By Tanya Fogg Young (Special to The Citizen, USAG Stuttgart)October 18, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- The friendship between an American pilot and a German schoolgirl that has now spanned more than 60 years serves as a symbol of an enduring partnership between the two countries.
An estimated 250 adults and children gathered Oct. 14 at Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School to hear U.S. Africa Command Commander Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward read the book, "Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot," along with the book's main character, Mercedes Wild.
The pair presented the book together - with Gen. Ward reading a page first in English and then Mrs. Wild translating the same page in German - for the audience of American and German elementary and middle school students. The session was part of the "Tell Me a Story" initiative by the Military Child Education Coalition.
The book centered on the relationship established between then 7-year-old Mercedes Simon and an American pilot, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who often dropped chocolate candy parachutes to the children as he flew over them during his Berlin Airlift missions.
The friendship between Halvorsen, now a 90-year-old retired colonel living in Utah, and Wild, now a 69-year-old grandmother, endures to this day, she said.
Visibly moved and her voice cracking with emotion, Wild expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to share her story with them.
"Thank you for exposing the children to the story of one person showing kindness to others," Gen. Ward said to those assembled. "One gesture of kindness so many years ago still means so much."
Parent Kedra Segler brought her three children - Max, 11, a 6th-grader at RBEMS, 5th-grader Alexi, 10, and 4th-grader Pascal, 9, both Patch Elementary students - to the event.
"I couldn't let an opportunity like this go by," Segler said. "[Mrs. Wild] was so appreciative of something as simple as candy. Children will be children - even in times of war."
Caroline Childress, 13, said it was interesting to hear a first-hand account from someone who was a child during World War II. "It's an emotional story that helps put things together," said Childress, who is home-schooled. "I was really moved by the story."
At the conclusion of the reading, the children were broken into small groups to discuss the book and then were able to make their own candy parachutes. Parents and children received copies of the book signed by Ward and Wild and chocolate bars wrapped in miniature copies of the book cover as parting mementos of the event.