Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, an Air Force pilot whose gesture of kindness during the Berlin airlift — sending tons of candy fluttering down from the sky to the city’s beleaguered children — endured in memory as a redeeming moment amid the aggressions of the Cold War, died Wednesday at a hospital in Provo, Utah. He was 101.

The cause was sudden-onset respiratory failure, said his daughter Denise Halvorsen Williams.

Halvorsen, who retired at the rank of colonel after a three-decade Air Force career, was a 27-year-old lieutenant when he embarked on the mission that would earn him the adoration of thousands of children in Berlin and the gratitude of two countries, Germany and the United States, for his role in healing the wounds of World War II.

After the war, the defeated state of Germany was partitioned into zones administered by the victorious Allies. The American, British and French sectors combined to form West Germany. The Soviet sector became East Germany. Within East Germany lay the city of Berlin, which also was divided into two sections, east and west, eventually separated by the wall that came to represent the Iron Curtain that had fallen across Europe.

From June 1948 to May 1949, in one of the first major confrontations of the Cold War, Moscow blockaded West Berlin, blocking rail and road access to that part of the city. More than 2 million West Berliners, deprived of food, fuel, medical supplies and other basic necessities, faced starvation.

The Berlin airlift, one of the most massive humanitarian aid missions ever undertaken, circumvented the Soviet blockade by delivering goods to West Berlin by plane. More than 278,000 flights into Berlin — including 190 by Halvorsen, The Washington Post reported in 1998 — delivered more than 2 million tons of supplies to the city over 15 months. The accounting of casualties varies, but at least 70 American and British airlifters were killed during the operation, which ran day and night in often hazardous conditions, with planes sometimes landing every three minutes.

Halvorsen, who had been fascinated by flight ever since his days growing up on his family’s farms in Idaho and Utah, volunteered to fly in the airlift. He was making a delivery at Tempelhof airfield in West Berlin in July 1948 when he encountered a group of 30 children on the other side of a barbed wire divide.

“I saw right away that they had nothing and they were hungry,” he told The Post decades later. “So I reached into my pocket and pulled out all that I had: two sticks of gum.” The gum was enough for only four children, but even the fragrance of the wrappers delighted the others.

In a promise that seemed the stuff of fairy tales, Halvorsen pledged to the children that he would return the next day and drop chocolate and other sweets from the sky. They would recognize his plane among the many others buzzing the city, he told them, because he would wiggle his wings.

The explanation “took some translating,” Halvorsen, who became known to the children as Uncle Wiggly Wings, recalled years later to NBC News. “But then they said, ‘Jawohl! Jawohl!’”

Halvorsen returned to his base, collected candy rations from his fellow airmen and attached them to handkerchiefs. “A jubilant celebration” followed the next day, he recalled, when the miniature parachutes floated down to earth.