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Picturing a memory

'Candy bomber' painting connects pilot, artist after 60 years
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s Horst Bendzulla survived several bombings and had been shot at on more than one occasion before he turned 11 years old. But there was one kind of bombing that the then-10-year-old would walk 5 miles for just to make sure he didn’t miss it. That was during the late 1940s when some American pilots were making special air deliveries. One in particular, U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen, was called the candy bomber because he would drop either Wrigley’s chewing gum or chocolate bars from his plane to children in Berlin. Halvorsen was spending his free time tying the candy to handkerchiefs, loading up the plane and dropping it off to the waiting children below, including Bendzulla “I just caught one but I was happy,” Bendzulla said. “It was so exciting because we didn’t have any toys or any entertainment.” Halvorsen, who splits his time between a home in Arizona and a home in Utah, was returning to the area to make another candy drop. His return was inspired in part by his book, the Berlin Candy Bomber. The book recounts Halvorsen’s time as an Air Force colonel and as the candy bomber. Last month, the man who was on the ground and the man who was in the air met for the first time in Rancho Cordova – and it was a painting that brought them together. In November, Bendzulla decided to replicate an old photo he had seen of children waiting for the “candy bomber” plane. When he finished the painting in January, it eventually made an appearance at a community discussion his wife attended. From there, someone who knew of Halvorsen contacted Bendzulla and informed him that the famed pilot would be making a local appearance soon. Halvorsen and Bendzulla initially spoke over the phone. They shared stories and conveyed their excitement to see one another. “I was all fired up,” Bendzulla said. When they finally met last month, it was an “incredible” experience, Halvorsen said. “We hugged. There was no handshake stuff – holy cow we were old friends already,” Halvorsen said. During the visit, Halvorsen did another candy drop for Bendzulla and the other families at the Rancho Cordova location. “The parachutes came down just like I remembered it,” Bendzulla said. “It was like when I first caught that parachute in 1949. It was a super experience.” Bendzulla said since reliving that time in his youth, he is inspired to further research it. He said he’s learned more about pilots during that era, and has felt more connected to his past. “It’s opened up a new channel,” Bendzulla said. “I feel like I’m really transferring back to that time and I’m finding out more.” Halvorsen said after more than 60 years, he was more than happy to relive the experience with someone he helped. “It makes it full circle,” Halvorsen said. “After all these years, it’s incredible.” Bendzulla agreed that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience he will always remember. “If I hadn’t painted that picture, I would’ve never met the colonel,” Bendzulla said. “It’s almost like fate.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.