Candy Bomber' drops sweets from Utah's air for July 4
The Associated Press 6 p.m. EDT July 4, 2015
Gail Halvorsen, known as the "Candy Bomber," meets and signs autographs for the crew and their families at the Air Museum located at Utah's Heber City Airport on July 3, 2015. Halvorsen later helped fly a WWII fixed-wing bomber that dropped 1,000 chocolate bars attached to tiny parachutes at Scera Park.(Photo: Sammy Jo Hester/The Daily Herald via AP)
OREM, Utah — A pilot who delivered candy to children in Berlin at the end of World War II parachuted sweets down to Orem to celebrate Independence Day.
Gail Halvorsen, 94, also known as the "Candy Bomber," dropped 1,000 chocolate bars attached to tiny parachutes at Scera Park on Friday. He flew over the area three times before releasing the cargo into the hands of the children below.
Deb Jackson, co-chair of the event, estimated more than 50,000 people stood in 100-degree temperatures to watch the 4 p.m. drop.
Halvorsen flew in a fixed-wing bomber from World War II with two escort planes attending, the Daily Herald of Provo reported.
Gail Halvorsen, known as the "Candy Bomber," drops candy bars from a plane, July 3, 2015, at SCERA Park in Orem, Utah. Halvorsen, who delivered candy to children in Berlin at the end of World War II parachuted sweets down to celebrate Independence Day. (Photo: Spenser Heaps/The Daily Herald via AP)
Earlier in the day, Halvorsen spoke to the crowd at the Freedom Festival naturalization ceremony. He spoke about the importance of service and kindness.
"The Dead Sea is dead because it wraps its arms around all of the fresh water of the Jordan and gives out nothing. In your community, there are Dead Sea souls who do the same," he said.
Some of the children in attendance already knew of Halvorsen's history as the "Candy Bomber." Drew Reynolds, 9, of Highland, said she learned in school about Halvorsen and the candy drops during the Berlin Airlift.
"When he saw all the kids that were starving, he only had a piece of gum. He wished he could have more for the kids so he started dropping parachutes with candy," she said.
Kids run to collect candy dropped by Gail Halvorsen, known as the "Candy Bomber," from a plane, July 3, 2015, at SCERA Park in Orem, Utah. Halvorsen, who delivered candy to children in Berlin at the end of World War II parachuted sweets down to celebrate Independence Day. (Photo: Spenser Heaps/The Daily Herald via AP)
Halvorsen, a Salt Lake City native, grew up as a farm boy in Utah and Idaho before earning his private pilot's license in 1941.
He joined the Civil Air Patrol and later the United States Army Air Corps in 1942. During World War II, he was assigned to fly transport operations in the South Atlantic Theater.
After the war, Halvorsen earned the nicknames "Uncle Wiggly Wings" and "Berlin Candy Bomber" for his flights with the Berlin Airlift over fields in East Berlin. He wiggled the wings of his plane before dropping candy bars and gum tied to handkerchiefs the cheer up the children on the ground.
Halvorsen retired from the Air Force in 1974, but his candy drops caught on and he became well-known as the "Candy Bomber," re-enacting his flights around the U.S. and Germany.
He now lives in Arizona.
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Gold fillings, family grit help solve 71-year-old mystery of veteran's burial
For nearly 70 years, Bonnyman's family remembered the handsome, adventurous man they had lost with what few artifacts they had left: his Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously for his efforts to hold back a Japanese counterattack; a large portrait, commissioned from an Italian oil painter; and a few black-and-white photographs taken during the assault on Betio.
One man's obsession has persuaded the U.S. military to send a search team to a remote, tiny island where previous excavation missions for the remains of lost servicemen have proved frustrating and fruitless.
For the better part of a century, the Medal of Honor recipient was literally lost to the chaos and carnage of World War II. His grave said "Buried at sea," but his family knew better. Sandy Bonnyman was entombed — somewhere.
The story of how Evans, a 53-year-old freelance journalist from Colorado, tracked down his grandfather's remains is almost as incredible as Bonnyman's heroics. It involves gunfights and flamethrowers, radar and drones, mass graves and a cadaver dog named Buster.
