1. Thanks for joining us Professor Tunnell. A tremendous amount of research went into the Candy Bomber. How did you decide to break up the information into six different chapters?
The Candy Bomber’s story seemed automatically to fall into six chapters. First, I needed to give the “candy bombing” its context—so it was clear I needed chapter one to introduce and explain the Berlin Airlift. There was no question about what needed to follow: Lt. Gail Halvorsen must make his entrance. The event that launched Operation Little Vittles was the best way to bring him on stage. His meeting with the German children at the end of the Templehof runway, and the subsequent promise to drop them some sweets, made for a perfect chapter two. With the “candy bombing” underway by the end of the second chapter, the establishment and early growth of the official, Air Force-approved Operation Little Vittles was the next logical step. This part of the story easily filled a third chapter. Taking the operation into maturity was a natural choice for chapter four—it grew to be much bigger than Halvorsen. It took on a life of its own, continuing successfully even after Halvorsen was no longer in Germany. With access to all the letters and drawings children and adults sent to Halvorsen, I had a plethora of great personal stories shared in that correspondence; I wanted to include as many as possible. Chapter five became the place in the book where I did that. Of course, every book needs a conclusion, and so chapter six brought the Berlin Air Lift to a close and then followed Halvorsen forward in his life to show how the ties he’d established with those hungry children bound them together to this very day.
2. Your voice in Candy Bomber honors Gail Halvorsen’s compassion, bravery, and moral strength. Please tell us how you achieved this reverent tone throughout your book.
Getting to know Gail Halvorsen personally during the process of creating the book had everything to do with the tone. His humility and strength of character are undeniable, as well as his genuine care for other human beings. Gail was so gracious in helping me with this project. He opened up his files to me, and I scanned hundreds of his photographs and documents, many of which appear in the book. Never have I met a more genuine person, and I hope that came through as I wrote about him. Also, when you read and hear what others have to say about him, you quickly come to the conclusion that many other people see him in that same way. I read many, many letters sent to Gail over several decades from the children of the Air Lift who were parents or grandparents themselves when they wrote. Their love and respect for him communicated in their correspondence also affected the tone I adopted for the book.
3. I love all of the letters and drawings from the German children. How did you decide which letters to include and which to exclude?
At first it was difficult to choose. I wanted to include every single one of them. When I finally had to get serious about making the selections, it became an easier task than I would have believed. There were certain letters and drawings that seemed to stand out for one reason or another. Often this had to do with the personalities of the particular children. Who could have eliminated the letter from someone like Peter Zimmerman, who, when frustrated that Halvorsen wasn’t finding his house, wrote: “Are you a pilot? I gave you a map. How did you guys win the war?” Or the letter from Mercedes Simon that scolded Halverson for scaring her chickens when making the approach to land, thus ending egg production, but then going on to offer the pilot a way to make things right. “When you see the white chickens please drop the chocolate there.”
4. Candy Bomber and another one of your books, The Children of Topaz, take place during the 1940’s. Do you have a special interest in the WWII era?
I suppose I do. Even one of my novels (Brothers in Valor) is set in Germany during WW II. I’m not one hundred percent sure why I have such an interest, but it obviously manifests itself in what I write, read, and watch on TV or at the movies.
5. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
I think it is interesting to know that Gail Halvorsen is ninety years old and as active as someone half his age. He travels constantly to meet the demands of groups who want him to speak about his candy-bombing experiences. He is greatly loved in Germany to this day and is often invited back to commemorate the Air Lift in one way or another. He even is still qualified to fly the C-54 transport planes he flew in the 1940s, though he takes the co-piloting duties these days. As a side note, you might be interested in hearing Gail explain the Air Lift and see some original film footage of the candy drops and other Air Lift events. Go to my website (www.michaelotunnell.com). Choose the Candy Bomber icon, and you will see a link to this YouTube video.