OUTER BANKS, N.C. (WAVY) — In 1999, Manteo resident Karin Edmond heard a sound she hadn’t heard in 50 years.
The rumbling brought her right back to 1948 Berlin, Germany. She convinced her daughter to take her directly to the airport. And there it was.
“When I saw the Spirit of Freedom I started crying,” said Edmond. “I remember what that meant.”
The World War II-era C-54 plane was in town for an airshow. In 1948-49, it was part of the American fleet to fly in the Berlin Airlift, one of the first major crises of the Cold War.
Control of post-World War II Germany was divided among the victors: France, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The Soviets wanted more economic control, Gail Halvorsen and when they didn’t get it, they placed a blockade on Berlin, cutting off the citizens from supplies. The people of Berlin were starving.
Karin Edmond was 7 years old at the time.
The U.S. planes began to bring in food as a response to the blockade.
“We were hungry,” recalled Edmond in a thick German accent. “I mean literally hungry. We lived off 750 calories a day. Many times we ask momma, ‘Can we have just half a slice of more bread for supper?’ She said, ‘No kids’, opened up the cupboard, ‘There’s nothing in there, you’ve got to wait until tomorrow when the ration comes.’ So that’s things you never forget.”
Edmond didn’t tell her children about her painful childhood until that day on the airfield when she broke down in tears at the sight of the C-54. They were shocked.
“I didn’t want them to know the pain,” Edmond explained.
This marked a turning point for Edmond. She decided to turn a bright spot from that era of her life into joy for others.
American pilots flew food and supplies into Berlin around the clock for 15 months. In total, they delivered around 2.3 million tons of supplies. One of those pilots would be beloved by the children of Berlin for decades to come. They would call him the “Candy Bomber.”
After landing at Tempelhof’s airfield with a plane full of food, Lt. Gail Halvorsen snapped photos of the children lining the fence.
“We weren’t permitted to beg for anything you know,” remembered Edmond. “We were just standing on the fence watching what was going on.”
Halvorsen had two sticks of gum he gave to the kids. When he saw how eagerly they took the small treat, he got an idea.
Halvorsen convinced his fellow airmen to donate their C-rations, chocolate bars, gumdrops, and lollipops.
As he flew in and out of Berlin, he would throw the candy bars out of his plane window. Handkerchiefs acted as parachutes.
“Like little clouds, coming down,” said Edmond. “It was excitement for us because some of us never seen chocolate or candy bars or anything like that.”
After that day on the airfield, Edmond got in touch with the Berlin Airlift Foundation, which runs the Spirit of Freedom and eventually the Candy Bomber himself.
Edmond raised enough money to bring Halvorsen and the Spirit of Freedom to the Outer Banks for a candy drop, creating a tradition that has already spanned nearly two decades.
Edmond and Halvorsen developed a close friendship.
Halvorsen liked to tell stories during his visits. One time he almost received a court marshal after dropping candy close to the East Berlin line. The wind carried some of the parachutes into Soviet territory.
On a visit in 2018, Edmond surprised Halvorsen by bringing an elderly German man, Rudy Arndt, onto the stage. Rudy was born in a concentration camp. He spent the first five years of his life there. Post-war, his family settled in East Berlin. In 1948, he caught a treat from the sky.
“Rudy came up on the stage and then he told Gail, ‘Thank you for the candy bar that I received from you in 1948.’ After 70 years, the two old men were there hugging each other and crying.”
Last year, Edmond set up a 100th birthday celebration for Halvorsen. The two talked nearly every day on the phone.
One day a little over a month ago, she couldn’t get a hold of him.
Hours later, her phone rang. It was his daughter Denise.
“She said, ‘I’m here with dad at the hospital. Would you like to talk to him for the last time?’ Oh boy, that hit me hard.”
Halvorsen passed away 45 minutes later. He was 101 years old.
In their last conversation, Edmond promised the candy drop would continue as long as she lives, so the next generation of Outer Banks children can experience the thrill of catching chocolate from the sky, and learn about the Candy Bomber.
She continues to raise funds and gather support. It costs thousands to bring the plane in every year.
For donations of $25 or more, Edmond will send you a hat she crocheted herself.
If you would like to help bring the Candy Drop back this year, donations can be sent to Berlin Airlift Candy Bomber at P.O. Box 1226, Manteo, NC, 27954.