It helps to have friends that look out for you. Such was the case this spring when I got an email from a local Atlanta friend, informing me that Gail Halvorsen would soon be in town. "Gail who?", you might say.
Gail Halvorsen. Colonel, US Air Force. Otherwise known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber”. What little hair I have remaining stood up on end. Having been a military history buff for a number of years, I knew exactly who he was, and of his place in German/American history.
Since I had forgotten the details, I purchased his book about the Berlin Air Lift, a little-remembered event that threatened the very existance of Berlin, just a few years after WWII. The war was still very fresh in the minds of many of the pilots who participated in keeping the city’s population alive. Gail had been one of those pilots.
To abbreviate the story, at some point Gail began to drop candy to children from his plane, upon approach to Templehof Airport, attached to small home-made parachutes. It was not an authorized activity, and he kept it quiet, in an effort to stay within regulations. Nonetheless, the leadership soon learned of his activities, and instead of being disciplined for it, he was instructed to ramp up the effort, because of the positive effect it had on the population, but also because of the positive political effect it had in making the Russian decision to blockade the city appear even more foolish.
Many even think that this one small act was the catalyst in forcing the Russians to abandon the blockade, many months after it began. There was just no “give up” in the allied effort, or to the Berliner’s themselves.
It was with great anticipation of meeting this great man, that I went to make photographs of him recreating an airdrop to one of the local elementary schools. Still spry and sharp, even though he’s into his 90’s, he climbed into the back of a Cub for the drop in a nearby park.
The kids were giddy with excitement, and one child from each class was the designated “retriever.” I can’t tell you how excited they were with each pass, and upon landing, he went to their school to greet them as they loaded the buses for home.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man who enjoyed the company of children more. He even signed some of the ‘chutes as a memento of his visit, and graciously accepted many requests for photographs.
It was a real treat to have met him, and to understand how a simple act, and faith in the humanity of man, could have such a long-lasting and positive impact on the lives of so many people.
What a great legacy to have...