When I was in university in Germany, I happened to visit the aviation and mechanical museum in Speyer on a day that they were having a book sale/flea market. I snagged a few titles, including a book of pilot songs. Germany being Germany, after you fly and have a few, or when the weather’s bad and you have a few, you sometimes start singing. Some are parodies set to Lutheran chorales, there’s the immortal (and unprintable here) “Hey ladi ladi,” and others. But one that really caught my ear was “Alle Sturmfeste Himmelhunde.”
It’s sort of a ballad about a pilot weathered into the bar on a dark and stormy night. Other pilots start coming in: Otto von Lillental, the Wright Brothers, Manfred von Richtofen, and Gil Halvorsen among others. The chorus loosely translates “all of these had their starry hour and have their own pages in the history book.”
Gil Halvorsen turned 100 on Saturday. He lives in Provo, Utah, and may be one of the few pilots to be featured in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas performance. He’s the candy bomber, the instigator of “Operation Little Vittles.”
It was part of the relief of Berlin during the Berlin Blockade. Stalin could build a wall, but he forgot to add the roof, and US and other allied forces supplied the people of Berlin by air for months. Halvorsen tossed some candy to the kids who waved from behind the airport fence, and the legend of the Candy Bomber was born.
Americans being Americans, once word got around, people sent candy and handkerchiefs (parachutes for the candy), thousands of pounds of candy. So what if we’d been at war with them for three years? These were kids suffering because of things beyond their control. Of course Americans would help out. When the blockade lifted, Halvorsen finished his Air Force duties, married, and raised a family, just one more veteran among millions.
The Germans remember Halvorsen very fondly to this day. Thus his place in with the pioneers of aviation and the great fighter pilots in a a German pilots’ drinking song.