ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
On North Carolina's Outer Banks yesterday, hundreds of people turned out for an annual re-enactment of a heartwarming episode of the Cold War when American pilots dropped candy from the sky for the children of Berlin. Jay Price of member station WUNC reports.
JAY PRICE, BYLINE: For 70 years, Colonel Gail Halvorsen has been the face of one of America's grandest humanitarian relief efforts. For more than a year, it was an around-the-clock airlift of food and supplies to the people of Berlin, circumventing the Soviet Union's blockade of the city. It was one of the pilots, Halvorsen, who came up with the idea of dropping candy to the city's kids.
KARIN EDMOND: To us children he was a big hero.
PRICE: Karin Edmond is 76 now, but she was a small child living in Berlin during the airlift.
EDMOND: The Berlin airlift was our survival because they flew in all of our food.
PRICE: Edmond came to the U.S. after marrying an American service member and eventually settled in Manteo, N.C., where she ran a restaurant kitchen. Every year, she raises about $12,000 - much of it in small contributions - knocking on doors and holding raffles. The money is used to replicate the candy drop at the local airport, complete with one of the C-54s the Americans flew in Berlin and with the C-54 pilot who did the first candy drop, Colonel Gail Halvorsen.
TIM CHOPP: This is our 18th consecutive year doing this, and it's always an honor.
PRICE: That's not Gail, though. He was supposed to be aboard today. Tim Chopp is the pilot and runs the nonprofit Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation. The group has outfitted the plane as a kind of flying museum with displays on the airlift, and flies it around the country doing candy drops like today's and explaining the importance of the airlift.
CHOPP: What they did for Germany in Berlin, it's a symbol of hope. And that's probably what Gail means to everybody.
PRICE: Halvorsen, at age 97, was supposed to come to North Carolina from his home out west. Edmond said she expected this to be his last re-enactment. But he got sick on the way and had to get an emergency operation.
GAIL HALVORSEN: I came a long way from Utah, and I was certainly looking forward to it. But by the time I got here, I knew I had a problem.
PRICE: That's Halvorsen in his hospital bed. He hopes to be out soon and hates missing one more chance to talk to kids about the airlift. He wanted to talk about the importance of gratitude and putting service before self.
HALVORSEN: That's the message I want to leave to young people.
PRICE: The candy drops started after he spotted a group of Berlin kids standing outside the airport fence. When he gave them two sticks of gum, they carefully divided and shared them. And they thanked him. Their attitude inspired him to do more, so he started dropping candy. And when his commanders caught on, they recognized the publicity benefit and allowed other pilots to join in.
HALVORSEN: For two sticks of gum in 1948, the children were so grateful they got 23 tons of candy from the sky.
PRICE: Twenty-three tons of candy, chocolate bars and gum dropped in parcels that drifted down on handkerchief-sized parachutes. The kids sent so much fan mail to the candy bomber, as he was known, the military had to hire two secretaries to handle it. He became a sensation in the U.S. In Germany, there are schools named for him.
EDMOND: Even till today it is something special. Even today in Germany they teach you about the Berlin airlift.
PRICE: Edmond wants to make sure kids here in the U.S. keep getting the chance to learn about it, too, even if the candy bomber himself can't come back.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing) It's the final countdown.
PRICE: She hopes to keep raising money to cover the costs for Chopp's foundation to bring the plane every year, teaching kids lessons about Halvorsen and the airlift.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Screaming).
PRICE: For NPR News, I'm Jay Price in Manteo, N.C.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROYKSOPP SONG, "EPLE (FATBOY SLIM REMIX)")