U.S. Air Force veteran, 98, visits American Leadership Academy Queen Creek High School

Col. Gail Halvorsen with ALA Queen Creek students during the assembly on Jan. 18. (American Leadership Academy)

“Attitude, gratitude and service before self.” That was the message that Col. Gail Halvorsen, 98, gave to students of American Leadership Academy Queen Creek High School on Jan. 18.

Portrait of Col. Gail Halvorsen. (ALA Queen Creek student Tanner Bollinger)

The 32-year U.S. Air Force veteran, who got his “Berlin Candy Bomber” nickname by dropping candy from his plane to children during the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, spoke about his experiences while in the service and left students with a message about letting their values guide their decisions, according to a release.

“The little decisions you make can leave big footprints on your life,” Mr. Halvorsen said to students in an assembly.

He also relayed his message about gratitude to his experiences in Berlin. He recalled that the kids he met in Berlin didn’t ask for candy and rather asked him not to give up on the citizens of Berlin during the hard times of the Cold War, according to the release.

He remembers the children valued their freedom and showed gratitude when he shared the initial piece of gum that transformed him into the “Berlin Candy Bomber” that eventually won him the Cheney Award for his humanitarian work.

Mr. Halvorsen said he enjoys speaking to groups, especially students, to share his story and wisdom but also get a glimpse at all the future leaders who will soon be making an impact, according to the release.

“I’m excited to see the quality of young people and the interest they have in participating in doing something to better our country,” Mr. Halvorsen said.

“When you get a school system that knows what’s important for young people and young people that know where they are going, put those two together, and you have a winner.”

Chris Moss, ALA Queen Creek High School director, said that what Mr. Halvorsen did during his time in the U.S. Air Force and how he did it perfectly represents ALA values. Mr. Halvorsen was just 24 years old when he first dropped candy in Berlin, so he was not that much older than many of the students who attend ALA, according to the release.

“What he taught the kids is what we teach the kids and so there is perfect alignment,” Mr. Moss said in the release. “It really is important for the kids to understand that this is the type of stuff that can shape their lives and he is the example of that.”

Col. Gail Halvorsen with ALA Queen Creek National Honor Society Students. (American Leadership Academy)

After two assemblies, Mr. Halvorsen brought his words of wisdom to a seventh-grade class and a group of National Honor Society students.

Madeline Maher, a senior National Honor Society member at ALA, said it was a really special experience to listen to his story and talk to him in person. Her main takeaway was that your attitude plays a big part in your success and will determine where your life will take you, according to the release.

Mr. Halvorsen has his pilot’s license and has a big adventure coming up in May. He will be back in commission for another flight over Berlin dropping candy to children to reenact the 70th anniversary of Operation Little Vittles, according to the release.

“For them to extend the invitation to come back to talk to the young people about how important that time period was that never gets dull, so I am looking forward to it again,” Mr. Halvorsen said in the release.

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