On February 12, 1954, three helium-filled balloons with light blue lettering Crusade for Freedom were launched at the international boundary line on the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Two rose up into the sky, the third fell into the Detroit River. The launching was to "remind Canadians and Americans of the importance of the freedom they possess, and to give hope to the people of other countries in Europe under the Communist yoke."
Beginning in October 1954, Crusade for Freedom supporters were selected for “study tours” of Radio Free Europe facilities in Europe. These supporters became known as “Trippers.” Martin Mol, Michigan Grand Worthy of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and national Freedom Committee chairman, was a “Tripper” of the 1954 Study Trip to Europe. Mol later went on speaking engagements around the Untied States, spoke about his trip at FOE Aeries and showed a film of the Free Europe Press balloon launchings.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Februrary 13, 1955, about 1,000 balloons were lofted by 300 people, some of whom were dressed in East European folk costumes. This was the largest launching of Eagle balloons in the United States in "Freedom Week" 1955. There was newsreel and television coverage of the event.
General Alfred M. Gruenther, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, visited Bismarck, North Dakota, on February 22, 1955, and was honored at a dinner in his honor at the Apple Creek Country Club. General Gruenther had flown directly from Paris to speak before the North Dakota State legislature. Invited North Dakota Crusade directors and officers, sponsored by Crusade for Freedom state chairman Floyd Boutrous, attended the dinner; two former “Miss North Dakotas” provided the evening’s entertainment.
Balloons and leaflets were also launched from Fargo, North Dakota on February 7, 1955. One of them was found in June 1955 in Decorah, Iowa by Mrs. Levi Quandrahl and Mrs. Walter Quandrahl, who found the balloon while the women were “out picking berries” on the Quandrahl farm.
During Freedom Week 1955, Free Europe Press balloons were lofted from the launching site at Freyung, Germany (about 210 km from Munich), with leaflet messages from Fraternal Order of Eagles leaders as a show of solidarity with the Eagle launchings in the United States: “To keep up the morale of the Communist-ruled peoples, and express the kinship of the free nations, with the captive peoples.” The launching site at Freyung had a plaque on display for visitors that read:
Permitting the addition of the written word to Radio Free Europe’s spoken communication with the peoples behind the Iron Curtain. This facility is made possible by the contributions of American citizens to the CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM.
On January 27, 1956, Robert W. Hansen, National Program Chairman of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, sent out an information package, to local Eagle Airies announcing continuing support of the Crusade campaign. The information package included a poster with the word GIVE in bold red letters next to a clenched fist holding a microphone with rays of light and the words RFE and Crusade for Freedom and a graphic display of balloons carrying leaflets being launched. Hansen’s letter read:
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles is one of the American organizations supporting the Crusade for Freedom. If your Airie would like to join in the observance of Freedom Week, it can present a FREEDOM AWARD to any individual, group, local paper, radio or TV station in recognition of efforts to preserve freedom and combat communism ... initiate a Freedom Class ... exhibit the Freedom poster ... quote in the Airie bulletin from the enclosed booklet, “Why?“
The Eagles’ press release included a quote that local Airie presidents could use, “These broadcasts, and the balloon launchings in Europe, will carry the messages of hope to the captive populations ... have proved exceedingly effective as evident by the fact that the Communists shoot them down whenever possible, and impose jail penalities for anyone who transmits the printed material.”
For the 1956 Crusade, FOE repeated its support with local launchings of symbolic balloons and contribution leaflets, e.g., on Saturday, February 11,1956, twelve balloons carrying the contribution-reply card were lofted from city hall plaza in Cumberland, Maryland. FOE Aerie President Robert E. Danner, who participated, said. "The ceremony will symbolize the balloon barrages that carry truth-telling leaflets by the millions over Europe's Iron Curtain to the freedom-hungry people of the satellite nations."
Part Three to follow.