The tale begins on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Sandy Bonnyman was a miner near Santa Fe, N.M. He had already served a stint in the Army and was now 31 years old. But when he heard the news, he reenlisted, this time in the Marines.
"On the second day of the epic struggle for that strategically important piece of coral, 1st Lt. Bonnyman, determined to effect an opening in the enemy's strongly defended defense line, led his demolitions teams in an assault on the entrance of a huge bombproof shelter which contained approximately 150 Japanese soldiers," according to the Marine Corps' official biography. "This strong point was inflicting heavy casualties upon the Marines and was holding up their advance."
After a day of attacking the shelter, Bonnyman led a full-on assault. Using flamethrowers and explosives, he and his men forced the Japanese into the open. Most of the enemy were shot as they left the shelter, but several attacked Bonnyman.
"Assailed by additional Japanese, he stood at the forward edge of the position and killed three of the attackers before he fell mortally wounded," Marine Corps records state. "His men beat off the counterattack and broke the back of the resistance. The island was declared secured on the day of 1st Lt. Bonnyman's death."
But if the story of Bonnyman's heroics was well recorded, the location of his body was not. As the Marines moved to secure the island and press on through the Pacific, they hurriedly buried their men in mass graves.
"They got all these stories, that he was buried here or there," Evans told The Washington Post in a phone interview from his home in Colorado. "Until finally my great-grandfather gave up and bought a headstone that said 'Buried at Sea.' "
When Evans looked into the project, however, he learned that it was really being pushed along by a small, Florida-based nonprofit called History Flight. Evans reached out to the organization's founder, Mark Noah, who agreed to meet him in Tarawa.
In August 2010, Evans flew the 5,726 miles from Colorado to the archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And while he wasn't impressed with JPAC, Evans admired Noah and his team at History Flight. The nonprofit has found scores of veterans' bodies across the Pacific theater.
"I reached a conclusion that I was going to hitch my cart to this little bitty nonprofit because I could see the dedication and the determination there," Evans said. "I honestly never saw that with JPAC, so I said, 'Hey, Mark, I want to work with you.'"
"I've done all kinds of volunteer stuff for them: I have dug holes, I have sifted sand, I have cleaned bones, I have done PR work, I have called families looking for DNA samples," Evans said. "I have done anything that they have wanted me to do, and I've been happy to do it, because they've gotten results."
Finally, in late March of this year, Noah called Evans and said he thought his team was close to finding his grandfather. Using ground-penetrating radar, old military maps, the latest GPS technology, remote-controlled drones and Buster, a cadaver dog from California, they had found a trench — dubbed Cemetery 27 — where Bonnyman was thought to lie. Evans flew to Tarawa once more, but a lot of work remained.
For two weeks, Evans, Baker, Noah and others dug for bodies. They found more than a dozen of them. Each time, Baker would check the teeth for Bonnyman's distinctive gold fillings — the benefit of being a bit older and a touch wealthier than his fellow Marines. But no luck.
Finally, on May 28, Baker was inspecting body No. 16 when she spotted another skeleton barely a foot away. She carefully scraped away the sand from around the skull. Then she began to brush clean the century-old teeth.
Evans helped Baker finish excavating body No. 16. The next day, May 29, they spent hunched over Sandy Bonnyman's bones. It wasn't until May 30 that Evans could properly reflect on the achievement. He went for a morning run, and then he did something that surprised even himself.
"After I got done with my run, I went back to that grave and I sat there and I did my meditation there," he said. "That's when I allowed myself to have more feelings. I went back and sat right on that sand where he had been resting for the last 71 and a half years. It was pretty powerful for me."
But even as Evans and his family celebrate finding Bonnyman, the Marine's bones remain on Betio. Although his body has been positively identified from his dental records, JPAC must follow certain procedures in removing and investigating it.
"I think it's a delicious historical irony that should stand for all time," he said. "Really, because it's kind of this marker of everything that happened. It never offended me that he was on that island. That little island took incredible care of him for the past seven decades. His bones are almost perfect."
"It's going to be a really big deal to bury him where his parents wanted him to be," Evans said. "I have all these tragic letters showing my great-grandfather desperately trying to get him back, and he never did. They all died without knowing the truth.