By Valerie Ipson
If you haven’t heard of Gail Halvorsen, maybe you know him by one of his nicknames: “the Candy Bomber,” “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” or “the Chocolate Flyer.”
Or perhaps you know him as one of the stars of Meet the Mormons, a movie released last fall by the Church.
His claim to fame may have taken place over 66 years ago, but his legacy lives on to bless generations.
It’s a story that never gets old: A kind-hearted U.S. pilot drops candy-loaded parachutes to starving German children—a chocolate bar or a stick of gum that means much more than temporary sustenance. It brings hope to a devastated country in the aftermath of war.
Gail, who grew up in Utah and Idaho, joined the United States Army Air Corps in June 1942. In 1948, he participated in the Berlin Airlift, or “Operation Vittles,” as it was also known. He, along with hundreds of other pilots, distributed food to the people of Berlin. One day, he took the opportunity to share two sticks of gum with some children gathered near the fence line watching the planes come in.
He says of the experience, “The result was unbelievable. Those with the gum tore off strips of the wrapper and gave them to the others. Those with the strips put them to their noses and smelled the tiny fragrance. The expression of pleasure was immeasurable. I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them I would drop enough gum for each of them the next day.”
And “Operation Little Vittles” was born. It lives on as a symbol of human kindness.
Fast forward to the present and the Candy Bomber, Gail Halvorsen, is one of six Latter-day Saints’ stories selected to be introduced to the world. Meet the Mormons premiered to a national audience, and is now shown at theaters in all Church visitors’ centers and historic sites.
Gail admits, “I was already self conscious about the attention, but when the film came out things really exploded! Mail from around the United States arrived and some from overseas. Invitations to speak, more than I can accept!”
He continues, “How a boy from the farm could be asked to participate in such an incredible film seems inconceivable. My Dad and Mom would never believe it! The real joy came from meeting … the other truly exceptional people in the group. To work with such accomplished film makers as Blair True and Jeff Roberts was more than the frosting on the cake.”
His family recently returned from a cruise. “I was astonished by the number of people who stopped me for a photo op! Some asked for chocolate!” he says.
Gail, now 94 years old, and living out his not-so-quiet retirement in a small Arizona town with his wife Lorraine, firmly believes in the verse found in the Doctrine & Covenants: Out of small and simple things proceedeth that which is great.
“Two sticks of gum are about as small as it gets,” he explains. “The gratitude of children is as great as it gets.”
He adds, “Those two sticks changed my life forever.”