- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

MIAMI, Okla. (AP) - Col. Gail Halvorsen was just 22 years old when he came to Miami with four other American pilots to train with 30 RAF pilots at the No. 3 British Flying Training School, a branch of the Spartan School of Aeronautics.

Returning to Miami at the age of 95, Col. Halvorsen, is now world famous as the Berlin Candy Bomber.

As a young pilot flying non-stop missions delivering coal, milk, flour and medicine to the starving people of East Berlin to offer relief from the Soviet blockade he flew 126 missions from July 1948 to February 1949. During the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of necessary supplies, but Halvorsen started candy drops for the children dropping 23 tons of candy.

“Two sticks of gum went to 23 tons,” Halvorsen said.

The Miami News-Record (https://bit.ly/1PCQUVJ ) reports that during his return to Miami, Halvorsen addressed students at Will Rogers Middle School, toured the places he once trained and lived, and attended the G.A.R. Cemetery British Flyers Remembrance Ceremony. A special reception and showing of a documentary film about Halverson, ‘The Candy Bomber’ was shown at the Coleman Theater Beautiful and a book signing at Chapters Book Store of his autobiography, ‘The Berlin Candy Bomber’ took place over the weekend.

Dapper in the same military uniform he wore as a young airman, his vigor, strength and spirit evident, Halvorsen stopped for an interview before the book signing. Memories came flooding back to him as he toured the once familiar places in Miami including the old Miami airport hangar.

“Miami meant everything to me in my aviation career,” Halvorsen said. “First of all I always loved the Royal Air Force. You know the war came on and you’d see the RAF guys going up to meet the enemies and shoot down the bombers and I just followed that with such great enthusiasm for those guys, those real heroes doing everything to protect their country.”

Halverson was young farm boy from Utah when his desire and passion to fly was first inspired.

“I learned to fly early. I was raised on a small farm, growing sugar beets. When I was working the dirt airplanes would fly over the blue sky going up to Idaho,” he said, his face lighting up at the memory. “I would look up from the dust and go, ‘Wow, I got to get up there!’ But all we had was plenty to eat, and love, and that was enough. There wasn’t anything else. But I wanted to fly.”

By 1941 events around the world were drawing the U.S. into World War II.

“I didn’t have money to go to college and I had taken a correspondence course in high school. They started a non-college pilot training program. 120 students applied for ground school and we had to take the written exam for a pilot license. I memorized it. They gave 10 scholarships, there were 10 out of 120 and I got one of them and learned to fly,” he said.

Halvorsen signed up for the U.S. Army Air Corp and said it took him awhile to get in the pipeline to train. He finally did pre-flight training in San Antonio.

“They asked for volunteers to fly and train with the RAF so I signed up right quick. There was only five of us that were brought up so we could be taught English by the Brits,” he said with a grin.

He and the other pilots came to Miami by train.

“I remember coming up here. I thought it was getting better and better,” Halvorsen said. “I loved it. I really was thrilled with coming here. The people just took care of us like family. They had weenie roasts for us. I like to hunt and at the weenie roast there was a man who said, ‘I’ll take you any time you’d like to go.’ I’ll never forget that. I like to fish and boy people were off the scale offering to take me. They just went out of their way to make it wonderful for us. It was the heart of the people that made Miami special to me. Then the British added another dimension - it was really exciting!”

Halvorsen said he bunked at the No. 3 British Flying Training School with a Scottish cadet Jimmy Marney.

“He spoke so fast I could hardly understand him, but Jimmy Marney became one of my best friends. Many years later I went to England and was able to meet up with him,”he said.

Halvorsen said he was very excited to see the Coleman Theatre again and in the same condition as when he was here in Miami.

“I had a girlfriend, not a real serious one when I was here,” he said. “I took her to the Coleman Theatre. It was special. Her name was Judy, her dad had a furniture store.”

There wasn’t much time for the cadets to socialize or go fishing or hunting according to Halvorsen.

“The training was intense. The training was different for the RAF than it was for the Army Air Corp. In In the Army Air Corp training, they would go to through primary training to another base to do basic training and another base to do advance training. Now the Brits stayed one place here in Miami and we went from the first airplanes directly into the advanced airplanes. We skipped the whole basic airplane so that we were pushed through to get experience faster so that they would be more prepared. The war was going on and they wanted to escalate the training. So went directly form the primary trainer with fixed gear to advanced landing gear. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more cadets in training.”

Halvorsen said they would train for night landings in fields with burning oil pots to light the runway.

“I had flight training before I came, but a lot of the Brits were young guys and had never had flight training. So they washed out quite a few,” he said. “We had five Americans in our crew and about 30 Brits. It was just a fantastic experience.”

When he came to Miami he was the only cadet in his crew with any military training having attended ROTC.

“They said, ‘Okay Halvorsen this is it!’ So they put me, an American, in charge as Senior Commander. It was crazy. The commands are all different,” he said.

He said despite their differences his relationship with the British cadets was wonderful.

“We constantly looked out for them and told them what to do. We were thrilled with the way they spoke. What was so funny to me we would get in an airplane and fly formation together and to hear these guys talk on the radio- put a radio in the middle and it was so funny I would just start laughing,” Halvorsen said. “I made life-long friends and bonded with them. I visited some of them later. I visited Marney in Scotland.”

The Colonel loved visiting the places where his flying career all started especially the old hangar and he shared a story from his training days there.

“Flight Lt.Hadley, he was the British check pilot and I had my final check ride with the red headed RAF guy. He had been in the Battle of Britain and was terrific. He said ‘Okay Halvorsen let’s go,’ and he told me to climb up to 6,000 feet and said,’ Show me everything you know.’”

Halvorsen said he was experienced and could do anything in the plane and performed well.

“He said, ‘Okay now I got it.’ We were at 2,000 feet and he headed right for town. I said, ‘Sir, federal regulations said we aren’t allowed to fly over town at this altitude.’ He said, ‘I’ve got the airplane, be quiet!’ He came down Main Street, and I don’t know, down to 500 feet right down Main Street at full speed, going like crazy! About half way down Main Street he pulled straight up in element he came up just like a loop and rolled out on top of the loop. Then he came across the other way and we ended up the same place and came across and did it again,” he said. “Everybody was outside looking up at this crazy pilot!”

According to Halvorsen the pilot did this for two reasons; to impress his girlfriend who lived near Main Street and to get back into combat.

“He didn’t want to be out here at flying school. He loved Miami but he just had to get back. When we landed right in front of that hangar, right in that very spot I stood yesterday is where we taxied up. We got out of the airplane and there was a black sedan with an officer waiting and a civilian and they came over and grabbed him by the arm and said, ‘That’s all buddy!’ and they hauled him off,” Halvorsen said laughing.

He never saw the cadet again but learned he was packed up and sent back to England, exactly what the cadet wanted, he said.

“And I go the thrill of my life!” he said.

He said the cordiality he received and the friendships he made in Miami have always stayed with him. He remembers picnics with lots of good food, dances, lots of entertainment and the generosity and spirit of the Miami people that made him feel welcome.

“It’s just intensified,” Halvorsen said of the hospitality and welcome he felt on his return trip to Miami all these many years later.


Information from: The Miami News-Record, https://www.miaminewsrecord.com

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