Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Candy Bomber - Visit with an American Hero

 Have you ever met a celebrity? I have to admit that the idea has never really appealed to me. There are very few media-famous persons that I have any desire to meet. But a hero, now that is a different story.  Perhaps the best event of our recent homelessness was the chance to meet Lt. Col. Gail Halvorsen (Ret.) aka the Berlin Candy Bomber.

Colonel Halvorsen flew during the Berlin Airlift and after seeing a group of German children peacefully share two sticks of gum he had given them, promised to drop some chocolate from his plane on his next run. The identifying signal, a dip of his wings as he came in, earned him the name Uncle Wiggly Wings. And that initial drop of chocolate bars turned into a huge months-long operation which gave hope back to Germany's children and helped to heal the wounds of war between the two nations.

This fall a new book was released by Shadow Mountain:
The book is very well done with beautiful illustrations mixed with old photos. The enclosed DVD is not an audio version of the book, it's a video recording of a Tabernacle Choir concert during which Tom Brokaw reads the book. Impressive. So when my mother decided to purchase a book for each of her children I was excited.

And when she asked me if my family would be interested in meeting Brother Halvorsen (yes, he's Mormon) and having our book signed, I was almost giddy. Miley Cyrus? No thank you. Hilary Clinton? Pass on that one too.  But a chance to meet the dashing young captain who broke the rules and talked his buddies out of their chocolate bar rations so he could chuck them out the plane windows tied to hankerchiefs? I might swoon.

Colonel Halvorsen lives about an hour south of Tucson and somehow my mother knows someone in his stake who could get us his phone number.  One phone call later, during which he called my mother 'sunshine', we had a date with a hero.

We planned it for the weekend Geoffrey came down to bring us the Excursion. I think he was as excited as I was.
Here is Col. Halvorsen signing the seven books my mom brought with us. Don't you love his shirt? He's the sweetest old cowboy you could ever meet. You wouldn't know he is in his nineties. He had us all laughing the entire visit. He was excited to learn of our military service and asked us many questions about our recent year in Turkey. He even thanked us for our service and my children for their sacrifice.

He mostly talked to my kids, which I really appreciated. They were very attentive and I kept thinking, "Remember this! Remember this!" (I have wished before for a Permanent Record Button for my children's memories. This is one of those times it would have been useful.) He talked about great things coming from small things - two sticks of gum leading to improved international relations. He told the story of being called in to his CO's office and expecting a severe reprimand but getting a go-ahead instead. And how it went from cajoling other pilots and crew to give up their candy bars to being sent crates of candy parachutes from schools and charity groups in the U.S.

He told us of returning to Germany years later when a school was named after him and meeting a man who as a child had a candy bar drop down through the clouds to land at his feet. And hearing how that chocolate bar gave him hope that things would get better.

He was happy and joking through most of our visit. But he got choked up just once. That was while telling our kids to never pass up the chance to give service.  He told of being left home once as a teenager while the rest of the family went on day trip. The family was late getting back so he went out to begin the evening milking. He was able to get all the cows milked by himself before his father returned.  Telling us about this one act of service for his father was what brought him to tears.

Here is the crew with Brother and Sister Halvorsen.

And one of the two Lt. Colonels together. Geoffrey wants this one in his office.

Colonel Halvorsen is the kind of hero I want my kids to be. The kind of hero I want to be.  He took the small means that were available to him, two sticks of gum and some chocolate bars, and used them to share love and goodness and hope.  That small act made a huge impact in a time of great hardship.

Doctrine and Covenants Section 64 verse 33 - Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. 

I have a secret belief that someday in heaven we will be shown the effects of our actions, the ripple effect that our small choices to be be kind or selfish have had throughout others' lives. My guess is that Col. Halvorsen will have a lot to watch.