It was 60 years ago when the U.S. Air Force broke away from the U.S. Army and became its own branch of the military.
Today, with more than 346,000 active duty Airmen and nine major commands, the Department of the Air Force’s mission is to fly and fight in Air, Space and Cyberspace. U.S. Air Forces in Europe, based on Ramstein, plans to celebrate the past 60 years of U.S. air power with an event from noon to 8 p.m. at Hangar 1, Ramp 2. The 60th anniversary event will include USAFE aircraft on display, food vendors, performances by USAFE bands, model airplane exhibits, kid and family games, security forces K-9 demonstration, bomb disposal robot showcases and medical evacuation exercises. Helping the KMC celebrate 60 years of Air Force history will be Col. Gail Halvorsen, best known as the Berlin Airlift Candy Bomber, and Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, who was shot down in Vietnam and held prisoner for six years. Colonel Halvorsen was born in 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was always fascinated by flight.
His military career started in 1943 as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps and he earned his wings in 1944. Halvorsen’s first assignment was as a transport pilot flying C-47s and C-54s in the South Atlantic during World War II. In 1948, he volunteered to fly C-54 transports in Operation Vittles, better known as the Berlin Airlift. During this operation, he earned his nickname by dropping small candy-laden parachutes to the children of Berlin. This self-initiated act of kindness for the starving children took on a life of its own known as “Operation Little Vittles.” It bolstered the Airmen’s morale, fueled the hope of all Berliners and provided a catalyst for widespread support throughout the United States for the goal of keeping Berlin free.
Colonel Thorsness was shot down during a combat mission in Vietnam, captured and held prisoner for six years. Seven years later, he received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor.
Colonels Thorsness and Halvorsen will be available to meet folks and sign autographs from 3 to 4 p.m. Members of the 435th Services Squadron will provide free cake and ice cream. Special events include drawings for giveaways including cell phones from TKS, a limited edition barbecue grill from Coca-Cola, a JVC Camcorder, DVDs, Play Station games and T-shirts. Aircraft on display will include C-20H, C-21A, C-40B and C-130 E Hercules.
(This article contains information from Air Force Link and Air University web site)
Complete biographical information on Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness:
Leo K. Thorsness flew 92 Republic F-105F Wild Weasel missions and earned America’s highest military decoration before he was shot down and taken prisoner in North Vietnam. Born in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in 1932, he enlisted in the Air Force (AF) in January 1951 and earned his commission three years later through the Aviation Cadet Program. His first operational flying was in F-84 Thunderstreaks with the 31st Strategic Fighter Wing in Albany, Georgia. He later flew the F-100 Super Sabre before transitioning to the F-105 Thunderchief. In 1966, the air war in Southeast Asia took on new dimensions as the Soviet Union supplied the North Vietnamese with surface-to-air missiles (SAM). To counter the SAMs, the Air Force developed new tactics and weapons, and trained Wild Weasel aircrews to use them. While AF strike flights interdicted targets in North Vietnam, the Weasels homed on hostile radar signals, launched Shrike anti-radiation missiles, dropped bombs and strafed to suppress enemy SAMs and antiaircraft artillery defenses. Thorsness checked out in the F-105F aircraft and the Wild Weasel mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and then, in October 1966, was assigned to the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli, Thailand. As a major and an experienced fighter pilot, he became the squadron’s chief Weasel and instructor pilot. Over a period of six months, he not only attacked antiaircraft defenses, successfully evading 53 SAMs, but also challenged the enemy MiG aircraft that patrolled the sky. On 30 April 1967, just eight missions short of the required 100 missions to successfully complete a combat tour, Thorsnesson his second sortie of the daywas shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. For almost 6 years, he was a prisoner of war in such infamous camps as the Hanoi Hilton, Heartbreak Hotel, Skid Row and the Zoo. In 1973, upon his return home, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions on a mission flown just 11 days before his own shoot-down and capture. Thorsness completed 23 years in the Air Force and retired as a colonel in 1973 after accumulating nearly 5,000 hours of flying time. Firmly committed to the ideals of democracy and public service, he ran for a US Senate seat in South Dakota; however, the voters were apparently not yet ready for a man who had a clear vision of America’s role in the world. Thorsness later served as a Washington State Senator from 1988 to 1992, during which time he urged the federal government to release information on about 30,000 soldiers listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action in conflicts dating back to World War II. Thorsness and his wife of 53 years, Gaylee, have one daughter and currently reside in Saddlebrooke, Arizona, where he is involved in corporate leadership forums.
Complete biographical information on Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Gail Halvorsen:
Col. Gail Halvorsen, also known as the candy bomber.
Gail S. Halvorsen is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber,” “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” or “Der Schokoladen-flieger.” Born in 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Halvorsen was always fascinated by flight. At 18, he soloed for the first time. His aviation career began in earnest in 1941, when he earned a private pilot license through the Non-College Civilian Pilot Training Program. His military career started in 1943 as an Aviation Cadet in the Army Air Corps and he earned his wings on June 17, 1944. Halvorsen’s first assignment was as a transport pilot flying C-47s and C-54s in the South Atlantic during World War II. Returning home in 1945, he flew C-54 and C-47 aircraft from Brookley Field, Alabama. In July 1948, he volunteered to fly C-54 transports in Operation VITTLES, better known as the Berlin Airlift. During this operation, he earned his nickname by dropping small candy-laden parachutes to the children of Berlin. This self-initiated act of kindness for the starving children took on a life of its own known as “Operation LITTLE VITTLES.” It bolstered the Airmen’s morale, fueled the hope of all Berliners, and provided a catalyst for widespread support throughout the United States for the goal of keeping Berlin free. In 1949, he received the Cheney Award for his personal sacrifice and valor during the humanitarian efforts involved in the Berlin Airlift. Upon returning to the United States, he attended the University of Florida as part of the Air Force Institute of Technology program, where he earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering. After graduation, he was assigned as a research and development project officer at Wright Air Development Center. In 1957, he attended Air Command and Staff College. He was also assigned to the Air Force Space Systems Division in Inglewood, California, where he played a key role in the development of the Titan III launch vehicle. He then returned to Germany with the Foreign Technology Division of AF Systems Command. As a proven “rocket scientist,” his next assignment was to the Pentagon where he developed plans for the advanced manned reusable spacecraft and the Manned Orbital Laboratory. He then assumed command of the 659th Instrumentation Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California, where he was in charge of both satellite launch and on-orbit operations. Halvorsen returned again to Germany as the Commander of the 7350th Air Base Group (at the same airfield he flew into every day during the Berlin Airlift). He retired from Hill AFB on August 31, 1974, after serving as the Ogden Air Materiel Center’s Inspector General. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the German Service Cross to the Order of Merit from the President of Germany, and the Freedom Award. Halvorsen is truly a “servant leader” and speaks regularly to civic and military organizations. He has reenacted the candy drop and written a book, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.” During Operation PROVIDE PROMISE, Halvorsen participated in an airlift mission and dropped candy-laden parachutes to children in Bosnia. He has five children and is married to the former Lorraine Mitchell.