This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Gail Halvorsen turns 94 on Friday. He's too busy to celebrate.
"We're loaded tomorrow with the programs going on," Halvorsen said Thursday, his voice raspy from a mild cold and talking so much this week. "We're going to have a birthday party on the 12th."
Halvorsen, the retired U.S. Air Force colonel from Garland who is the subject of one of the stories told in the new movie "Meet the Mormons," is attending a screening of the film and related events Friday.
On Saturday, Halvorsen starts a short Utah book tour during which he'll be signing copies of his 1992 autobiography, "The Berlin Candy Bomber."
For Halvorsen, 2014 is somewhat like 1948.
That was the year the Soviet Union blockaded road, rail and canal routes into West Berlin. The United States and its allies were delivering supplies by air.
Halvorsen was a 27-year-old Air Force lieutenant flying C-54s full of flour, dry eggs, milk and other staples into West Berlin from Frankfurt, Germany. One day in July while he was waiting to fly back to Frankfurt, Halvorsen walked over to the West Berlin airport's wire fence and introduced himself to a group of children standing there.
Halvorsen soon decided he would drop the children candy out of his airplane. He told the kids to return the next day. He explained to them that, to signal his arrival, he would "wiggle the wings"on his C-54. He used to do the same thing to signal his parents when he flew airplanes over their farm in Garland.
Halvorsen and his crew made three such drops over three weeks. Then a German newspaper wrote a story about children standing at the fence waiting for "Uncle Wackelflugel," which is German for "Uncle Wiggly Wings."
The U.S. military ran with the story. By September 1948, the story had spread to the U.S. The Air Force sent Halvorsen to New York to give interviews.
On Thursday, Halvorsen recalled the shock of becoming a public figure in the age of news reels and the early days of television.
"The thing was going on full blast," Halvorsen said, "and I was a farm kid and not used to all that attention."
During those interviews, Halvorsen discussed dropping confections from his airplane and the Berlin Airlift itself. He said he never felt as though he was being used for propaganda. It was the press that was making requests of the Air Force to present pilots who could describe the airlift one of the first conflicts of the Cold War.
"Meet the Mormons" gives Halvorsen the opportunity to tell his airlift story again, and how it had its roots in a lesson he learned from his LDS upbringing service before self.
"Growing up, when the neighbors needed help, we helped them," Halvorsen said Thursday.
The film also shows Halvorsen still flying an airplane. He attends air shows and re-enactments of his candy bombings.
Halvorsen lives in Amado, Ariz., with his wife, Lorraine Pace. Halvorsen's first wife, Alta Jolley, died in 1999. She and Halvorsen had five children.
"Meet the Mormons," the tour he's undertaken for the film and his book signings are the most-public Halvorsen has been in about 15 years, and compares well to that first media tour in 1948.
"They were both huge events," Halvorsen said.
Gail Halvorsen will be signing books beginning Saturday.
Saturday • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Deseret Book at University Mall, 1076 S. 750 East in Orem; 2-4 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 5249 S. State St., Murray; 5-7 p.m., Deseret Book, 1110 Fort Union Blvd., Midvale
Monday • 7-9 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 10180 S. State St. , Sandy
Tuesday • 7-9 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 330 E. 1300 South, Orem