In Memory of Harold Gifford

WWII veteran passes away January 7 at age 99

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Gifford, USAFR, a World War II veteran, died Saturday, January 7, 2023, at age 99. Harold gained fame in 1960 after piloting a propeller-driven airliner to an emergency landing in an Iowa cornfield during a snowstorm with more than 20 passengers onboard, including members of the Minneapolis Lakers professional basketball team.

During the 2015 Commencement Ceremony, Dakota County Technical College recognized Harold Gifford with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his commitment to lifelong learning. Harold’s hard-earned knowledge and experience represent the pinnacle of attainment for DCTC students engaged in earning Credit for Prior Learning (CPL).

Among his many accomplishments and commendations, Harold became a U.S. Air Force officer without a high school diploma or college degree. He was a first lieutenant when he was honorably discharged from the Air Force (then the U.S. Army Air Forces) in 1946. He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel for meritorious service when he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1972.

Harold served as commander of the 96th Airlift Squadron, the Flying Vikings, at Minneapolis-St. Paul ARS. He was a flight instructor with command pilot status and an advocate for veteran tuition assistance. He also received multiple Air Force commendations and citations. As a civilian pilot, Harold managed an air charter service, served as chief pilot for two large corporations, flew crop dusters, jets and helicopters, and earned an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

The Miracle Landing

Harold wrote and published The Miracle Landing, the true story of how the Minneapolis Lakers almost perished in an Iowa cornfield during a January blizzard. The book is Harold’s account as co-pilot of the night flight the former NBA basketball team took from St. Louis, Missouri, to Minnesota in 1960.

Shortly after takeoff, the Douglas DC-3 experienced total electrical failure, shutting down the aircraft’s radio, heat, lights and navigation equipment. The flight crew’s experience, grit, skill and critical thinking led to a successful emergency landing, saving the lives of 23 people.

“Flying is a serious business,” Harold reported. “Enthusiasm and ability to perform and achieve are based on knowledge and experience; one can never have too much knowledge.”

Learn more about the life and endeavors of Harold Gifford by reading the following news stories:

Harold Gifford at ceremony for his brother, Quentin_SOURCE: David Joles, Star Tribune

“A Life Remembered: World War II vet Gifford a lifelong learner”
Edie Schmierbach, The Free Press, Mankato, Minnesota

“Carroll’s ‘Laker Miracle Landing’ pilot dies at 99”
Douglas Burns, Carroll Times Herald, Carroll, Iowa

“Pilot marks 60th anniversary of Mpls Lakers’ landing in Iowa Cornfield”
Boyd Huppert, KARE-TV

“Woodbury’s Harold Gifford Recalls Carroll, Iowa Cornfield Airplane Landing”
Woodbury Magazine

“World War II Veteran Receives Honorary Doctorate”

“Pearl Harbor victim comes home, at last, to Minnesota”
Bob Shaw, Pioneer Press

“Pearl Harbor sailor Quentin Gifford was buried with Navy Honors today”
Photos: David Joles, Star Tribune

Learn more about Military & Veteran Services at DCTC by contacting:

Kathy Bachman
MDVA Higher Education Regional Coordinator
Office: Military and Veterans Service Center (Room 2-302)

Janet Lorenzo
School Certifying Official