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Harold Gifford

Harold Gifford

DCTC Awards Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to 91 year-old World War II Veteran

Woodbury resident, Harold Gifford, receives award for his commitment to lifelong learning

ROSEMOUNT, Minn., June 3, 2015 – They will be remembered as the “Greatest Generation,” a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the generation who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War II.  They are known for their commitment to their country, their families and to personal responsibility. 

On Friday, May 15, 2015 DCTC honored Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Gifford for his wealth of lifelong learning from his 91 years that elevates him to a level far above the typical Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) student.  Among his many accomplishments and commendations Gifford progressed to an officer level in the Air Force without a high school or college degree, then to the rank of First Lieutenant when he was honorably discharged in 1946 and later to Lieutenant Colonel for Meritorious Service when he was discharged in 1972 from the Air Force Reserves.

Gifford served as commander of the Tactical Airlift Group based at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, flight instructor with Command pilot status and advocate for veterans for tuition assistance he has also received multiple commendations and citations from the Air Force. As a civilian pilot he had managed an air charter service, served as chief pilot for two large corporations, flew crop dusters, jets and helicopters and earned an Air Transport pilot rating.

In addition to his military experience Gifford was a licensed real estate agent, a licensed securities agent, was a journeyman glass blower (through the G.I. Bill), owned and operated a gas station, started a business brokerage firm, owned a seafood restaurant and a bowling alley as well as served as a Senior Warden and sang in the choir at his church.

Gifford is a published author of the book, “The Miracle Landing. The True Story of how the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers Almost Perished in an Iowa Cornfield during a January Blizzard.” The book is his account of the former Minneapolis Laker’s flight from St. Louis in 1960, bound for Minnesota during a January storm.  Shortly after taking off they had a total electrical failure leaving them without radios, heat or lights and no navigation equipment.  Due to the skill, heroic efforts and critical thinking of Harold Gifford, who served as co-pilot, and the flight crew of the Laker’s DC-3, 23 lives were saved that night by an emergency landing of the aircraft in a cornfield in Carroll, Iowa.  This landing defied odds that everyone on board not only survived, but were able to walk away from the landing with no airplane damage.  “Flying is a serious business. Enthusiasm and ability to perform and achieve are based on knowledge and experience; one can never have too much knowledge,” notes Gifford.

Gifford credits his quest for knowledge to his brother, Quentin, who, while at home on leave from the Navy encouraged him to return to school after Gifford had dropped out of high school to work on a dairy farm.  The two brothers agreed that when Quentin was out of the Navy they'd find a way to attend college together. Gifford went back to high school in 1940 after Quentin returned to his ship.  Quentin lost his life at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1942 Gifford enlisted in the Army Air Corps Cadet training to become a pilot and officer serving as a fighter gunnery instructor in Texas and as a pilot engineer on a B-29 in the South Pacific.   

In 2013, at 90 years of age, Gifford earned an honorary high school diploma from Loyola Catholic School in Mankato.  

"Harold Gifford is a one of a kind individual," said DCTC’s Interim President Tim Wynes. "Despite missing large pieces in his formal education, his passion for learning afforded him a wonderful career and opportunities to see the world. His service to our country didn't ended with his discharge from the military but continue to this day - advocating for veterans and their education into his 91st year. Harold Gifford honors our college and MNSCU by accepting DCTC's Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters."

Interim President Wynes presented the award to Gifford.  He then served as commencement speaker, inspiring graduates to "Love what you are doing and you will be good at what you do.”    

Gifford and his wife, Carol, live in Woodbury and have six grown children, 15 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.