Gail Seymour Halvorsen was born on October 10, 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah. His parents, Basil and Luella Halvorsen, raised Gail and his three siblings on a small farm in Rigby, Idaho and then later moved to Garland, Utah where his family farmed sugar beets. Halvorsen recalls growing up watching planes soar over his Utah home and dreaming of becoming a pilot. He attended Bear River High School in Garland and graduated in 1939.Halvorsen decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a pilot and in September 1941 he earned his private pilot license through the non-college Civilian Pilot Training Program and joined the newly formed Civil Air Patrol. In May 1942, Halvorsen joined the United States Army Air Corps and then attended Utah State University for two quarters while waiting for his active duty call. There he met Alta Jolley, his future wife.
In March 1943, the active duty call came and Halvorsen was sent to Wichita Falls, Texas for basic training. After completing basic training he traveled to Miami, Oklahoma to train with the Royal Air Force pilots at the No. 3 British Flying Training School. Halvorsen received his wings with the Royal Air Force and was then transferred back to the Army Air Corps. He served in transport operations in the south Atlantic theater during World War II. Halvorsen’s first foreign deployment was to Natal, Brazil where he flew transport airplanes delivering supplies up and down South America, South Africa, and Ascension Island.On July 10, 1948, Halvorsen received orders to transfer to Germany to perform transport operations for the Berlin Airlift (also called “Operation Vittles”). Germany and its capital city, Berlin, had been divided between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union when World War II had ended three years earlier. When Stalin blocked ground transportation into Berlin, the United States and Great Britain used transport aircraft to drop food and other basic supplies to prevent the city from starving. Halvorsen describes the Berlin Airlift as being “a healing balm on the wounds of war.” The initial suspicions of the West Germans toward the Americans and British were slowly replaced with gratitude as the Berlin Airlift became a lifesaving operation.
In January 1949, Halvorsen returned home to the United States and was offered a permanent commission with full pay and the opportunity to have the Air Force pay for his continued education. Halvorsen attended the University of Florida as an assignment from the Air Force Institute of Technology and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aeronautical Engineering in 1951 and 1952. In 1973, he received a master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from Wayne State University through an on-base educational program.
“Service before self is the only way to fulfillment in life.” -Gail HalvorsenServing others was a priority to Halvorsen and throughout his life he remained active in humanitarian work. He frequently voluntarily represented the U.S. Air Force in re-enacting the Berlin Airlift candy drops and in 1994 Halvorsen convinced the Air Force to allow him to drop candy over Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Operation Provide Promise. From 1986-87 he served an LDS mission to England with his wife Alta, and from 1995-97 they served another LDS mission to St. Petersburg, Russia. Halvorsen has also served in numerous volunteer positions for the LDS church including Stake President, Bishop, High Councilman and various other callings.
On April 16, 1949 Halvorsen married Alta Jolley, his college sweetheart, in Las Vegas, Nevada. They had originally met while attending Utah State University in 1942 and maintained correspondence through mail while Halvorsen was serving abroad. The couple had five children, 24 grandchildren and 53 great grandchildren. Alta died in 1999, just shy of the couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Halvorsen later married his high school steady, Lorraine Pace, who has three children.