Retired United States Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen is in San Antonio this weekend to reenact the candy drops that made him a hero during the Cold War.
In 1948 Halvorsen was stationed in the American portion of Berlin.
The Soviet Union had established a blockade to keep supplies from flowing into East Germany.
Instead of fighting Halverson and his fellow pilots flew humanitarian missions, dropping supplies to the Germans.
“American style freedom was their dream. Hitler's past and Stalin's future was their nightmare,” Halvorsen said. “We flew in everything Berliners had to have - coal, as much as they needed, food to keep them alive.”
One day Halvorsen noticed dozens of children gathered near a barbed-wire fence at Templhof Air Base.
“I had to give them something, but all I had was two sticks of gum. They took it up to their nose and smelled, and their eyes got big when they realized what it was like to have something sweet,” he said.
Those two sticks of gum would be the first delivery by the man that would become the Berlin Candy Bomber.
“I told them to, ‘Come back tomorrow. When I fly over your head to land I’ll drop chocolate,’” he said. “They said, ‘How will we know what airplane you're in?’ I said, ‘I'll wiggle my wings back and forth. When I come over the field watch that airplane.’ We fed them enough that the Russians couldn’t take over. They gave up.”
Over the next year Halvorsen and other pilots dropped nearly 20 tons of chocolate and candy to East German children.
Heike Jackson has vivid memories of the initial air drops.
“My little friend woke me up and said, ‘There’s airplanes and they’re dropping food and chocolates,’” Jackson said. “So we all ran out and we looked at the airplane fly over. “We lost the war and then we had nothing, you know. Then there came help and we were all very grateful.”
Halvorsen said he was shocked by the children’s willingness to share the candy, but Jackson said, given the situation, the children knew they had to,
“You shared everything,” she said. “When you got chewing gum from a G.I. you ripped it in three to four pieces and gave something to the other kids.”
Halvorsen was also shocked that the children’s gratitude towards the pilots had nothing to do with candy.
“’We don’t need enough food to eat,’ they said, just don’t give up on us,” said the 93-year-old.
Jackson said Halvorsen’s dedication helped East German children weather that dark time, and on Friday she got the chance to meet the Berlin Candy Bomber for the very first time.
Jackson thanked him the only way she knew how.
“I bought…some candy from Germany,” she said.