From my earliest recollections, I’ve listened to my WWII history buff father’s stories of the Candy Bomber, Gail Halvorsen.
It was an amazing tale. An American pilot, fulfilling his mission to provide relief to Germans living within the Communist Bloc, noticed children admiring the planes on the other side of the fence. An overwhelming feeling came over him that he needed to say ‘hello’. He was nervous. These were the same children who witnessed men in his uniform killing their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters only a few months before.
He was struck by how warm they were to him. They were actually happy to see him. And rather than beg for candy or food, these starving children were just grateful. Grateful for the meager amounts of food he and others like him were able to deliver through Airdrops.
It left him with an urgent need to do more.
He gave two sticks of gum to two of the children. Again he was struck by how, instead of fighting over this little treasure, they broke the gum into tiny pieces and passed them around to as many children as possible. As he turned to leave, they asked for the shiny gum wrappers. The children who didn’t get any gum were given pieces of the wrapper. Gail watched as they put them to their noses, drinking in the scent.
He promised to return and the kids asked how they would know it was him.
Recalling his days on a farm, watching his daddy cropdusting, he always knew he was approaching by the way he would would ‘wiggle’ the wings up and down. It gave him the brilliant idea to use that as his indicator.
They finished their conversation and he left. He was supposed to go to sleep in preparation for his next flight but he couldn’t. He knew he needed to do more. This is where his brilliant idea to drop candy to them was born.
“As kids we climbed up to the highest part of the barn, tied handkerchiefs to rocks and watched them sail to the ground. That was our television.” he said.
Realizing bonking Littles on their heads with chocolate ‘would give the wrong impression’, he knew the handkerchiefs were the solution.
And so, risking his career and so much more, he fulfilled his promise. Sure enough, the same children were just beyond the fence during his Airdrop the next day. With his and his copilots’ candy rations morphed into tiny parachutes, they changed the course of history. They delighted children and softened hearts. Bridges were built between nations and despair was changed to hope.
Upon marrying He-Man, I discovered this man I’d heard so much about lived in the same area as their family while stationed in Berlin many years later. They worked together within the church congregations they belonged to in post-Cold War Germany.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my adult life, I developed a strong desire to meet him. His life has inspired me for years.
Apparently, I talk about it a lot because a few months ago, I got a call from my dear friend, Carol.
“I did something” she said. “Remember how you’ve talked about how much you admire Gail Halvorsen?”
“Yes….” I replied cautiously. “Wait, how did you know that?”
“Um…Trishelle, you’ve written like 5 posts about him on Facebook in the last year or so.”
“Oh.” I said. “I guess it is that obvious.”
“Well…” she added, “I see him at work every Thursday and I read your post to him. And he wants to meet you.”
Me: No words…just delightful, fangirling surprise mixed with mortification and a little concern that he thinks I’m a stalker.
After weeks of juggling, (he is the busiest 96 year-old I have ever met) Monday was the day. I got to look into the sky blue eyes of one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. I got to sit in his home office and listen to him tell the story himself. Whether or not he thought I was psycho, he never would let on, he was incredibly kind and gentle-even though he had another appointment shortly after ours.
How do you tell a person who has changed your life just how much they mean to you? How do you tell them their life story helped you figure out what you’re suppose to do with yours? How do you tell that person you have every intention of continuing their legacy of providing safe places and happy moments for children in a world full of despair and fear?
I clumsily fumbled through some sort of explanation but he was gracious enough to know what I was trying to say. I think he gets that A LOT.
Every year, I make a bucket list of things I want to do with the 365 days I have. I had lots of ambitions in 2016. One of which was to meet Halvorsen. Anyone who follows this blog knows how crappy 2016 ended up. I didn’t get to try caviar or escargot. I didn’t rock the 6-pack abs or go on a running tour of an unknown city. But then again, I did document my first mammogram and made a kitchen table so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
And, while it was a few months later than 2016, Sunshine and I got to shake hands with one of the greatest men from the Greatest Generation. And believe me, it was worth the wait.