“Candy Bomber” Gail Halvorsen Speaks at Utah German Remembrance Day

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 24 November 2014

During the November 16 German National Day of Remembrance at Fort Douglas Cemetery, retired Col. Gail S. Halvorsen shares the story of how he became known as the “Candy Bomber.”  Photo by Jason Swensen.

Article Highlights

  • Gail Halvorsen, 94, was the featured speaker at the event.
  • Halvorsen threw candy parachutes for children in Germany in the aftermath of WWII.
  • Forty-one German POWs were honored at the tribute.

German communities worldwide gathered November 16 to observe Volkstrauertag—the German veterans day.

Counted among the many formal commemorations was Utah’s own German National Day of Remembrance—an event held each year at Fort Douglas Cemetery.

Utah’s Volkstrauertag has a specific purpose. Folks from the local German-American community and their friends pay tribute to the 41 German prisoners of war who are buried there. The annual program offers people of all backgrounds a moment to pray together for remembrance, peace, and healing.

“We are grateful to have the opportunity to remember those who have died and given their all,” said Charles W. Dahlquist, a local attorney and honorary consul for Germany.

It’s apt that retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, 94, was Sunday’s featured speaker. Col. Halvorsen—a.k.a. the “Candy Bomber”—and his story are well known, particularly among Germans. The Latter-day Saint bomber pilot gained renown for dropping, or “bombing,” chocolates and other candy for war-weary German children during the Berlin Airlift in the aftermath of World War II.

His efforts to brighten the lives of little boys and little girls who were citizens of what had once been an enemy nation has become a transcendent account of friendship and compassion without borders. A new generation has recently been introduced to the Candy Bomber in the Church-produced film Meet the Mormons.

“I’m grateful to be here in this special place where those of many nations, called by their governments to serve, have given their lives for the cause they were called to do,” he said.

The retired colonel spoke of the internal change he experienced when he was assigned to deliver life-sustaining provisions to Germany—a nation he had once regarded as enemy territory.

“It was the change that occurs by following the Savior’s example of service before self,” he said.

Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, second from left, participates in a wreath-laying ceremony November 16 during the German National Day of Remembrance event at Fort Douglas Cemetery. He is joined by, from left, Major Toru Tsuchiya (Japan Air Self Defense Force), Charles W. Dahlquist, and Frank Clawson. Photo by Jason Swensen.

While on his flight missions during the Berlin Airlift he would often see impoverished German children lining the fences outside the airfields. On one occasion he pulled out two sticks of gum from his pockets and offered it to a large crowd of children. To his surprise, the little ones did not fight over his meager gift but shared what they could with each other.

He resolved to give more to the children in future visits. Soon he was parachuting chocolate bars that he had gathered from his personal rations to the children waiting on the ground. When others found out what he was doing they joined the effort, and the amount of chocolate and other kinds of candy in the regular “bombing runs” dramatically increased.

His efforts to offer a tiny bit of pleasure to these children of war offered the youngsters a few moments of brightness and hope. The children, he said, knew that somebody cared.

“The wounds of war were healed,” he said, “and enemies became friends.”