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‘Candy bomber’ reprises Berlin drop in Flowery Branch

POSTED: April 26, 2009 12:16 a.m.

Retired Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen gives a thumbs up Saturday morning as he gets set to leave Gainesville's Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport on his way to drop hundreds of candy bars from the air for the children in Flowery Branch. The event recreated one of his famous humanitarian airlift drops over Berlin in 1948-49.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Doris Galambos waited 60 years to meet the man who brought her candy from the sky when she was a child in postwar Berlin.

On Saturday an emotional Galambos finally embraced 88-year-old Gail Halvorsen, the retired Air Force colonel famous as the "Candy Bomber" for dropping payloads of chocolate bars during the Berlin Airlift.

"I needed to hug him and say ‘thank you’ again and again." said Galambos, who was 7 when she found chocolate bars scattered across the bombed-out ruins of her city.

"For me, it was just so incredible, I will never forget it. We didn’t have anything, and suddenly there was candy."

Halvorsen recreated his bombing runs Saturday for more than 300 children in a field behind a Flowery Branch industrial park. With Flowery Branch’s Alan Wayne piloting a small Piper Cub two-seater, Halvorsen cracked jokes over the radio and let loose bags full of candy bars dangling from parachutes to the applause of the children below.

"That was awesome," one child later exclaimed.

Children later scurried across the grounds, retrieving some 600 Hershey’s chocolate bars tethered to handkerchiefs with brown yarn.

Halvorsen’s exhibition has been repeated across the nation and globe since his Airlift days. The devout Mormon believes the candy bombings held important lessons of freedom and hope that he wants today’s children to learn.

"They valued freedom so much that they said, ‘We don’t have to have enough to eat, just give us a little,’" recalled Halvorsen, a spry octogenarian who has amassed about 8,000 hours of flying time and dropped more than 20 tons of chocolate from airplanes.

"They said, ‘Some day we’ll have enough to eat. If we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ Kids ages 8 to 14 were teaching me about how important freedom was."

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of its "In Praise of Heroes" day, which included a canned food drive.

"Just as Gail Halvorsen can feel good about what he’s done for the children of Berlin, we can feel good about what we’ve done for children and families in this area," church member and Gainesville city councilman George Wangemann said. "We know that when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of our God."

Kim Rose of Flowery Branch brought her grandchildren, ages 5, 6 and 7, to watch the candy bombing. The story of Doris Galambos "brought tears to my eyes," she said.

Rose said for her grandchildren, it was "an opportunity to see history recreated, and learn how to share. They have no idea what it was like back then. These children have never been deprived like those kids in Berlin."

"It was good," said 9-year-old Clayton Haugen. "I liked the way they showed how it was for the kids in Berlin."

Clayton and his 6-year-old brother, Mason, found several chocolate bars tangled together and shared them with other children during the dash for sweets. In the hot late-morning sun, most of the bars had melted inside their wrappers.

"We’re going to put ’em in the freezer," Mason said.

Galambos, a retired circus performer now living in Sarasota, Fla., presented Halvorsen with a sterling silver model airplane with the inscription "It only takes a little kindness to make a big difference in the world."

"You’re standing here representing 2 million people," Halvorsen told Galambos. "It was your gratitude that made us fly day and night without ever complaining."


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