The newest addition to Tremonton’s burgeoning collection of murals will pay tribute to a local man who became a national hero for his efforts to bring a little bit of joy to downtrodden people in post-World War II Germany.
The city has commissioned Nevada-based artist Erik Burke to paint a mural at 105 W. Main St. depicting Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, a U.S. Air Force pilot from Garland. Halvorsen became known as “The Candy Bomber” for dropping candy attached to mini-parachutes during the Berlin Airlift, an operation by Allied forces to deliver supplies through the air to the people of West Berlin, Germany in 1948 and 1949 while the Soviet Union had blocked other means of access into the city.
The military code name for the Berlin Airlift was “Operation Vittles,” and Halvorsen’s efforts became known as “Operation Little Vittles.” His operation is said to have delivered some 23 tons of Hershey chocolate bars and other candy to people in the city, and earned him other nicknames including “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and “The Chocolate Flier.”
A common theme among the murals found throughout Tremonton is an homage to the heritage of the city and the surrounding Bear River Valley, including prominent historical figures with local ties.
“One of the objectives of the Tremonton City Public Art Program is to celebrate or honor historical images, and noteworthy individuals that are a part of Tremonton City, Bear River Valley, or Box Elder County’s storied past,” a recent city staff report outlining plans for the mural explains.
Halvorsen certainly fits that bill, and in a nod to his military service, the mural will be located across Main Street from the Veterans Memorial at Midland Square.
The new mural will feature a portrait of Halverson based on a photograph, a plane like those he flew during his military service, and Hershey bars falling through the air with outstretched hands reaching out to receive the candy – all set against a gold-foil candy wrapper background, with the foil peeled back at one end to reveal a chocolate bar underneath.
Burke is well known for his place-specific murals in dozens of cities around the world, including in his hometown of Reno, Nevada. His work can viewed online at www.eriktburke.com.
Local artist Jason Nessen has been the go-to guy for many murals around Tremonton, but he is currently occupied with finishing a mural in front of the Box Elder County Fairgrounds, a nearly 100-foot long reproduction of a 1928 photo of the first grand entry at the county fair and rodeo. Burke had submitted a bid for that project, so local officials were already familiar with his work when they chose him to create the Halvorsen mural.
Once the wall has been prepared following the removal of some old paint and some masonry work around one of the windows, Burke will be able to finish the project within two weeks, Tremonton Recreation and Events Manager Zach LeFevre said.
LeFevre said the plan is to have the mural ready for an unveiling ceremony on or around Oct. 10, which will be Halvorsen’s 100th birthday. He said Halvorsen lives in an assisted living facility in Provo and probably won’t be able to attend in person, but the city is working to make arrangements for him to see the unveiling via online video conferencing.