In 1999, Gail S. Halvorsen, then 78, visited Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
CNN  — 

A US airman who became known as the “Candy Bomber” for his unique supply drops in Germany after World War II died Wednesday in Utah. Col. Gail S. Halvorsen was 101 years old.

The Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation said on Facebook that he died surrounded by family after a brief illness.

Halvorsen gained fame – and his nickname – during the 15-month Berlin Airlift following World War II. The Western Allies flew planes across Germany daily to drop critical supplies into West Berlin, which had been blockaded by the Soviet Union.

In this 1949 photograph, Gail Halvorsen demonstrates how handkerchief parachutes were used to drop sweets.

After meeting some German children and promising to deliver them candy, Halvorsen began dropping chocolates attached to tiny improvised parachutes from his plane, according to the Berlin Aircraft Historical Foundation.

“Two million people in Berlin needed food, mostly women and children. And so I felt very good about helping the former enemy, because they were grateful,” Halvorsen told CNN in 2009.

He became known to young Berliners as the Chocolate Uncle, and received stacks of mail with thanks and requests.

Halvorsen spent most of his youth and retirement years in Utah. On Thursday, the state’s governor mourned his loss. “Gail Halvorsen is an international hero who demonstrated extraordinary compassion and kindness during a very dark time in world history,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a written statement. “We mourn his loss but celebrate his exemplary life and legacy.”

The German Embassy in the United States tweeted its appreciation for Halvorsen’s gesture Thursday, writing: “Thank you for your kindness, Colonel.”

Halvorsen received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. He traveled frequently, well into his 90s, recounting his story. Halvorsen recorded a video for his foundation less than a week before his death advising people, “Have an attitude of gratitude.”

“Gail was a man of deep and certain faith,” his foundation said. “Faith in God, faith in his country and faith in his friends.”