(KTVX) – A celebrated war hero passed away Wednesday night. Gail Halvorsen, known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber,” was 101 years old.

A lifelong Utahn, Halvorsen became a U.S. Army Air Force pilot as a 22-year-old in 1942 and a few years into his service, undertook a mission under his own initiative that earned him international favor and gave him a nickname that would stick for the rest of his life.

As the story goes, Halvorsen was assigned to Germany in July 1948 as part of an operation now known as the Berlin Airlift. Shortly after the end of World War II, and the break up of Nazi Germany, the country was divided by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Due to a Soviet blockade of Berlin, the city was depleted of basic resources such as fuel and food, forcing American and British air forces to fly over the city and drop in supplies. This crisis has been considered one of the first major events of the Cold War.

Halvorsen was assigned to airdrop supplies deeper and deeper into Berlin, reportedly taking time after flights to explore the city. One day, he handed a few starving children a couple of sticks of gum and was amazed to see their reaction. They were so desperate for anything sweet, that even the children who didn’t get any pieces of gum, which had been broken up and shared, began to sniff the wrappers for just a hint of the flavor.

Lamenting that he didn’t have any more gum at that moment, Halvorsen promised the group of children that he would return and drop more from his airplane the next day, and would ‘wiggle’ the wings of his plane to let the kids know it was him, with sweets in tow.

After gathering more candy from his fellow crewmates, and attaching little parachutes fashioned from handkerchiefs to the sweets, Halvorsen, true to his word, returned to the area and “bombed” it with the candy. It became a weekly occurrence and then eventually an official military operation.

It wasn’t long before the operation, known as “Little Vittles,” a play on the airdrop operation’s official name, became a national and international sensation. Supporters from all over the United States sent Halvorsen and his crew candy and handkerchiefs to continue his delightful ‘bombings’ on the children living in the war-torn country. By the time the eight-month-long operation ended, it was estimated that over 23 tons of candy had been dropped into Germany thanks to Halvorsen’s simple kind gesture.

Halvorsen retired from military service in 1974 but has long been a celebrated figure for his work overseas to bring just a little sparkle of joy in an incredibly challenging environment. He was awarded many medals and honors, including the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that Congress can give to a civilian, in 2014. He has also remained a beloved figure in Germany, winning several high honors and having numerous schools in Berlin named in his honor. Some credit Halvorsen as a key figure in the United States’ positive relations with Germany in the post-WWII era.

News of his death quickly reverberated throughout his home state. Many politicians expressed their admiration and appreciation for Halvorsen. Governor Spencer Cox tweeted, “I will miss my friend. A beautiful reminder that kindness and goodness can win, even in the most trying times.”

Many books and other works of media have been produced surrounding Halvorsen’s life and impact on the world. He wrote the final words of his story on Wednesday, passing away from a brief illness at the Utah Valley Hospital.

The Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation announced his passing on Facebook with a poignant tribute.

“Rest easy, skipper – we’ll take the controls now for a season and bring the plane safely home…as you always did, bringing light and joy to all in our flight path.”