Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bonding with the Candy Bomber

While I was home last week I got to hang out with Colonel Gail Seymore Halvorsen, or "Uncle Hal" as he told us to call him. He told us all about the story that made him famous.

So it all started on the beet farm. I just need to digress for a minute and mention how happy I am to be able to start a story with the phrase "so it all started on the beet farm". It makes me feel a special connection with Dwight Schrute. Especially since it was my grandpa that was working the next beet field over from Uncle Hal.

Young Hal and Bill used to work and play together, going hunting and fishing together, and swimming in the creek after a hard days work. Well, working on the farm with his head down all day, Hal used to look up when planes would fly overhead and wish he was flying with them. So he went and got his private pilots license. He came back and flew over the beet fields, doing a little loop-de-loop or something like that. When he landed and went home, his dad almost killed him for almost giving his mom a heart attack. They were ripping him up one side and down the other, when Bill came in saying how cool that was, and making Hal feel better about the whole thing. He promised his mom not to do any more flipping, that he'd just wiggle his wings a little bit as he flew over. She seemed to think this was a much safer option, so that's what he did. Soon after he joined the Army Air Corps ferrying transport planes around during WWII. He stayed in the military after the war, and got called up to fly transports in Germany.

So as Americans in Europe, the soldiers would frequently be followed by groups of children clamoring for candy and gum. So he saw some kids on the other side of the barbed-wire fence next to the air-field in Berlin one day and went to talk to them. These kids were different, quieter, more polite, and were asking that the Americans not abandon the airlift when the weather turned bad. They said that they could live without enough food, but "if we lose our freedom we may never get it back". This touched him so much that he fished around in his pockets, but all he had was two sticks of gum. He picked four kids out of the crowd and gave them each a half-stick of gum. He was a little afraid that the other kids would start fighting over the gum, but the other kids just passed the gum wrappers around so they could all get a little sniff.

He was so touched that he promised them that he would fly over the airfield where they were and throw out some candy. They asked how they would know it was him since planes flew over every few minutes, and they all looked pretty much the same. He told him he would wiggle his wings as he flew over so they would know it was him. So even though the soldiers had a pretty limited supply of candy and gum and whatnot, he and some of his fellow soldiers pooled their resources, and made a few little parachutes out of handkerchiefs with the candy at the bottom. So as Hal flew over the kids, he wiggled his wings and someone else dumped the parachutes out of a back window. He hadn't really asked permission to do this, and got in a little bit of trouble for doing it, but when the publicity it generated was so positive, he was allowed to continue. There was 850 lbs. of candy donated locally, and by the end of it, Uncle Hal and the other pilots that got involved ended up dropping 23 tons of candy over different parts of Berlin. And it helped with American-German relations after all of the nastiness that had gone down that was WWII.

So as we're sitting in my grandma's living room talking with Uncle Hal about all of this, he just kept telling us that we need to be grateful for what we have, and not to underestimate what great good little things can do. After all, look what he got started with just two sticks of gum!


  1. What a great story! I love you and your familia Karen!

  2. Very cool post. Did you get any pictures of my kids with him? I am going to put a link to the funeral pics I took on my blog in the next day or two.

  3. I think I've actually heard that story before. Very cool!