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ST. GEORGE — At nearly 101 years old, Gail Halvorsen made yet another flight to spread candy and smiles, this time to St. George residents during the city's annual Fourth of July celebration.
Marilyn Halvorsen Sorensen, Gail Halvorsen's daughter, noted that the beloved Candy Bomber will turn 101 in October.
"I said, 'Are you up for one more?' And he said: 'Only one more?'" Sorensen told KSL.com. "He loves his country, and we're just glad that we can be here."
Halvorsen served as one of the pilots in a huge U.S. airlift that saved two million Germans from starvation. The Soviet Union had blockaded West Berlin in an attempt to take it away from the western Allies. The Utah native flew planeload after planeload of flour and coal that German volunteers eagerly unloaded.
A fateful meeting with German kids at the Berlin air field's fence line changed Halvorsen's life. He gave them some gum, and then dropped more by parachute on his next flight, wiggling his wings over the children. Though he originally planned to do it just once, he made numerous flights, parachuting gum and candy to eager and excited kids. From July 1948 to September 1949, Halvorsen and his successors dropped some 21 tons of candy on Berlin. His contribution to the children of Germany garnered worldwide attention and inspired millions.
On Saturday, Halvorsen boarded a helicopter and flew over Dixie State University's Greater Zion Stadium, dropping bunches of candy into the crowd from the passenger seat.
The event, sponsored by United We Pledge, was meant to honor Halvorsen's legacy of kindness and charity as he took to the skies "once more," organizers said in a statement. After the flight, he was presented with the inaugural Gail Halvorsen Lifetime Service Award
One of the first German children who received some of Halvorsen's candy at just 3 years old was also there to honor the Candy Bomber.
Regine Lovely, who now lives in St. George, credits Halvorsen with helping the people of Berlin find hope. She presented him with the award — and another special token — for his service before the city's fireworks show.
Lovely asked if she could give Halvorsen a hug as she handed him a pack of gum and said she loves him.
"A pack of gum, Wrigley!" Halvorsen laughed.
"God bless America," he said, to cheers from hundreds in Dixie State University's Greater Zion Stadium.
Sorensen said Saturday's event was another chance for Halvorsen to share his love of America.
"For me, it's a celebration of freedom, and he stands for that," she said, becoming tearful. "Just when he was talking to the kids at the fence, they'd rather have freedom than enough flour. The kids were telling him how much they appreciated freedom, and they said, 'You don't have to give us enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we'll never get it back.'"
"I just think it's important for people to know his story, because he talks about attitude, gratitude, service before self, helping out other people and that small things make a big difference, and he wasn't trying to be famous. It's just who he was that he saw a need, and he did something about it," Sorensen said.
When asked whether her father has any plans to retire, Sorensen said: "I think he will do what he can."
She hopes his story conveys the message to "just be kind to each other, and help where you see a need."
Many of Halvorsen's family members were also in attendance for Saturday's special flight.
"We're so lucky. I've been part of the family for 30 years, and the first time I met him, he called me his 'little sunshine.' And it's been the same since Day 1, and I can't think of a better family to be a part of," said Cathy Halvorsen, his granddaughter-in-law.
"I think it's pretty cool just to have someone to look up to and to have him so close to, or doing something so cool for people that can get involved, it's just an inspiration," Emma Halvorsen, his great-granddaughter, said.
When asked whether Saturday's flight might mark Halvorsen's retirement candy drop, Cathy Halvorsen said: "He will continue to do it until he's in the ground, I think he just, that's who he is, an inspiration to all, and bringing everyone up."