On Friday, January 22, John Travolta hosted the 13th Annual "Living Legends of Aviation" Awards, and Harrison Ford presented the Aviation Legacy Award.
Recognized during the night was Colonel Gail Halvorsen, better known as the "Candy Bomber," who was recently featured in Meet the Mormons.
On the same stage with these impressive men was President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who had the honor of presenting Halvorsen with the Kitty Hawk Children's Award for his lifelong positive impact on children.
Later that night, President Uchtdorf and Colonel Halvorsen had a photo opportunity with Harrison Ford, and Uchtdorf teasingly said: "Our 95-year-old Candy Bomber looked almost the youngest between the Millennium Falcon pilot and me—a former airline captain."
Here's a little more behind the incredible story of the "Candy Bomber," as told by LDS Living's article "Berlin ‘Candy Bomber’ Shares Life Lessons from 2 Sticks of Gum":
In the wake of World War II, Halvorsen, then a lieutenant and pilot for the United States, was assigned to fly flour into West Berlin as part of a war recovery effort. He recalls, “I was up against the fence in Berlin, shooting movies of the airplanes coming overhead and landing. The kids were on the other side of the barbed wire, 30 of them.”
But unlike typical children who usually begged sweets off of American soldiers, these were different. Instead of asking for sweets, they told Halvorsen, “Don’t worry about us, even if we don’t have to have enough to eat. Just don’t give up on us. Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.”
As Halvorsen bid farewell and stepped away, a prompting stopped him. He wanted to give these remarkable children something more, but all he had in his pockets were two sticks of gum. “I said to myself, If you try and give it to them, you’re gonna have a fight.” But it wasn’t Halvorsen who was choosing the way; he was being guided by the Spirit.
“The reason I went back to the fence,” he shares, “was a prompting just clear as a bell. I know it was the Holy Ghost and no other source. It said, 'Go back to the fence.’ Just like it was typed up. It was clear communication.”
Tearing the two sticks in half, Halvorsen passed the gum through the fence. He was shocked to see the children simply sharing the wrappers, smelling the peppermint and faces lighting up as though the scent itself were magical.
“I just stood there dumbfounded,” he remembers. “Boy, I said, for 30 cents I could give them a whole pack. I said, well that’s kind of chinsy wouldn’t cost much more for a candy bar.” But Halvorsen couldn’t return to the fence. He’d already broken regulation being there the first time, but he thought of a way he could deliver his chocolate ration to the kids: by dropping it from his plane when he flew over the city to land in West Berlin.
The idea behind the Candy Bomber was born.
From his first drop of a handful of candy bars tied to handkerchief parachutes, Halvorsen’s simple idea exploded. After being caught on film, his colonel learned of the mission, and with the approval of the general, the mission grew to become an international effort with American school children and candy companies donating time and candy to the cause. In all, by the end of his time flying over Berlin, Halvorsen had dropped 23 tons of candy from the sky over East Berlin parks, including three tons dropped on Christmas Eve.
But there was always more to it than just the candy. Halvorsen remembers one instance when, 50 years after his candy-bombing mission, a man approached who said, “I’m 60 years old, and 50 years ago, I was going to school in Berlin. Classes were really low, and it was raining. Suddenly out of the cloud and rain came a parachute. A fresh Hershey candy bar landed right at my feet.” The man continued, “It took me a week to eat that candy bar. I had it day and night. But the chocolate wasn’t important. The important thing was that somebody in America knew our troubles. Somebody cared. I can live on thin rations, but not without hope.”
Read more about the "Candy Bomber" in the beautifully illustrated book Christmas from Heaven. You can also watch his heartwarming appearance during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's 2012 Christmas concert on the DVD Home for the Holidays.