Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Angels Came in Airplanes

By Elizabeth Binder
Translated By David Vickrey

Germany - Der Tagesspiegel - Original Article (German)

If you want to send an e-mail to Gail Halvorsen, the most famous of all the "Rasinbombers," you need to type "wigglywings" in your computer, since that is part of his address. The "wiggly wings" became his signature flying maneuver during the airlift. Today he is 88 years old, but back then his flying style gave hope to half-starved children waiting expectantly for a piece of chocolate, some chewing gum, or just the thought that someone could do something funny, even in a very dark hour of history.

Back then Gail Halverson was 28 years old and in love. In April of 1949, he married Alta Jolley and was together with her for 20 years, until her death in 1999. They had 5 children who led to 24 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Back then it was never a sure thing that the young pilot from Utah would drop the chocolate bars that his friends had sent to him in Frankfurt over Berlin. The memories of Hitler and the terrible war were still fresh in his mind, he recalls. His whole life had been turned upside down.

At 27 years of age, Halvorsen would have much preferred to be driving his Chevy on America's highways. Instead he was flying for the Berlin Airlift, day and night, in fog, storms and ice. He asked a fellow pilot who had flown bombing missions over Berlin during the war how it felt to be flying now in service of the enemy he had been sworn to kill. He responded that it felt a good deal better to be providing food and sustenance rather than killing. Many pilots who flew for the airlift back then lost their hearts in Berlin.

Jack O. Bennett, who sat in the cockpit of the very first airlift flight, was against transporting coal to Berlin at first and was in favor of deploying tanks against the Russians. He remained in Berlin for the rest of his life. Edwin Gere, who wrote a book about what happened to the pilots, belonged to a group of former pilots, including Texan Earl Moore, British citizen Larry Lamb, and Australian David Evans, who, at their own expense, would often return to Berlin to commemorate important events together.

The first load that Halvorsen brought to Berlin consisted of 20,000 lbs. of flour. "The Germans looked at us as if we were angels from heaven." For Gail Halvorsen, an active member of the Mormon Church, gratitude has the power to make enemies into friends, to make what seems impossible possible.


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