A tale of two candy bombers

Candy falling from the sky via parachute - seems only a cinematic daydream, but is reality. From Berlin to Manteo, this historic event has transcended the decades between it and brought to life on the shores of North Carolina.

photo courtesy of Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation—photo courtesy of Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation
The C-54Spirit of Freedom

Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen grew up on a farm in rural Utah. As the second World War approached, Halvorsen would frequently look up from his laboring as a sugar beet farmer, awestruck by planes flying above. Soon, he applied and was accepted into a pilot-training program, eventually joining the United States Army Air Corps. In July of 1948, he left for Germany to serve as a pilot for the Berlin Airlift. Post World War II, Germany fell under multi-national occupation. In attempts to gain control, the Soviet Union blocked off railway, canal, and road access to sections under Western control. The Berlin Blockade became the first major international crisis of the Cold War.”Operation Vittles” served as a way to send supplies to allied forces and citizens in the area. Halvorsen served as one of those pilots operating a C-54 cargo plane. Yet, he had some other ideas about bringing hope to the quickly fading morale of people in West Berlin.Aside from piloting, Halverson had an interest in photography. One day while filming planes landing and taking off at Templehof, he noticed some 30 children lined up at the barbed wire fence. He spoke to the children, quickly learning how little they had, one child told him if the weather is bad – to not worry about landing as they can get by on little food. Halverson reached in his pocket pulling out two sticks of gum, the children broke it into pieces and shared it. Those who didn’t get a piece licked the wrapper. This deeply impacted Halverson and without seeking permission, he devised a plan. That very night Halverson, his copilot, and engineer pooled their candy rations. In order to not hurt the children upon landing, he made three parachutes out of handkerchiefs. Once a week, for three weeks, when Halverson and his crew were dropping supplies, they would also drop candy to the children. Shortly, the amount of children waiting at the barbed wire fence grew significantly. Coined “Operation Little Vittles” support eventually reached the United States in which candymakers donated to the cause, and organizations met to fill and tie the handkerchiefs. The operation lasted from September 22, 1948 to May 13, 1949.What Halverson didn’t know, was that through all of this there was a young child named Karin Edmonds, watching the ravaged and war torn streets of Berlin through her parent’s apartment window. Edmonds recalled planes dropping supplies to Templehof and that, “Daddy wouldn’t let us go to the candy drops, as Berlin was dangerous at that time.” Edmond’s family struggled to get by. She noted wearing the same brown dress with white dots for two years, a delicacy was “a slice of bread, lard, and a little salt.”In 1960, Edmonds married an American serviceman, although he passed away in 1980 she stayed in the US, eventually residing in Manteo. For the past 16 years, Edmonds has diligently worked to recreate the same magic she felt in Templehorf to a younger generation through the annual Candy Drop.Halverson himself (now 96) comes each year for the event and pilots the original C-54 cargo aircraft used, the Spirit of Freedom. Lining up closely to the same day as the Wrights’ first flight, the candy drop is funded entirely through donations. Individuals and businesses who contribute $25 or more will received a hand-croched hat made by Edmonds herself. Donors who contribute $500 or more get to ride over the Outer Banks during the candy drop in the Spirit of Freedom. It’s no cheap feat to bring the magic to Manteo; fueling the airplane alone costs $2,500. Edmonds said, that while Halverson is now too old to pilot by himself, his son Brett comes along. The event, which took place Dec. 18, lasts around five hours. First they drop 32 parachutes for the 32 pilots who lost their life during the blockade. There’s a first drop for smaller children and a second for older kids. Edmonds said there’s usually around 300 children. One of her favorite parts is to witness their faces light up and “to see them chasing after the parachutes.”This year, the candy drop is bittersweet — it will be the last year Halverson is able to attend. Even after the Spirit of Freedom returns to the hangar and the children go home, the Candy Drop is something that will stay in their hearts forever. Just like Edmond, who despite financial setbacks and year-round planning, believes the past 16 years have been completely worth it.