Before we close out November and a month in which we honor our veterans, I wanted to share information about a new kind of Honor Flight being offered to Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, as well as World War II veterans who haven’t yet had the privilege of participating in an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
Past Honor Flights have been regional events that have taken primarily World War II veterans on an all-expenses paid, two-day trip to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials. In the past, these flights were chartered flights specifically for the veterans as well as volunteer medical personnel and caregivers.
Now, the Honor Flights have taken a bit of a different twist and Windom’s own Ralph Sweigard was one of the fortunate individuals to take part in such a flight this summer.
Ralph, 81, served in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division and was in Korea from 1953 to 1954 when the truce was signed.
Instead of bringing the veterans together on one flight, now veterans and their caregivers fly to Washington, D.C., on their own, meet at a designated hotel, spend the next day touring the memorials around the nation’s capitol, then fly home on the third day.
The flight and all expenses for the veteran are paid for by donations from around the country. The flight for the veteran’s caregiver must be paid for by the caregiver or the family. And, each veteran must be accompanied by a caregiver.
In Ralph’s case, his son, Wes, joined him on the trip.
Glad he went
Even though he had never been to Washington, D.C., before, Ralph admitted that he never would have done the Honor Flight on his own.
“I never had a desire to go there. Now, I’d love to go back. There’s so much to see and do there, it’s unbelieveable,” Ralph says.
So, he has his daughter, Sonja (Sweigard) Haldeman, and her siblings to thank for this opportunity. Sonja works with the Honor Flight program where she lives in Arizona and believed that this was something her father needed to do.
She made all the arrangements and the family covered the costs for Wes to join his father on the “Lone Eagle Honor Flight.”
“When I got back, I thanked her a hundred times,” Ralph says.
Ralph’s brother went on the World War II Honor Flight and when he learned that Honor Flights were being arranged for Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, he encouraged Ralph to take advantage of them.
Ralph’s glad he did.
After flying into Baltimore on Friday, July 12, and arriving at the hotel for a good night’s sleep, Ralph and Wes boarded a bus with 16 other veterans and their caregivers to take a tour of the memorials on July 13.
Seeing the sights
The tour included stops at: the World War II, Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean memorials, the Navy Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima statue and Air Force Monument.
The day was capped off with a meal at the Golden Corral.
The highlight for Ralph?
“I’m partial to the Korean War Memorial because I was in the Korean War and the Korean War Memorial is just fabulous,” he says, reflecting on a patriotic and – as the name suggests, – “honor” trip. “Those statues are just like they’re real.
“The World War II Memorial was really good. The Lincoln Memorial was one of my favorites. Unbelieveable!”
Ralph also was impressed by Arlington National Cemetery as well as the laying of the wreath and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
But there were some bonuses, too.
“I met people from all over the United States that I wouldn’t have otherwise met,” Ralph says. “We were sitting with a veteran and his daughter having lunch on Friday night. They were from California. He says, ‘You’re from Minnesota. Do you know where Round Lake is? That’s where I was raised and went to school.’ Talk about your small world.
“The people are so friendly out there, especially to the veterans. Wherever you go, they thank you for your service.”
Ralph also was the center of attention for a group of students from Byron, Minn., at the World War II Memorial.
“Their teacher asked me, ‘What would you tell these students?’ and I didn’t know what to say. Then Wes said to me, ‘Tell them what you told me a while ago?’ So, I said, ‘We can be really thankful that we have a country that is free and we don’t have any wars. I hope we never have a war over here because it leaves the country in a mess. I’ve seen that. We have a lot of things here and we should be proud to be Americans,’ ’ Ralph says.