In May, I committed to reading each of the Bluestem and Caudill nominees for 2014. I’m happy to report that I have read all 20 Bluestem nominees and just yesterday finished the final Caudill book. While I’m happy to have met my goal, it is not why I have titled this entry “Giving Thanks.” More important than just finishing what I started, this has been an enlightening experience for me. I’ve read a wide range of materials and have been treated to well-written, compelling stories that I’m certain to recommend for years to come. What has surprised me most is how many of the current Caudill nominees deal with the positive impact that one individual can make. In this season where we focus on being thankful, it seems timely to mention a book whose message includes the power of kindness and compassion to inspire hope.
The non-fiction book, by Michael O. Tunnell, tells the post-WWII story of Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen, a US Air Force pilot. What began as his small act of kindness, giving away a few simple pieces of chewing gum to children through a barbed wire fence, snowballed into a massive humanitarian undertaking. Halvorsen’s gesture led to a systematic effort to parachute “goodies” to kids while pilots were on cargo runs into blockaded Berlin. Candy and supplies for the parachutes themselves poured in from individuals, small businesses, and even the American Confectioners Association. While not every cargo run included candy drops, at its apex, more than three hundred kilograms of candy and parachute supplies were delivered to West Germany every other day.
The impact of this one small act is best told through quotes from this inspiring book. One child who received a Hershey chocolate bar from a parachute recalled, “The chocolate was wonderful, but it wasn’t the chocolate that was most important. What it meant was that someone in America cared. That parachute was something more important than candy. It represented hope. Hope that someday we would be free. Without hope the soul dies.” Even after returning from Germany, Halvorsen continued with his humanitarian airlifts making runs to Albania, the Micronesian Islands, and the children of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. When discussing the children of Albania, Halvorsen noted, “These children had the same bright faces, appreciation, and optimism exhibited by the Berlin kids at the barbed wire fence in 1948….They had hope because of people in America who…knew they were in trouble and promised to stand by them. Hope is still the name of the game.”
When I think about the recent devastation in the Philippines and central Illinois, I give thanks for individuals, like Halvorsen, who give of themselves to inspire hope in others and for those authors who write the stories encouraging our children to do the same. May you find many reasons to give thanks this upcoming week.