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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Parachutes fall from the ceiling of the Conference Center as Tom Brokaw tells the story of Gail Halvorsen, the "Candy Bomber," during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 14.

While working together on the family farm in Garland, Utah, Hal’s father often told him that from little things come big things.

This encouragement influenced Col. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen to distribute candy to eager German children while a pilot during the Berlin Airlift of the late 1940s.

He came to be known as the Candy Bomber and his heralded story of individual charity and heroism was a beautiful centerpiece of the Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concerts Dec. 13-16.

Halvorsen is a great American and part of “The Greatest Generation” that guest narrator Tom Brokaw wrote about in his acclaimed book.

A wonderful, poignant aspect of the concert was a spectacular re-creation of the legendary gift to children when from the LDS Conference Center ceiling floated down hundreds of handkerchief parachutes containing bits of candy to the audience below.

Halvorsen’s act of love began when he shared two sticks of gum to inquiring children behind barbed wire at the Tempelhof Air Base in the American sector of Berlin. By the end, he and his fellow airmen amassed a total of 20 tons of gum and chocolate to share with more than 100,000 children.

“This is the real spirit of Christmas — to give whatever we have, no matter how small the gift may be,” Brokaw said. The newscaster’s narrative was titled “Christmas from Heaven: A Gift That Changed the World.”

A surprise guest at the concerts, Halvorsen waved to the crowd after archival film clips of his Candy Bomber flights were shown on a large parachute-like screen. He made his stage appearance encircled by children dressed as German refugees with the sound of flying airplanes filling the hall and searchlights piercing the dark.

Halvorsen came to national attention as the Candy Bomber and he continues to serve as a goodwill ambassador. He also made headlines when he returned to Germany in the early 1970s. As a commander at the western Berlin airbase, Halvorsen hosted official parties and the devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints saw his fame increase for his refusal to serve alcohol.

Brokaw also movingly recited the Christmas Story in Luke 2 and was joined as a choir guest by soloist Alfie Boe. The classically trained tenor gained international attention when he was selected by the composers of “Les Miserables” to perform the show’s lead role at the 25th anniversary celebration of the record-breaking musical. While he is now a world-renown recording artist, Boe had lean years. For a short while after his marriage to Utahn Sarah Jones, he briefly considered becoming a Salt Lake City policeman.

The delicate power Boe brought to “Bring Him Home,” Jean Valjean’s appeal to give his life if Marius can be spared, was deeply appreciated by concertgoers, along with the casual rapport he built by sharing two jokes, weak enough to have him admit that they were “utter rubbish.”

“I can’t believe I made 22,000 people laugh,” Boe said, “although more likely it was only one or two people.”

The majesty he brought to the prayer from “Les Miserable” was also evident when Boe sang with the choir “I Wonder as I Wander,” arranged by British composer John Rutter, and an arrangement of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Utahn Sam Cardon. His Christmas at Home medley included “Home for the Holidays,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and John Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” from the film “Home Alone.”

Organist Richard Elliott’s solos are anticipated portions of the concerts, and his arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” included stunning percussion sounds of movie palace organs along with sleigh bells, timpani sounds and a wood slapstick clapper for the sleigh whip crack.

The Conference Center was decorated in an art deco motif with semi-circular staircases built for the concert on each side of the stage. In a dance style reminiscent of Fred and Ginger, two formally attired couples danced down the stairs with other dancers dressed in tuxes and luxe gowns from the period.