.”

Graefe told the Daily Herald that Halvorsen’s candy drops stand out in the shared history of Germany and the United States. He compared it to President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in West Berlin and President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 remarks at the Berlin Wall as moments that live with people around the world.

On hand for both the celebrations were several people who lined the fences in Berlin waiting for the drops. To make sure the children on the ground knew it was him, Halvorsen would wiggle the wings of his plane. While his original plane is no longer flying — though another was on-hand at the Provo Airport on Friday to serve as a living museum — the spirit lives on.

On the Provo Airport tarmac were both a C-54, housed with Halvorsen history and artifacts, and an active C-17 Globemaster III. The C-17, however, was the star of the evening. After speeches from Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufisi and Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, Halvorsen’s grandchildren were asked to step on stage and reveal the new name of the aircraft.

It now reads “Spirit of the Candy Bomber,” with images of children pointing at candy parachuting out of a C-54. The plane has been involved in both the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan in 2021 and delivering aid and supplies to Ukraine.

While Friday guaranteed Halvorsen’s spirit would continue flying, providing help and hope in equal measure, his actions were replicated Saturday at the Spanish Fork Airport.

Through the morning, children and adults alike were encouraged to tour more displays of memorabilia and old-school military vehicles and gear and listen to music from Travis Brass, an ensemble of the Air Force Band of the Golden West.

All of it a preamble, a warm-up act for a recreation fo Halvorsen’s candy drop with specialized parachutes and chocolate. As the all-ages crowd watched intently, a C-17 was loaded with 500 chocolate bars and slowly crept along the runway before ultimately taking flight.

As it circled Spanish Fork and surrounding Utah County, Gen. Minihan again spoke to the crowd, calling Halvorsen royalty in Utah and among members of the U.S. Air Force. He recalled to the crowd one person’s story of being a child in Berlin during the airlift. They never got any candy but said it didn’t matter because they now had hope.

“The sheer action of what we do has an impact beyond those that are directly benefiting from it,” Minihan said.

He was joined by several individuals who came from Germany for the events, and Rep. Burgess Owens. Owens also spoke briefly, discussing Halvorsen’s significance in history and the recent passing in the U.S. House of a bill renaming the Provo Veterans Center after the pilot.

Seated in the front row, next to family members and others connected to the airlift, was Sgt. Ralph Dionne. Dionne, now president of the Berlin Airlift Veterans Association, served six months in Germany, participating in the airlift as an airplane mechanic and flight engineer.

He appreciated the chance to relive his youth and see children of today take in the grandeur of the candy drops.

“Today was one of the most fantastic days of my life. To see the people gathering here, the enthusiasm, all the volunteers,” Dionne said. “Everything seems to have been guided by God because one thing after another falls in place. … It was professionally planned by the man above and Gail Halvorsen.”

He and his son flew to Spanish Fork from Provo on the C-54, the first time he had flown on the aircraft in 73 years — since the original drops. Living now in New Hampshire, Dionne hoped to be in Utah with Halvorsen for his 100th birthday, but COVID-19 prevented him from doing so. Disappointed he missed seeing Halvorsen years ago, Dionne made sure to be in Utah to honor his fellow service member.

While both days were used to honor the life of Col. Halverson, the original plan was to have him on-hand for the celebrations. Halvorsen died Feb. 16 at the age of 101. Graefe called it a “great idea” to still have the ceremonies to honor him. Even having passed away, Dionne feels his fellow pilot was at the ceremony in spirit, and imparted wisdom for those who never had the chance to meet him:

“Do like Gail Halvorsen. He said, ‘Thumbs up, Ralph, and keep smiling.’ Everybody should do that.”



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