Love: the catalyst for healing

  • Published
  • By Col. Kim Bowen, Chaplain
  • 88th Air Base Wing

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — February is commonly recognized in our culture as that month in which we celebrate love, particularly romantic love. For enamored couples everywhere, this can be an important time to confirm our affection for that special someone in our lives by way of a gift or some other surprise.

In fact, if that day comes and goes without us presenting the obligatory bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates or some other sweet symbol of our affection for them, we may have sent an unintended message requiring further explanation.

Like many of our holidays and cultural traditions tracing back to religious observances or celebrations, Valentine’s Day has its roots in an observance that honors Saint Valentine, a third-century martyr who was accused of ministering to Christians under the Roman Empire. Over time, this tradition was embraced by the broader elements of society, creating a significant secular and commercial celebration of romantic love.

Although that kind of love is truly worth celebrating, the love that was first honored on Valentine’s Day spoke less about romance and more about serving others. This is a love that cares for neighbors in their time of need, the kind that has no expectation of reciprocity but rather is motivated by respect and the profound value of others, regardless of our shared experience or familial connection with them.

Indeed, this is the kind of love to which NFL great Steve Young refers in his recently released book, “The Law of Love.” Young cites the love found in “nontransactional relationships,” relationships that are void of expectations born of self-interest and that “[seek] another’s healing, expecting nothing in return.” We can experience this love as we learn to… serve others before ourselves. Sound familiar?

One of my favorite stories is an account of late retired Col. Gail Halvorsen, who was a C-54 pilot in the U.S. Air Force during the Berlin Airlift. During one of hundreds of sorties that were flown each day for fifteen months to deliver critical supplies to the 2 million people caught behind the Russian blockages of Berlin following World War II, 1st Lt. Halvorsen noticed a group of children gathering at the end of the flight line to watch the planes land and take off again.

After one such flight, Halvorsen walked over to these children huddled at the fence line, reached into his pocket and pulled out two sticks of chewing gum. After dividing them up the best he could and sadly realizing that most of the children would not receive any portion, he handed the small pieces through the fence.

As the children scrambled to become the recipients of this small gesture, he noticed that those who were lucky enough to get a piece of the gum handed the small pieces of wrapper to the others who weren’t as lucky so that they could at least smell the precious contents.

Seeing how much this small act thrilled the children, Halvorsen promised that he would bring them more gum and candy next time but would drop it from his plane as he flew overhead. So that they would know which of the hundreds of planes was his, he told them that he would wiggle his wings. And so he did.

Having constructed small parachutes made of handkerchiefs tied to candy donated by his comrades from their rations, on his next flight, he gently “wiggled” the wings of his aircraft as he approached the runway and dropped these small gifts to the eager children below.

Word of the “unauthorized drop” soon arrived through his chain of command, and although not initially well received by his superiors, as it became more publicized, his leadership recognized the symbolic value for the larger populace, which was so desperate for hope of a brighter tomorrow.

One such airdrop of candy led to another, which led to another, and eventually “Operation Little Vittles” was born, with additional aircrews joining in the effort.

As news reporters both local and abroad picked up on this story, it was not long before Halvorsen, now widely known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” was recognized as an iconic ambassador of goodwill to the people of West Germany.

As the story spread, children from all over began sending gum and candy to support this wonderful outreach. Eventually, large candy companies began sending crates of chocolate to sustain the endeavor. Over the course of the 14 months of “Operation Little Vittles,” 23 tons of chocolate were dropped to hundreds of anxiously-awaiting children below.

In summary, love motivated by a selfless interest for others and demonstrated through service for the simple sake of blessing their lives can instill the most profound sense of value within our own lives. This is the love that heals. This is the kind of love so desperately needed in shoring up the dignity and respect for all, while encouraging diversity and inclusion.