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Feb 15, 2013 12:00 PM by Sean Mooney

Cold War-era 'candy bomber' honored

TUCSON - "A random act of kindness", "Pay it forward", two phrases that describe selfless deeds. They may make a small difference in someone's life but once in while one charitable act can end up changing the world.

That is exactly what happened on the other side of an ocean more than sixty years ago. The man who started it all now lives here in Arizona. News 4 recently paid a visit to the veteran pilot forever known as Uncle Wiggly Wings.

The conclusion of World War II may have ended a global conflict but it was also the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. At the time Colonel Gail Halvorsen had no idea how two sticks of gum were about to change his life.

When the war was over Germany became a pawn in a diplomatic game between supposed allies. On one side, France, Britain and the United States, on the other, the Soviets. The Russians were determined to control Berlin. Not getting their way, they blocked all rail lines into West Berlin in an attempt to starve the residents in to submission.

The opposing allies reacted by launching "Operation Vittles" a massive airlift campaign to bring supplies to 2 million people cut off from the world. Colonel Gail Halvorsen volunteered to be one of the pilots to fly in the supplies, now 92 years young, he remembers it like it was yesterday, "I got over there 10th of July, 1948, flying day and night, 3 round trips."

Supplies were flown in to Berlin's Temple-Hof Airport after one of his deliveries Halovorsen noticed a group of kids on the other side of a fence at the end of the runway. He went over to them and was astounded by what they said to him, "Before I left they said, look we don't have to have enough to eat, just don't give up on us...someday we'll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom we will never get it back, [they were just] kids."

So touched by their words he wanted to give them something but all he had were two sticks of gum. He broke the sticks in to 4 pieces and was amazed when they took those pieces and split them up to share with the entire group.

Giving out candy soon escalated to dropping little parachutes with candy rations from planes all over West Berlin. It became know as "Operation Little Vittles" and earned Colonlel Halvorsen several nick names, the candy bomber, the chocolate pilot and his favorite uncle wiggly-wings. The latter referred to Halvorsen's wing wiggling he performed to indicate it was his plane that was preparing to drop the little parachutes loaded with candy.

The airlift eventually worked and in may of 1949 the Soviet Union gave up on the blockade. Looking back Uncle Wiggly wings says it wasn't the supplies they flew in that beat the Russians. "It wasn't the chocolate that was important, the dried eggs, the dry potatoes, the coal and everything they had to live, those two million people. it was more a symbol of hope that someday they would be free, that's what the airlift did."

Over 60 years later, Colonel Gail Halvorsen is still being honored by the German people. This month he is scheduled to return to Berlin to take part in the opening of a middle school bearing his name.

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