Petition Aims to Win Berlin ‘Candy Bomber’ the Presidential Medal of Freedom

A petition on is looking to get retired Air Force Col. Gail S. “Hal” Halvorsen—a 100-year-old veteran who flew the C-47 and C-54 aircraft in Germany during the Berlin Airlift—the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Halvorsen is often referred to as the “Candy Bomber,” because he used to attach candy to parachutes constructed from handkerchiefs and string and drop them from his C-54 to try to bring cheer to the children below.

Retired Col. Gail S. “Hal” Halvorsen, known commonly as the Berlin “Candy Bomber,” stands in front of a C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona. Photo: Bennie J. Davis III/USAF

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is typically awarded for especially meritorious contribution to either ‘security or national interests of the United States,’ ‘world peace,’ or ‘cultural or other significant public or private endeavors;’ Col. Halvorsen’s accomplishments throughout his life encompasses all of these areas,” the petition web page states. “With this petition, we are requesting the White House consider Col. Halvorsen for the Presidential Medal of Freedom as soon as possible to honor this extraordinary man.”

As of press time, the petition had garnered 5,794 of the 100,000 signatures needed by Nov. 22 to merit a White House response.

“Anyone who believes in freedom and the power of good to triumph over tyranny will join me in making the case for Gail Halvorsen, an incredible Airman and an inspiration for us all,” Air Force Association President and retired USAF Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright said.

Col. Gail S. "Hal" Halvorsen
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail S. “Hal” Halvorsen, also known as the candy bomber, waits in excitement before dropping over 300 candy parachutes to children in Hailey, Idaho, on May 26, 2011. Halvorsen was a command pilot during the Berlin Airlift. Photo: Staff Sgt. Gina Chiaverotti-Paige

“The U.S. had quickly recognized the publicity value of what came to be called Operation Little Vittles,” Air Force Magazine previously reported. “Commanders charged Halvorsen with organizing a larger airdrop. Eventually dozens of pilots were involved.”

German children in West Berlin wave to a U.S. Air Force transport aircraft as it comes in to land at Templehof Airport during “Operation Vittles,” better known as the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Photo: USAF

U.S. pilots dropped more than 20 tons of sweets from a quarter of a million parachutes by the time the Airlift concluded in mid-1949, according to a USAF release.

Halvorsen’s post-Airlift career included a stint at the Wright Air Development Center in Dayton, Ohio, a transition into the Air Force’s space program, and eventually leading “a satellite-tracking facility at Vandenberg” Air Force Base in California.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Nov. 19 at 8:51 a.m. EST to correct the total number of signatures needed to merit a White House reply to the petition.